Languin, Guatemala

Octavian turned the antlered god's eyes to stone. It started with pain, as his ribs began to crack in its grip. The death god raised him up, a hundred feet off the ground, and studied him with the cruel purpose of a dark-eyed child bent on tearing the wings off of insects. Octavian couldn't breathe and he felt a couple of ribs give way, and as the pain roared through him the magic erupted from him like a scream. One of his arms was pinned beside him but the other remained free and he lifted his hand and a bolt of vivid light lanced from his fingers. He gave no conscious thought to the spell but some unconscious part of him chose, and as the antlered god jerked backward, trying to twist his face away from the attack, that emerald lightning struck its eyes.

The death god's eyes went dry and dark for a moment, then solidified to cracked gray stone. Its head drooped, dragged down by the new weight of its eyes, and it used its free hand to reach up and scrape at its eyes like an animal, perhaps thinking something had obscured its vision instead of taken it away completely.

It froze, chest heaving with grunts of anger and confusion, nostrils flaring. Short of breath, black spots in his vision from oxygen deprivation, Octavian tried to muster up another attack. His thoughts whirled, searching for any spell that might work on a demon such as this. Attack magic - some simple concussive blow - would do nothing. Monsters this ancient and powerful were not as affected by simple magicks so he needed something else. But his thoughts raced and focus eluded him. The black spots were not just on his eyes but in his mind. Pain burned in his chest and back and he could hear his own internal voice screaming in his head and he knew any second the antlered god would put two and two together and realize that the tiny, fragile thing in its grasp was the one who had made it blind.

It started to tighten its grip.

'Peter, strike now!' a voice cried.

His vision fading, he looked up to see Allison; she dropped through the air, shifting from falcon to female overhead, and lunged at the death god's throat. Moonlight glinted off of the long talons that her hands had become, just before she landed and thrust them like daggers through its flesh and began to slice and tear.

Its grip loosened a fraction, giving Octavian room for a single breath. In that instant he thought of Hell and the most primal of the magicks he had learned there, in its deepest pits. Dragging his other arm free, he clapped his hands together and held them out in front of him, as if he might dive upward out of the antlered god's grip.

The magic that surged through him seared his bones and he screamed as it built into a raging ball of silver-black energy around his joined hands. It felt as if he were tethered somewhere, like some umbilical still connected him to Hell, and the maelstrom of infernal power that roiled there came flooding up through him. For the second time that night he spoke a language known only to the first beasts of Hell.

The death god reached its free hand to drag Allison from its neck, but she hung on, ripping open a long flap of flesh. Thick, dark ichor spilled from the wound. The god clenched its fist in reflex and Octavian felt his broken ribs stabbing him deep inside. Grinding his jaws together he managed to grunt the final syllables of that spell and a shaft of silver-black light erupted from his joined hands. That light lasted only a moment before it vanished, revealing a gash in the flesh of reality, a rip that showed a glimpse of another dimension beyond.

That bolt of nothing punched a hole through the death god's cheek, up through its head and out the top of its skull, right between the antlers. Octavian's arms dropped and he had a moment to see the rip in the world healing, reality flowing back into the breach, and then the death god began to collapse. He saw Allison leap into the air and shift back into a falcon even as the god's hand fell open, releasing him.

Octavian did not flail as he plummeted toward the ground. He breathed evenly, forcing away panic and pain, and contorted his fingers to summon a sphere of emerald light. His fall slowed gently and then ceased completely, and he found himself hanging a dozen feet above the circle of vampires he had turned to stone, cradled delicately in the grasp of his own magic.

The stone vampires woke something in his mind.

Cortez! he thought, heart flooding with hatred. Exhaling, he summoned a healing magic that bathed his body in a golden mist, and as he descended to the ground he could feel his ribs knitting back together. A pleasant heat replaced his pain. When he alighted, he was himself again and he spun around in search of Cortez, watching the shadows around the vampire statues.

'You bastard!' Octavian snarled. 'Where are you?'

The flap of wings made him twist around, ready to burn a vampire bat from the night sky, but it was not Cortez attacking. The falcon cried out and spread its wings, its flesh expanding and reconfiguring, and Allison landed on her feet beside him.

'Over there,' she said, indicating a statue to their right.

He gave her a small nod and felt the strength of the bond between them. They had never been lovers but she might well be the best friend he still had in the world. Along with Kuromaku, she was the closest thing he had to family.

Side by side, they stormed across the field in the brightness of the army's lighting array. A horrible screeching came from above and Octavian glanced up to see a devil-bat swooping toward them. Before he could even defend himself, the ground shook and a thick vine thrust from the earth, whipped into the sky to coil around the monster, and dragged it down into a shimmering patch of darkness, which closed up again the moment the devil-bat had been fed into it.

The ground continued to shake and Octavian glanced back to see vines wrapping around the corpse of the antlered god and drawing it down into a shimmering hole in the ground. A root shot skyward, twined around a giant serpent, which flailed as the root twisted more tightly and then dragged it back down.

'What the hell is going on here?' Allison demanded as they raced around the stone vampire.

Octavian did not need to reply. The answer waited for them amongst the cracked stone vampires. Allison staggered to a halt.

'Holy shit,' she muttered. And then a small laugh bubbled up from within her. 'Keomany?'

Three people stood in the clearing ahead of them, dark silhouettes against the brightness of the army's lights. Charlotte's copper-red hair gleamed. Her clothing was torn and ragged but she had passed the point of caring. Cortez did not so much as stand but hang erect, propped into an upright position by the vines and roots that bound him and wound around him. The holes that Octavian had shot through him had not yet healed, as if pieces of him had been shunted into a parallel reality. Octavian thought that might be precisely what had happened.

Keomany stood with them, a woman of leaf and husk and thorn, unsettling and yet strangely beautiful. As Octavian and Allison raced up toward them, Keomany turned and he saw the pale, translucent phantom that hovered behind her.

'Is that a-' Allison began.

'Ghost, yes,' Octavian replied.

Then they were all together. Once upon a time Charlotte would have hurled herself at Octavian in celebration of their survival. Now she only glanced at him with haunted eyes and turned back toward Cortez as though she thought he might somehow still be manipulating them all.

The ground rumbled and roots tore devil-bats from the air. Several hundred yards away, a forest of vines and roots seemed to be overrunning the huge chasm in the ground, sewing the breach together as if it were a torn seam. The ground itself appeared to surge and flow, and it all seemed to require no more effort from Keomany than maintaining the magical shield around their perimeter did from Octavian.

He stood before the elemental, the earthwitch reborn as something new and perfect, ignoring Cortez. Octavian stared into her eyes. They were not human eyes and yet he felt sure he could see her essence there.

'It's really you,' he said.

Her smile managed to be both beautiful and grotesque. 'It's me,' she said, and her voice was like the wind scuttling autumn leaves across the grass.

'I told her what we're facing,' Charlotte announced, still staring at Cortez.

Octavian studied Cortez, this vampire who had been his secret enemy for so long. Then he turned and reached out to Charlotte, touched her arm and found her skin ice cold.

'What are you waiting for?' he asked.

Charlotte blinked and turned to stare at him in confusion. 'Say that again?'

'Why haven't you already killed him?' Octavian said.

Trembling with emotion she tried desperately to hide, Charlotte glanced at Allison as if the other Shadow might come to her aid.

'You?' Charlotte said, pulling away from Octavian's touch. 'We were waiting for you. He killed Nikki.'

'Nikki was my friend,' Keomany said, as if this fact had been lost to her and now bubbled up from the depths of her memory.

Octavian glanced at Cortez. With Medusa toxin coursing through him, there would be no escape for him, but he did not plead for his life. He hung there, glaring with bitter hatred and a tinge of madness in his eyes, and listened to them speak of his execution with imperious disdain. Octavian believed his presence tainted the very air around them, that he was a stain on the world that needed to be removed. The desire to burn him, to eviscerate him, to break his bones and make him suffer, made Octavian's hands twitch and a familiar, brutal magic swirl around his fingers.

He turned to Charlotte. 'I loved her. In my heart, at least, she was my wife.'

Charlotte gazed at him, sharing his pain. 'I know.'

'But Nikki's pain is not my pain. What he did to her was done to her, and she is dead. But you're still alive, Charlotte, and I want you to be able to live, now. If destroying Cortez will help you do that . . .'

Her grim expression cracked and he saw the pain and heartbreak of the teenage girl she had been showing through the hard veneer she had adopted.

Another devil-bat screamed across the sky above them only to be dragged from the air by whipping vines and pulled into a portal in the earth, which vanished after swallowing the monstrosity. The ground still shook, but there were fewer and fewer of the demons from the breach.

The ghost of Miles Varick drifted toward him, manifesting more fully. If not for the bright lights, he would have looked almost solid.

'That's not the only reason we waited for you,' the specter said.

Octavian glanced at Keomany.

The elemental nodded. 'Miles reached into the vampire-'

'He what?' Allison asked.

Octavian glanced at her. 'I explained this to you. The darksoul in vampires, the part of you that's demon . . . he can rip it out.'

'He eats it,' Charlotte said, her tone almost a warning to Allison.

Allison swore softly, glancing at Miles warily now.

'It's not any different from you drinking human blood,' the ghost said, his phantom figure fading slightly.

'Enough,' Octavian said, turning to the ghost. 'What made you stop?'

Miles drifted nearer to Cortez. Octavian saw the ghost run out his spectral tongue and lick his lips. He pushed his hand through Cortez's chest, the ghostly substance of him passing harmlessly through flesh and bone, and tugged out a fistful of squirming, oily black mist.

Cortez roared in pain, or perhaps it was anguish.

The ghost turned to look at the rest of them, focusing on Octavian. 'There's more than one of him.'

'More than one darksoul?' Allison asked.

'Yes,' Miles replied. 'One is his, but the other is an intruder.'

'How is that even-' Charlotte began.

'Would you like to see it?' the ghost asked.

Octavian took a step closer, staring at Cortez. 'Absolutely.'

Thrusting both hands into their captive vampire, the ghost of Miles Varick seemed to be twisting and tearing at something inside him. Cortez screamed again as Miles drew out one hand, forcing the separation of Cortez's darksoul and the intruder, the parasite that had taken up residence there.

Octavian stood riveted by the sight. He had only ever seen a vampire darksoul up close once before, and it had been his own. The thousand years in Hell had aged him to the point where he had retreated inside a strange cocoon, within which he underwent a process no other Shadow had ever undergone, his flesh separating itself from the two external forces that had so deeply altered him. The sliver of divine spirit that had been inside him had ascended into some kind of Heaven and the demonic part of him - the darksoul - had plotted against him and been destroyed.

Now that Miles dragged the darksoul out of Cortez, the last thing Octavian expected was to recognize it.

'No way,' Allison breathed.

Keomany turned to stare at her, then seemed to notice the look on Octavian's face.

'You know this creature?' she asked.

Charlotte spoke, asking what was going on, but Octavian barely heard anything his companions said. As far as he knew, he had been the first Shadow to be imprisoned in Hell for so long, the first to undergo the metamorphosis which divided the three elements of a vampire's existence into individual entities. But he knew of at least one other Shadow who had been lost in Hell . . . who had been a part of the effort to rescue Octavian from the inferno and had been lost there and, out of necessity, left behind with The Gospel of Shadows.

'Lazarus,' Octavian whispered.

'No fucking way,' Allison said.

The darksoul hissed and lunged at Octavian, twisting its insubstantial form in the grip of Miles Varick's ghost. It snapped and hissed again, lashing out with long, mistlike claws. The ghost grabbed the darksoul by its wrist, opened his mouth impossibly, inhumanly wide, and bit the hand off halfway up the forearm.

Opening its mouth in a silent scream, the darksoul turned its hate-filled glare upon Octavian. Savage as it was, there was intelligence there, and it was consumed with hatred. Behind the ghost and the darksoul, Cortez still hung from the vines and roots that held him up, but he dangled there now like a broken marionette, moaning softly.

'What . . .' Octavian began, but he went silent as he recognized the foolishness of any question that might follow.

Lazarus had sacrificed himself for Octavian, traded his own freedom to return Octavian from damnation for the good of humanity and Shadows alike. He had been in Hell now even longer than Octavian had been. Of course he had undergone the same metamorphosis. But if the darksoul was here, where was the divine part of Lazarus . . . and where the human?

Was the flesh and blood man trapped in Hell? The question horrified Octavian more than any other he had ever considered. As a Shadow he had barely survived there. As a man . . .

No. He must be dead.

'Is Lazarus still alive?' he asked, knowing it was impossible. Praying it was impossible.

The darksoul began to laugh, twisting and lunging to escape the grasp of the ghost. It snapped its jaws like a mindless beast, but Octavian knew that it was not mindless. If it did not speak, it chose not to speak.

'I don't understand,' Charlotte said. 'Was this thing inside of Cortez all the time, pulling the strings?'

'I was thinking the same thing,' Allison replied. 'Did Cortez kill Nikki, or was it this . . . whatever we want to call it?'

Octavian remained silent. He turned to study Keomany, looking at the smooth red apple-skin that created the illusion of flesh on some parts of her body, though her arms were little more than tightly woven leaves and branches and husks that looked like corded muscle over bone, but with the skin stripped away. Keomany stood inhumanly still, swaying slightly in the breeze.

'What do you-' he began.

The elemental turned her face away from him and he frowned. The ground still trembled and the vines and roots still shot from the ground in the distance, pulling demons down into shimmering patches of earth that could only be doorways into a parallel realm. Gaea had brought Keomany back to life as her harbinger, her avatar, and perhaps her warrior, and Keomany had begun to rid the world of the monstrous evils that did not belong here, pushing them out of this reality entirely, perhaps back to where they had begun. Through Keomany, Gaea had begun to heal and cleanse the world by force.

But part of Keomany was still just the woman from Vermont who sold handmade candies at her confectionery shop, Sweet Somethings. Part of her remained human, and Octavian felt sure it was that part of her that could not meet his eyes.

'Keomany, look at me,' he said.

Gazing into the distance, toward the banks of lights the Guatemalan army had brought in, she behaved as if he had not spoken at all. Frustrated, Octavian looked back at Miles's ghost and the darksoul that squirmed in its grasp. Beyond them, Cortez looked sickly and barely conscious, as if at any moment his body might collapse in upon itself. He seemed hollow, now.

Charlotte stepped nearer to the ghost and the squirming darksoul. Confusion etched on her face and pain in her eyes, she studied the thing's slim, sinister features. It flowed like black silk, but Octavian knew that face and it belonged to Lazarus.

'Was it Cortez who killed me?' Charlotte demanded, her voice cracking. 'Who raped me and tortured me? Or was it you?'

The darksoul only smiled.

'It's not going to tell you anything,' Allison said. 'And how can we threaten it? What can we possibly do to it?'

Octavian narrowed his eyes in thought, then turned to look at Miles. The ghost wore a thin, empty smile that had a tinge of madness and a sort of furious hunger with which Octavian was all too familiar. The ghost studied the lunging, struggling darksoul with predator's eyes, but he would not act as long as Octavian needed the thing alive.

Bitter fury roiled inside Octavian. He had wanted to avenge Nikki, and Charlotte had sought her own vengeance, but now they no longer knew how to define that vengeance. Kill Cortez? Destroy the darksoul?

He glanced at Charlotte, again saw the pain in her eyes, and knew there was a simple answer: do both.

'Miles,' Octavian said, turning to the ghost. 'Are you hungry?'

The ghost quivered with anticipation, but there was a trace of self-loathing in his eyes.

'Always,' he replied.

'It's yours.'

Miles Varick's ghost did not ask for elaboration. Opening its jaws wide, the hungry specter darted forward and tore a chunk out of Lazarus's darksoul. It did not cry out as the ghost ripped it apart, feeding itself shreds of silken darkness, but Octavian saw the panic in its eyes, and then nothing.

'What the hell is this?' Allison shouted.

Charlotte cried out for the hungry ghost to stop, but it was over in seconds. For her part, Keomany did not even glance up. She still would not meet Octavian's gaze.

'Peter, what the fuck?' Allison snapped. 'We need to know-'

'What?' he interrupted. 'How it got inside Cortez? Why it was there? Whether it was controlling Cortez? You saw its eyes, Allison. You know as well as I do that we weren't going to get any of those answers. Here's what we know: Cortez, or that damned parasite, was taking orders from someone else that he referred to as the King of Hell. At the end of the day, that's who we want. That's where we get our revenge, not to mention putting a stop to all of these incursions, because it sounds like whoever this self-proclaimed king is, he's got a lot worse planned than what we've seen so far.'

'And how do we find all of that out?' Charlotte demanded with a snarl that bared her fangs.

Octavian pointed at Cortez, still suspended upright by the vines Keomany had summoned. The vampire was blinking and glancing around groggily, as though waking up from some enchanted slumber.

'We ask him, see if any of that information is in his head,' Octavian said, before turning to Charlotte. 'And then you kill him.'

Charlotte and Allison exchanged a look, and then Charlotte smiled.

'I can get behind that.'

Octavian nodded and started toward Cortez, but as he did he heard a whisper beside him and turned toward Keomany. He frowned, certain she had spoken, but still she did not so much as glance at him. Her words had been barely audible.

'Keomany, did you say something?'

Slowly, with a dry rustle, she turned her inhuman gaze upon him. For the first time he saw emotion on that strange face, in the pinch between her brows and the narrowing of her eyes and the disturbed wrinkling in her smooth apple skin.

Octavian shuddered, unsettled by her regard.

'I said "I'm sorry",' she rasped.

He frowned, not understanding, even though he felt the ground shaking beneath his feet. Even though he'd noticed that the last of the devil-bats seemed to be gone, and the serpents as well.

Then a thick root thrust up from the earth beneath Cortez and twined around the vampire, joining the other roots and vines that had held him upright. The ground beneath him shimmered and Octavian saw a distant blackness there, as if the soil had become a window into nothing.

'No!' Charlotte screamed, and she dove for Cortez with her arms outstretched, even as the roots began to drag him down through that portal and out of their world.

Allison grabbed her, wrapped her arms around Charlotte and held her there so that she would not tumble into whatever limbo lay beyond that shimmering nothing. Octavian had taken a single step forward before he had brought himself up short, knowing that there was no chance. He could only watch as Cortez was dragged down by the twining, tugging roots, and as the shimmering dissipated and the vines and roots withdrew, leaving only solid ground.

Octavian turned and grabbed Keomany, dragging her toward him, forcing her to look at him. Magic surged inside him, crackling and misting and rolling off of him in waves.

'What the fuck are you doing?' he demanded.

This time she did not look away. 'What must be done.'

Saint-Denis, France

The stairs cracked beneath Santiago, the stone shifting. A chunk of masonry crashed down a few steps higher. Anger flared inside of him. He would not be killed by falling stones or quaking earth, but he and Taweret had come to stop more utukki from being born and he refused to fail.

Down below in the cellar crypt, the hole that had appeared in the floor had vanished. There were cracks but the shimmering portal into which the demon father had been drawn had disappeared. Roots whipped about, sliding on the stone floor even as they began to withdraw into the cracked floor.

'What is this?' Taweret called to him over the groan and rumble of the earth. 'Something the mages have done?'

Santiago didn't know the answer and had no time to consider it. A huge slab of stone crashed down from the ceiling at the bottom of the steps and the tremors showed no signs of ceasing. The woman on the stairs cried out, her belly distended, another utukki only moments from birth. He'd thought the removal of the demon father might stop more from being born, but her screams told him otherwise. Without the mages, there was only one way to end this and he could not count on falling masonry to do the job. Before she was buried here, Santiago had to save her from her own, personal Hell, and to save her, he had to kill her.

He knelt by her, stone cracking beneath his knees. Once, he felt sure, she had been beautiful. Now she was pale and sweating and dirty and her eyes rolled back to show bloodshot white as she wept and moaned.

'I'm sorry,' he said.

The stairs shook and with a loud crack, split open wider. The roots shot up through them and wound themselves around the girl, even as the edges of the crack began to shimmer and a silver-black sheen filled the gap like some kind of liquid mirror.

'No!' he shouted, reaching out to grab hold of her arm as the vines pulled her down inside that portal.

Santiago thought of her spending an eternity in some other world, some other Hell, giving birth to utukki forever. He couldn't let her meet that fate alive and he tried to hold her back, hauling on her arm, reaching down to hook a hand beneath her other arm. Then one of the vines wrapped around his wrist and tugged. He fought it, tried to tear himself away, but beneath him the step cracked again and another portal began to shimmer into existence. Thick vines shot up, snaking around his waist and throat and yanking downward.

He tried to shapeshift, but his body would not respond to his thoughts. Something in the touch of those vines, some poison bit of magic, had confused his mind. Panicked, he turned toward Taweret just in time to see her dragged down through a third portal.

'No!' Santiago roared, until the vines choked off his words.

His fingers scraped smooth stone, searching for something to hold onto, and then he felt himself falling.

He could see the silver-black edges of the portal diminishing above him, and then that limbo darkness swallowed him up.

Siena, Italy

Dr Jessica Baleeiro watched Kuromaku's hand vanish into the earth. At the last moment, he dropped his katana and tried to find purchase on the rutted ground, but another root twisted around his arm and yanked it backward, and then he was simply gone. The shimmering darkness that had opened up beneath him faded as if it had been nothing more than a mirage, but what Jess had seen had been no illusion. The samurai had been taken, not just dragged into the ground but, if her glimpse into that strange pool had been any indication, out of this reality entirely.

The gigantic Shadow - Kazimir - had also been taken, and now she fell to her knees and looked out over the smoking ruin that had been made of the road and the hill and of the city of Siena in the distance. No more dark shapes darted across the sky. The smoke demons were gone, leaving death and destruction in their wake.

Stillness reigned.

The breach had been sealed. The demons had been removed.

And so had the vampires.

Languin, Guatemala

Octavian held Keomany's wrists, thorns drawing blood from his palms and fingers. Charlotte cried out as roots thrust up from the ground and dragged her down into a shimmering pool of mirror-smooth blackness that reflected the moonlight. Allison fought, tearing free of whipping vines, and tried to run for it, beginning to shapeshift into a falcon . . . to take flight. Other roots thrust high, blocking her path. One impaled her and she screeched in pain even as the roots cocooned around her.

Shouting, Octavian released Keomany and turned, magic boiling around his hands. Pale blue light churned around his fists and lanced outward, slicing through vines and roots, trying to set Allison and Charlotte free.

One of them struck him from behind, a dagger-sharp root that punched through his left side. Staggering forward, the pain distracted him for mere seconds, but they were enough. As he bled and fell to his knees, the roots encircled him tightly, holding him down. No portal opened beneath him but once again he felt his ribs constricting, bones snapping. With a cry of rage he unleashed a burning magic that scorched the roots to ash.

Freed but injured, with no time to waste on healing himself, he turned to do the same for his friends . . . just in time to see Allison's face looking up at him, her eyes pleading as she vanished inside that mirrored portal, just before it closed. Of Charlotte, there was no sign at all.

Octavian rounded on Keomany, letting that destructive magic blaze around his fists and leak from his eyes.

'Make it stop!' he roared at her, the magic radiating out of him. 'Bring them back!'

Keomany had become something inhuman, yet he could still see the emotion that tore at her. Those bizarre plant eyes were full of sorrow.

'I can't,' she said. 'I'm sorry, Peter, but this is what Gaea wants. Only earth magic from now on. Nothing from Hell, or any other dimension.'

Octavian reached out a hand and the magic flowed out of him, wrapping as tightly around Keomany as the roots had twined around him moments before. With a thought he lifted her from the ground, hearing the crinkle and snap as bits of her broke inside.

'Refuse her!' he shouted, mind a maelstrom of unwelcome thoughts of his friends suffering the torments of one Hell or another. 'Bring them back or I swear to you-'

'I'm sorry,' Keomany said . . . and then she went limp, the light going out of her eyes.

Only then did Octavian see the long roots that trailed beneath her, connecting Keomany's body to the earth . . . to Gaea.

'No!' he shouted, shooting a lance of green light from his left hand, snapping those roots and severing her connection to the soil.

Too late.

The figure he held aloft with crackling magic had become little more than an effigy, a dry husk devoid of any trace of her consciousness. The way it hung in the air, withered and stiff, he knew that Keomany had fled that body and returned to the earth.

When he dropped his hands and let the husk fall to the ground, it cracked open and emitted a puff of dust, dry and papery and dead.

Octavian stood alone, bathed in the brightness of the army's lights. He heard the wind in the trees not far away and only then realized that the rest of the noise had died away. The ground had ceased its trembling, the tanks had stopped their shelling, there were no screeches overheard from devil-bats . . . because there were no more of them. All of the things that had emerged from the breach had been forced from this reality, with only the collapsed crevice that had once been the Languin Caves as evidence they had ever been there at all, a scar on Gaea's perfect flesh.


Raging and grieving and confused, he thought of Allison and Charlotte and then his thoughts strayed further afield, wondering what had become of Kuromaku and Santiago and the others and knowing - deep in his heart - the startling truth. They must also be gone. All of his friends, nearly all of those left in the world who cared about him at all, were no longer in the world.


Octavian spun, magic springing to his fingertips, ready to kill. But the voice belonged to one already dead.

The ghost of Miles Varick manifested a few feet away, pale and translucent, barely visible in the bright lights, like the ghost of a ghost.

'We should go home,' Miles said.

Octavian stared at him, heart breaking. Nikki was dead and his friends were all gone. Cortez was gone, as well, and he imagined Gaea had put a stop to the incursions in Europe and India just as she had done here. The hunt and the battle had both come to an abrupt end, but he felt frozen, unsure in which direction he ought to take his first step.

'Peter-' the ghost said again.

Octavian nodded. 'I agree,' he said, turning toward the dead man. 'I'm just not sure there's anywhere left for me to call "home".'