Chapter 1

 

THE CITY of Uxmal was spread before Angus like a feast he could see but not taste. He was too high above the roads and trees to do much more than glimpse the ant-like inhabitants. That didn’t stop him from leaning over the balcony of the high-rise to peer as far in either direction as he could. Uxmal seemed to grow out of the jungle. He was used to neat parks scattered among gray buildings, but Uxmal seemed to be the reverse, with buildings scattered among the greenery.

The structure was smooth, and the distance between balconies was too great for him to climb down. Climbing up was also out of the question, so escape from his accommodation seemed impossible. Magic tingled across his skin, but he wasn’t sure how to use it to escape, and even if he could get out, he didn’t know where he was going and he’d eventually have to find a way back in. But he was tired of being trapped indoors when there was a whole city to explore. He leaned farther out until his balance was more precarious than was safe, but nothing he’d done recently was remotely safe.

It had been dangerous to defect from Vinland, even without the trek across the desert of Demonside. He winced and tried not to let the pain of Norah’s and Dustin’s deaths tear open the still-fresh scab.

His fault.

He’d led them.

The other Vinnish defectors, including Terrance, had been separated when they arrived on the human side of the void, so he didn’t know if everyone else was still alive. Were they all isolated? Were they even in Uxmal?

He drew in a breath of heavy wet air. The humidity clung to his skin, and the heat was a blanket he couldn’t throw off. He slapped at an opportunistic mosquito, and blood smeared his forearm next to the scar where a beetle larva had been cut out some months before. He tried to work out how long it had been exactly, but the time he’d spent walking across the desert in Demonside and then the days spent here recovering and being questioned had blurred.

The color had gradually returned to Angus’s eyes. By the time they reached the demon tribe that worked with the Mayans, his eyes were barely blue. Terrance’s had been pale gold. And the other trainee warlocks who’d thrown their lives into his hands, had they recovered fully? Had Terrance? He didn’t even know if Saka was alive. He rocked back away from the edge of the railing in case falling became a temptation.

The people who came to see him ignored his questions. Everyone seemed to think he was a spy for Vinland, and he hadn’t been able to summon Saka, because the room was full of magical dampeners.

He moved to the far left of the small balcony and leaned out to catch a glimpse of the grand, glassy temple. From a distance it appeared to be made of smoke, but he knew it wasn’t. The priest, the Mayan equivalent of a warlock, Cadmael Och, had answered that question in detail. If Angus were found guilty of being a spy, he’d be killed there. It appeared the Warlock College in Vinland hadn’t lied about the Mayan Empire’s love of human sacrifice.

The Warlock College also hadn’t mentioned that the Mayans were using magic at a level Angus had never dreamed of—and he was seeing only the barest glimpses. When Cadmael sifted through Angus’s thoughts, there were no side effects, but there was also nothing he could hide. The carefully constructed bubbles around his relationship with Saka had been stripped away.

At least the damage the college had done had been healed. While Cadmael might be the priest in charge of questioning defectors, he didn’t seem to want them to suffer, which gave Angus a small amount of hope. He wasn’t in chains, and the apartment wasn’t a filthy cell, even if he couldn’t leave because the fall would kill him.

He glanced down at the ground and willed the dizziness away, but his heartbeat increased. He wasn’t going to jump, but he wanted to get out and see more of the city. Where was Uxmal on a map? How far south was he? Or was he near the border of Vinland?

Where were Saka and Terrance and the others?

He spun away from the railing and stared at the glass door. All that waited for him on the other side were the empty rooms of his apartment. He was done with resting and sleeping and tired of answering the same questions—questions they had probably already stolen the answers for when Cadmael sorted through his mind like it was a library for browsing.

He closed his eyes. For just five minutes, it would be nice to feel safe. As though he didn’t have his neck in a noose and weren’t waiting for the chair to be kicked out from beneath his feet. For several breaths he didn’t move. If he went in, the magical dampeners would press against his skin. The humidity and the heat were more bearable.

He pressed his nails into his palms and squeezed a little harder. It would be so easy to draw blood… and do what?

He couldn’t magic up wings.

He couldn’t do anything but wait while the world froze over and Vinland and the Warlock College locked up all magic until demons and Demonside died. Even if there were no demons, magic would need rebalancing. He still didn’t understand why the Warlock College was so against rebalancing. The free flow of magic was better for everyone. Wasn’t it?

The door to his apartment opened. They never knocked when they came to talk to him. What would it be today? He’d been hauled before Cadmael in the middle of the night, hooded and questioned. He’d been brought food and questioned over a meal. While a demon with the face and antlers of a deer looked on, he’d been treated by a doctor and questioned by a woman he could only assume was a priestess. They were always asking the same questions, and he always gave the same answers—the only answers he had.

When they didn’t want him to know what was going on, they spoke in a language he couldn’t grasp. Yet they all seemed to speak Vinnish when they needed to.

Priest Cadmael stood in the doorway as though unwilling to step onto the balcony. His lilac pinstripe suit and yellow tie were almost subdued… for him. Angus still wasn’t used to the color. Everyone wore color. The walls were painted and patterned like the Mayan city was a demon village. Nothing was left white or sterile. “It is time for a testing.”

Angus uncurled his fingers and wished he hadn’t been so keen to leave his room.

He could refuse, but they’d drag him off to whatever it was they wanted him to do anyway. At first he’d refused to talk. The old habit of keeping college secrets was hard to break, especially when the Mayan Empire was considered an enemy.

Both countries used demon magic. They were more alike than different. The Mayans took rebalancing very seriously, and Cadmael had been disgusted by the college. Angus didn’t need to speak his language to understand that. His expression and tone said all that was needed.

Today he’d come to Angus instead of having Angus delivered. Was that a new approach to get him to say something?

He had nothing more to say. “What kind of testing?”

“You are a priest among your people, no?” Cadmael smiled, but it was the kind of smile that promised to trip Angus if he weren’t very careful.

He had no idea if he was passing or failing—a refugee to be granted sanctuary or a spy to be put to death. At least his death would go toward stopping the ice sheets that were smothering the world. Maybe it would even bring rain to the drying Demonside. Cadmael wouldn’t let his blood be spilled without it being used, but it was grim comfort.

“Warlock,” Angus insisted. He wasn’t sure of the difference between a priest and a warlock, and he didn’t want to make false claims. Cadmael had never taken the hint and referred to Angus as a priest, which kind of implied more training and responsibility than Angus had ever wanted when it came to demons and magic.

“Your abilities with your demon and anchor will be assessed.”

His heart lurched. “I get to see Saka?”

Saka was alive. His heart gave a wobbly flip, and he had to fight to keep the smile from his face. For five minutes with Saka, he’d do anything Cadmael asked, even for just two.

Cadmael nodded. “He is your demon.” The smile was sly.

That was the trap. Humans weren’t better than their demons. “And I am his warlock.”

The slight inclination of Cadmael’s head was the only response he got. Should he just start using the word priest? He didn’t feel like a priest. He didn’t know enough to be able to claim that rank. Priests were well-regarded in much the same way that warlocks were well-regarded, or so it seemed. Everyone deferred to Cadmael, but maybe that was because he was head of the Intelligence Temple.

Outside Angus’s room, two green-uniformed soldiers waited. Both wore knives. Arrowhead patches marked their ranks.

Angus slipped on his sandals and followed Cadmael. He expected the cloth hood to be put over his head, but no one approached him. He was getting to see Saka and the city?

Fuck. That could only mean one thing. He was about to be cut open like an overripe fruit and bled out in the temple.

He swallowed and glanced at the soldiers and then at Cadmael. His heart beat fast, as though readying to flee. But if he ran, where exactly could he go?

He couldn’t go home. The Warlock College would torture and kill him.

He couldn’t hide in Demonside, because it would gradually drain him, and hiding in Uxmal was impossible. His red hair and fair skin would make him stand out. He lacked money, papers, and everything he’d need to live as a citizen.

So he was in limbo with no country and no home. He existed because Priest Cadmael allowed him to until his usefulness ran out… which was today.

He wasn’t dead yet. There was still time to do something, but his brain refused to give him anything remotely close to an idea. At least he’d get to see Saka again.

In the foyer of the building, the woman on the desk didn’t even look up. Two more soldiers stood by the door. Maybe this place was some kind of prison. On the street the heat and sticky air assaulted him. It was hard to believe that Vinland was icing over and Demonside was drying when even the air here needed wringing out.

No cars traveled the road. Instead, some other vehicle, like a bus that ran on a track, transported people to where they needed to be. But they weren’t getting on. They were apparently walking and in the direction of the smoky-glass temple.

Soldiers walked the footpath in pairs, but no one seemed bothered by their armed presence except him. He wasn’t used to having so many military people around.

Demons, some scaled, some feathered, and some with antlers—kinds Angus had never seen before—strolled along the footpath, and no one looked at them either. He tried not to stare.

But everyone stared at him as though they knew exactly what he was.

Defector.

He was the enemy.

He lowered his gaze to the path and kept up with Cadmael as the soldiers walked behind. To escort or protect him? Or both?

Across the entrance to the temple, something was written in gold glyphs. He didn’t get a chance to memorize them or ask what they said before they entered. The cool of the temple was a relief, and the eyes of the Mayans no longer watched as though expecting him to do something awful.

The inside of the temple was gray stone, and the walls were decorated with vivid scenes that probably had meaning. But to Angus they were just scenes of people and demons and death.

He fully expected to be taken to the top to meet his fate. Instead Cadmael opened a door and ushered him into a room that was empty except for a hooded man sitting on a chair. The hood didn’t matter. Angus knew who it was. He had to stop himself from running over and pulling off the hood. This was the first time he’d been allowed to see any of the warlocks who’d fled Vinland.

It had to be a trick or a trap. His feet remained rooted to the floor, and he was unsure what he should do. He glanced at Cadmael, seeking a clue but got none. The door closed, and the soldiers remained on the other side. Cadmael paced the room, his footsteps soft as a snake slithering over stone until he stopped close to the man.

Cadmael tapped the man’s blue-shirted shoulder. “This man betrayed you to the college. He reported on you to the underground, brought you into their treachery. His loyalty changes depending on the breeze. Yet he is your anchor.” He shook his head, and a crease formed between his eyebrows as though he couldn’t understand. “That is all that is keeping him alive.”

That word again. Anchor. What did that mean? What did Cadmael think was going on? Or know. No doubt the priest had rummaged thoroughly through everyone’s thoughts.

Cadmael pulled off the hood and let it drop to the floor.

Angus took a step forward and then stopped himself, but his heart lurched.

Terrance blinked in the bright lights, but didn’t get up, even though he wasn’t tied down. His eyes were brown again and his hair longer, shaggier. Angus bit back the smile. He didn’t know if he should stay where he was or rush to embrace him. Would that be frowned upon?

Was Terrance glad to see him?

Cadmael’s gaze moved slowly between them, assessing and finding something lacking.

Terrance gave Angus a fragile smile and then a nod as though to say he was all right. Angus took another step forward. He had no words but so many questions.

“You trust him, despite his repeated betrayals,” Cadmael said.

“I knew.” He’d known from the start that Terrance was watching him for both the college and the underground.

“You betrayed your own people—the Warlock College and the underground. Your loyalty wavers depending on your mood.”

Angus faced the priest. “Wouldn’t you have done the same? The college was destroying the world. The underground became infected with warlocks who were tired of the college but still wanted power. I’ve been trying to save Demonside. Saka trusts me.” Didn’t he?

“Trust is a very flimsy thing. You have engendered none with me. Fleeing your country and surrendering all of its secrets. How do I know you won’t do the same again?” Cadmael’s hand was still on Terrance’s shoulder.

“They wanted to kill me. What choice did I have?”

“How can I trust people who change loyalties so swiftly?”

“My loyalty has never changed. It has always been about the magic and not killing two worlds.” What had Cadmael seen in his head? What had he seen in Terrance’s?

“You gained followers.”

“They wanted to flee. We did it together.” Angus glanced at Terrance. What was going on? It wasn’t like the other times Cadmael had questioned him.

“This one,” he said, tapping Terrance’s shoulder, “isn’t like you.”

“What do you mean?” Angus said. Terrance didn’t need to be like him. Did he?

Cadmael went on as though Angus hadn’t spoken. “He likes magic but fears the deeper connection. He wants to fight but doesn’t know who to fight for, so he fights for all sides.”

“I had no choice,” Terrance said. His voice was no longer cracked and dry from the trek.

“There are always choices.” Cadmael stepped away.

“The college would’ve killed us all. We did what we had to do to survive.”

Cadmael shrugged. “Death is a choice.”

But not a good one.

“It’s better to fight.” Terrance stood. He was as tall as Cadmael. Some of the muscle he’d gained playing rugby had been stripped away over the weeks in the desert, but no one would ever call him scrawny.

“Only if you know what you’re doing. Fighting everything and everyone is a fool’s game.” Cadmael smiled. “You may still get your wish. Our ball game always requires new players.”

Something flickered over Terrance’s face but was quickly masked.

What ball game?

Cadmael flicked a switch, and a circle lit up on the floor. “Your excuses bore me. Summon your demon.”