Read Token of Darkness Online

Authors: Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

Token of Darkness

Also by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

D
EN OF
S
HADOWS
In the Forests of the Night
Demon in My View
Shattered Mirror
Midnight Predator

T
HE
K
IESHA’RA
Hawksong
Snakecharm
Falcondance
Wolfcry
Wyvernhail

Persistence of Memory

Token of Darkness
is dedicated to two individuals who shall remain unnamed here, whose passing strongly inspired this story. One was very dear to me, and one was a complete stranger. So many people move in and out of our lives, often affecting us in ways we do not fully recognize or understand. By extension, we can never realize what effect we have on others, even those we have never met.

That being said, Cooper’s story owes thanks to:

My editor, Jodi. Her insight has been invaluable these past eight years as we have worked together to refine Nyeusigrube and the stories within, from the golden age of shapeshifters in the Kiesha’ra Series to the modern Den of Shadows.

My agent, Tom. I don’t know what I would do without him. Probably curl up in someone’s basement, writing stories no one would ever read and occasionally wondering if I was supposed to get a royalty statement at some point.

My fellow writers and my tireless beta-readers—especially Mason, who did a sixteen-hour-long session of beta-reading “boot camp” when I was panicking about how I could revise the first-draft mess I had on December 1 into an actual novel. Thank you to Bri, Zim, Ria, and Shauna, and to my sister, Rachel, for her support when I was preparing the revisions for submission.

The Office of Letters and Light; all the individuals and groups responsible for National Novel Writing Month (
nanowrimo.org
); and Bri, ML to Nyeusigrube. In 2006, NaNoWriMo helped me get past the worst writer’s block I have ever experienced; NaNo07 produced Cooper. 30 days. 50k. Hurrah!

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore!”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
Merely this and nothing more
.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
’Tis the wind and nothing more!

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he,
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more
.

Then the ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

—from “The Raven,” by
Edgar Allan Poe

PROLOGUE

T
he darkness was alive, and it was hungry. Cooper didn’t know how he knew that, but he did, the way he knew things in nightmares: it was hungry, and it would devour him if it could. The shadows twisted like vines and snapped like dogs at his heels, solid enough to menace but not enough for him to struggle against them.

He had been lost, and then the darkness had risen around him, and now he couldn’t find his way back.

At least the shadows weren’t focused on him. They had other prey. He needed to get somewhere safe before they noticed him again—before they turned their attention away from the girl.

The shadows had torn her apart. She was shapeless, faceless, as she struggled with them. How had she come to be there? The air seemed to weep for her, the mist coalescing into heavy drops of rain.

Insanely, he dove forward, trying to chase away the creatures that harried her. They nipped at him, but as he tried to close his arms around the girl and help gather her together, he felt himself being
yanked
backward, into a shell that was too small to fit inside.

An explosion of lights and noise told him he was awake. He opened his eyes to find the girl there, fighting with the shadows that still surrounded him. She clawed at them with her hands until they faded into the corners of the room.

Trembling, she reached out to touch his cheek.

“N
ecromantic golem.”

Cooper gave a start. He had been lost in reverie, the content of which had fled his mind the moment Samantha had spoken.

“What?”

“Necromantic golem,” she repeated. “I’m just saying. It’s an option.”

Cooper looked down, and realized he had nicked himself with the knife when she startled him. The cut wasn’t bad, but he pulled his hand and the knife away from the counter and the compulsively neat apple slices sitting there.

“You’re going to have to clarify for me,” he said as he washed the cut and reached for a bandage. “And get off the counter.”

“I’m not technically
on
the counter,” she objected, “and I should think it would be the natural answer to our situation.

Cooper shook his head and studied Samantha as he carefully cleaned up after his mishap.

She was petite, standing only a little over five feet tall. She had straight blond hair with silver highlights that looked natural, along with a few streaks of teal that didn’t. She was cute, actually, bordering on sexy, a fact that did not seem to be lost on her. Today she was wearing a short, pleated skirt—black with neon pink splotches—and a green and orange striped peasant-style blouse. Beneath the skirt, she wore gray paisley stockings, torn at the bottom to expose most of her bare feet.

Her eyes were … well, it was hard to tell. They were prismatic. Looking in them almost gave Cooper as much of a headache as today’s outfit did.

Cooper had asked Samantha about her clothes at some point over the summer. She had told him she didn’t decide what to “wear”—her clothes were no more solid than she was—but admitted that she “liked bright colors.” Very bright, apparently.

She certainly
looked
like she was sitting on the counter, but of course it didn’t matter. She could as easily have been standing
in
the counter, or on the wall or the ceiling. She did things like that sometimes, defying the laws of physics without seeming to notice or care.

If she had been alive, it probably would have been
considered a health hazard when she walked through the food, but since she was a ghost and not dripping ectoplasm, it was only annoying. And only to Cooper, because no one but him seemed able to see her. Even when she lay in the middle of the pastries display case as if it were Snow White’s glass coffin, everyone else was oblivious to her presence, including Cooper’s father, who owned the shop.

“Seriously,” she insisted now, apparently not ready to let this idea drop. “Golem.”

He rolled his eyes. “I assume you mean for you.”

“Uh-huh.”

“And I assume you mean I should make one, so you can … take it over, or whatever.”

“It’s not possession if it’s a golem, since they don’t have souls, right?” she said, making him wince at the way her voice echoed when she got excited. “And it’s not a zombie or anything since you’d be making it and not using a dead person.”

“You wouldn’t be able to sit on the ceiling anymore if you actually had a body,” he pointed out.

She paused, chewing her lip, then shrugged, and fell halfway through the counter before finding her feet on the floor. “I wouldn’t be able to sit on the ceiling, but I’d be able to … to curl up on a cold night, wrapped in a blanket, with a mug of raspberry hot cocoa. So, what do you say?”

“I say I don’t know how to make a golem, necromantic or otherwise.”

“You use clay, duh!”

“Where do you
get
this stuff?” he asked. “Clay. Okay. And
then
… ?”

“Then … then …
I want a body!
I’m sick of this non-corporeal crap. Check out the library’s occult section. Check out
Harry Potter
. I don’t care!”

With the last outburst, Samantha flickered like a candle flame going out and disappeared. Cooper shrugged and turned back to see if the apples were salvageable. He wasn’t worried about Samantha. She often disappeared, and always came back.

Maybe he should have been concerned about
himself
since he was the only person who could see her, but he wasn’t. He knew better than to tell anyone else about her, though; they would probably lock him away in a padded room somewhere. Could he really blame them?

The fact of the matter was, he was being haunted by the color-coordination-challenged ghost of a teenage girl. She had appeared by his bedside when he had woken in a hospital last July, and neither of them knew why.

He finished cutting the apples and started laying them into tarts. The work was soothing, mechanical. His father was in the next room, kneading bread dough; occasionally, his soft humming reached as far as this room, but mostly it was quiet, the way Cooper liked it. He appreciated the routine of waking up at four in the morning, getting to the shop by four-thirty to bake bread and pastries and brew the coffee before they opened at seven. Then—at least on weekdays, like today—he hung up his apron as his father
spoke to the first of the morning’s customers, rolled down his sleeves, and trudged fifteen minutes to school.

Before this summer, he would have laughed at the guy he was now: quiet, reserved, and living very much in his own head, instead of constantly surrounded by outgoing friends who only managed by sheer luck not to get kicked out of every public place they entered.

It was only the fourth day of his senior year of high school. It was going to be a long year, and not because the day started when he had already been awake for more than three hours … often longer. …

The problem was, he couldn’t find it in him to
care
about this year. He used to care about things, people. His room, his stuff. His friends, especially the other guys on the Lenmark Ocelots football team, including John, who had been his best friend since sixth grade. He had barely seen any of them since the end of the previous school year. Then there was his car, a 1993 Dodge Colt hatchback—more than a decade old with more than a hundred thousand miles on it, but it rode like a dream, like
his
dream, like freedom.

Cooper didn’t have that anymore, either, and he didn’t miss it, even yesterday, when he had walked from his father’s coffee shop to school in a fine drizzle. His father had offered to let him take the family car, but he hadn’t minded the cold or the rain or the way it made Samantha sparkle as it fell through her.

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