Nightkeepers 4


Jessica Andersen

In loving memory of my grandmother Marian Woodard, who was never without a book close at hand.


The Nightkeepers’ world is well hidden within our own; bringing it to light isn’t always an easy process. My heartfelt thanks go to Deidre Knight, Kara Cesare, Claire Zion, Kara Welsh, and Kerry Donovan for helping me take these books from a dream to a reality; to J. R. Ward for her unswerving support; to Suz Brockmann for being a mentor and an inspiration; to Nancy N. and Julie C. for being rock-star beta readers; to Liz F. for taking over the Keepers’ message board; to my many other e-

friends for always being there for a laugh or cyberhug; to Sally Hinkle Russell for keeping me sane; and to Brian Hogan for too many things to name in this small space.

What has come before . . .

Two years ago, a reluctant king stepped up to rule the scant dozen surviving Nightkeepers and their winikin protectors. Bound by blood and magic, this small band of saviors must protect mankind from the rise of terrible demons on December 21, 2012, as prophesied by the calendar of the ancient Maya.

In order to reach their full powers, the magi must find and bond with their gods-destined mates . . . who aren’t always who or what they seem.

With their numbers decimated by demon slaughter and their information stores destroyed by religious cleansing, the Nightkeepers fight a rearguard action against not only the dark lords of demonkind, the Banol Kax , but also against their earthly enemies, the magic-wielding members of the Order of Xibalba, who seek to preempt the end-time for their own purposes. Badly in need of new spells and prophecies in the final three years before the end- time, the Nightkeepers must gain access to their ancestors’ library, which is hidden in the barrier of psi energy that gives them their mage powers. Their only hope for this lies in the scarred hands of a formerly demon-possessed human who now harbors the powers of a Prophet but can’t figure out how to use the magic to save his own life . . . or that of the woman he once loved.



The beginning of a new day


June 12, New Moon Two years, six months, and nine days to the zero date University of Texas, Austin

“I just got the booty call,” Jade announced as she let herself into Anna’s office, which could’ve doubled as the set for a movie of the archaeologist-slash-adventurer-saves-the-day variety, with artifact-crammed shelves and framed photographs of rain forests and ruins. After closing the door to make sure nobody out in the cool, faintly damp halls of the art history building could overhear unless they made a real effort, Jade dropped into the empty chair opposite her friend’s desk and let out a frustrated sigh. “Thing is, it wasn’t the booty-er calling. It was your brother.”

Anna winced. “Ew.”

“No kidding, huh?” Not that Jade thought Anna’s brother was an “ew”—far from it. Strike was massive, raven haired, and seriously drool-worthy, but he was also thoroughly mated, and the fact that he was the Nightkeepers’ king had added to the squick factor, taking the uncomfortable phone call from “gee, it’d be nice if you and Lucius hooked back up” into royal-decree territory. Granted, Jade had volunteered for booty duty, and the sexual mores of a mage were way more liberal than human norm, but still.

Propping her feet on a cracked, knee-high clay pot that showed a sacrificial scene of a victim’s beating heart being ripped out, and which currently served as Anna’s trash can, Jade slumped down and let her long, straight hair fall forward around her face. It obscured her view of the trim jeans and upscale, low- heeled sandals that would’ve looked casually elegant on Anna, but on her just blended.

As she slouched, she swore she heard Shandi’s voice in her head, chiding, Sit up straight, Jade. The members of the harvester bloodline are always dutiful, diligent, and decorous . The three “D”s. Even before she’d known she was a Nightkeeper, or that her last name of Farmer was a modern take on her bloodline, she’d been hearing about duty, diligence, and decorum, along with the familiar remonstrations: Walk, don’t run; listen, don’t talk; speak, don’t shout; follow, don’t lead; blend, don’t stand out.


Tucking her hair behind her ears and straightening her spine—because she wanted to, not because of her winikin’s remembered chidings, dang it—Jade glanced at the black, tattoolike bloodline glyph she wore on her inner forearm, along with the scribe’s talent mark that tagged her as little more than a glorified librarian. Bared by the soft white button-down sleeves she’d rolled up past her elbows, the marks stood out in sharp relief against her pale skin, which refused to tan despite her otherwise dark coloring of sable hair and light green, almost sea-foam eyes. Ten bucks says Shandi never expected that the “duty” part of the three “D”s would come down to something like this, she thought snidely.

Really, though, she had zero problem with what she was being asked to do. Her problem was that Strike had been the one doing the asking. Damn it, Lucius.

“You could bail.” Anna leaned back in her desk chair, toying with the thin metal chain that disappeared at her neckline. The king’s sister was a striking woman in her late thirties, wearing a moss-colored lightweight sweater that counterpointed her dark, russet-highlighted hair and the piercing cobalt eyes she and Strike had both inherited from their father, King Scarred-Jaguar. Despite her heritage, though, Anna had recently stepped up to head the human university’s ancient civilizations department. Of the scant dozen Nightkeepers still living, she was the only one who had refused to take up residence at Skywatch and commit to the Nightkeepers’ war against the Banol Kax and the fast-approaching zero date. Although Jade knew that Anna’s decision had caused—was still causing—problems back at Skywatch, she considered herself lucky that the other woman had stuck to her guns, not just because the university connection gave the Nightkeepers access to high-level information on the ancient Maya and the world at large, but because the campus itself had turned into a landing spot for magi looking to get away from Skywatch without being totally out of the loop . . . like Rabbit, who’d needed to escape the compound’s isolation and memories of his borderline sociopathic father, and Jade, who’d

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