its hand, palm up, showing the white line of a sacrificial scar. The message was clear. The Nightkeepers would have to uplink with their ancestral beings, forming a conduit for the Triad magic to make the transfer.

Wishing to hell there was another way, one that didn’t involve a two-in-ten chance of winding up dead or nuts, Brandt palmed his ceremonial knife from his webbed weapons belt and offered it hilt first as the others did the same.

Expression unchanging, the eagle nahwal took the knife and drew the sharp stone blade across its right hand. The unlined skin parted with an unnatural zipping noise, and dark red ichor oozed through the slash. A glob welled and dropped, and was quickly lost in the fog as the ancestral being returned the knife, then held out its leaking hand as though offering to shake on a deal.

Brandt braced himself against a power surge as they uplinked, but he got nothing beyond the squish of cold ichor and the cold clamminess of the nahwal’s flesh. He glanced over as Patience linked with her nahwal, but she ignored him.

Be safe, he thought to her, but the message didn’t get through. The jun tan link was stone cold.

Strike and Jade resumed the spell casting, starting from the beginning of the spell in the second of three repetitions. After a moment, two other voices joined in: the jaguar nahwal’s baritone and the high, sweet voice of Jade’s mother, both chanting in single voices rather than the multitonal descant typical of the nahwal . A chill shivered through Brandt. That’s it, then. It’s Strike, Sasha, and Jade.

But then Michael’s nahwal joined in with its multitonal voice, creating an instant chorus and suggesting that maybe the choice hadn’t been made, after all. Alexis’s and Nate’s nahwal took up the spell next, adding depth and texture and turning the chant into something more like a song, something haunting and gospel, though in an ancient tongue.

Then a new voice joined in unexpectedly, one that didn’t belong to any nahwal. Rabbit. Brandt glanced over and saw that the younger man’s gray-blue eyes were locked on his nahwal’s face, his expression lit with power and a restless, edgy energy. He wants this, Brandt realized. Son of a bitch.

But it made sense. Rabbit was a mind-bender, and cocky enough to think he could handle the ghosts.

And he was ambitious as hell.

Sasha joined into the spell, then Michael beside her, their voices firm, expressions grim. One by one, the others chimed in, until finally it was down to Patience, Brandt, and their nahwal. Hers took up the chant first, in a sweet, multitonal voice. His lip-synched.

An ache tightened Brandt’s chest, but they didn’t have a choice. The Triad spell was nonoptional; it was their duty as warriors, as Nightkeepers. So he steeled himself and added his voice to the echoless chorus.

After a moment, Patience did the same.

The magi and their nahwal sang together, voices swelling as they finished the second repetition, and red-gold power arced through the sky with a lightning-thunder crack that made the surface beneath them shudder and roll. Brandt steeled himself as the sky darkened to storm clouds that swirled sinuously, though there wasn’t any wind.

Then, deep within the swirling clouds, a figure took shape. The size of a small airplane, shaped like a bird of prey, and plumed like a parrot, it glowed crimson, orange, and yellow. Fire dripped from its wings, beak, and talons, brightening the stormy sky.

“Kinich Ahau,” Patience breathed.

The sun god had arrived.

Or rather, its emissary had arrived. The firebird’s image was thin and translucent, not the god itself, but rather a projection of some sort, a vaporware version that had been sent into the barrier to choose the Triad.

Brandt’s pulse kicked. This was it. They’d been prepping for the ceremony for weeks now.

Whatever happened next would change history.

The ozone smell grew stronger and static electricity charged the air as Strike led them into the final repetition of the spell.

The god-ghost circled high above the chanting group, once, twice. . . . Then on the third circuit the image shimmered, flaring sun-bright in a nova that forced Brandt to blink away the afterimage. When his vision cleared, there were three smaller firebirds where there had been one before; they flew in formation, wings outstretched, gliding in a wide spiral opposite the movement of the churning storm clouds.

The hum of magic gained a new note, counterpointing the grumble of thunder that deepened as they reached the end of the spell’s third repetition. Then Sasha, who had a closer bond to Kinich Ahau than the others, raised her voice and called, “Taasik oox!” Bring the three!

Lightning slashed as the god-ghosts screamed a clarion call of trumpets and fire. And then they dove, headed straight for the Nightkeepers.

Tension ran through the magi, a thought-whisper of last-minute hopes, fears, and prayers that turned to gasps as two of the ghosts shimmered . . . and disappeared.

“What the—” Brandt broke off as the remaining firebird locked its glowing gold eyes on his. Oh, shit.

He held his ground as the thing plummeted straight toward him, but he bared his teeth at the sky.

No, damn you. I don’t want—

The ghost veered at the last millisecond. And slammed into Rabbit.


The firebird felt like a godsdamned fifty-caliber round going in.

“Fuck.” Rabbit staggered back against his nahwal’s grip as pain howled through his body, starting at the point of impact and searing outward, then reversing course and arrowing to his head and heart, the two seats of a mage’s power.

The white-hot energy poured into his heart unchecked, where it became Nightkeeper magic, red-

gold and awesome in its intensity. But in his head . . . gods. Pain lanced through his skull, incredible pressure building to flash point in an instant when the flow of magic crashed into an immovable mental barrier.

It can’t get through the blocks. Fuck. He’d installed the barriers on Strike’s orders, to ensure that he wouldn’t burn shit down or climb inside someone else’s mind unless he frigging meant to. The blocks slowed him down, forced him to think stuff through before lashing out. Which was a good thing, usually. Now, though, the barricades went from benefit to liability in a flash.

The magic roiled within his conscious mind, knocking loose a spate of recent memories: flickering candles, a huge house in flames, a knife that dripped onto Myrinne’s fixed, staring eyes. . . . He cursed viciously, rejecting the vision images that had haunted him ever since he’d let her talk him into the scrying spell and gotten nightmares instead of answers.

He wouldn’t hurt her, couldn’t. He loved her, even if the gods hadn’t yet tagged them with their mated marks. She was on his side; she believed in him more than anyone else did, some days more than even he did. Hell, she was the one who’d guessed he would be chosen, the one who believed he could handle the magic.

So let’s do this.

Steeling himself against the pressure and pain, centering himself within the deep-down excitement of so much fucking power, he focused on the outer layer of mental blocks, the ones that kept him from using his mind-bending on others. Whispering a short counterspell, he visualized the protective shields as a solar array, row upon row of high-tech panels that folded up, accordioning smaller and smaller until they finally disappeared.

The invading magic rushed inward the moment the mental barrier was down, swamping him with a tornado of memories that flashed and collided, flaring bright in his mind’s eye for a second before disappearing.

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