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The Rites of Inheritance (Book 1)

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The subject of an ancient prophecy about the end of the world, Cassady Brewell is determined to save both her people and herself without bloodshed. But no matter what she does, destiny has other ideas

Fantasy / Adventure
4.8 5 reviews
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The Book in the Attic

Cassady Brewell eased her car to a stop in her usual parking spot at the curbside. Much slower than usual, Cassie shifted into park and slid her key out of the ignition. She sighed and looked up at her house. It was already after five—no chance the place was empty. Cassie grabbed her bag from the passenger seat. She’d have to face her mother sooner or later.

In the two weeks since the death of Cassie’s grandmother, her mother, Charlotte, had been, to put it kindly, not herself. She’d stopped working normal hours, was constantly irritable and jumpy, was often making loud, angry phone calls, and had begun muttering to herself when she thought no one was listening. A little grief was to be expected, but Cassie couldn’t help but feel that something else was going on.

It wasn’t as if they were close, Cassie thought as she climbed out of the car and dragged her feet up the driveway. In fact the two of them had all but hated each other. It had been years since Cassie had seen her mother and grandmother in the same room, and she couldn’t remember a time that they had spoken without getting into an argument. And yet the second Gran dies, she goes insane. Go figure. Cassie had been trying to pry answers out of both women for years with no result, but now, with her mother running off the rails, Cassie felt it was best to just give Charlotte some space.

The spring air was chilly as Cassie lingered on the front walk. She was only wearing a zip-up sweatshirt over her short-sleeved tee and her jeans were old and worn thin. Cassie didn’t consider herself to be skinny, but it was times like these that made her wish she had a little more meat on her bones. Her tawny brown skin was flushed where the breeze whipped strands of her long chestnut hair across her face and neck, nipping at the exposed flesh. Cassie’s face was a compact oval, with rounded cheekbones and an upturned nose. She narrowed her bright green eyes as if glaring at the wind would make it back off. Cassie couldn’t much stand the cold. She pulled her sweatshirt closer around her and reluctantly climbed the steps to the porch.

Very quietly, with a silent prayer that her mother wouldn’t hear her, Cassie opened the front door and crept into the foyer. No sign of Charlotte except the muffled sound of talking coming from the kitchen. Probably on the phone again, Cassie assumed. She shut the door and tiptoed toward the stairs. All she had to do was make it to her room and she’d be safe for up to a few hours. But she didn’t even make it to the first step before a sound stopped her in her tracks.

A loud thud, the sound of a palm slammed onto the countertop. Charlotte’s shout cut through the house. “I’m not having this conversation with you again, Morris. I swear I’ve said it a thousand times and I’m not changing my mind.”

But unlike her mother’s dozens of curt phone calls, a man’s voice answered. Someone was actually here. He was equally irritated, though not quite as loud as Charlotte had been. “I know we’ve had this conversation before, but while you’ve been kind enough to repeat your stubborn opinion over and over, you have yet to listen to me. It doesn’t matter what you want, Charlotte, the law is the law.”

If this had not already caught Cassie’s attention, what her mother said next would have made her fall off the step she was only half standing on. “You can shove your laws up your ass, Morris. She’s my daughter and I will not let you have her. I wouldn’t let Mother use Cassie while she was alive and I certainly won’t let her now that she’s dead.” Cassie took a couple of steps back into the foyer and towards the kitchen, straining her ears for Morris’ response.

He sighed very audibly. “When are you going to realize that this is not about your mother? You’re the one who gave up your blood rights, so naturally Cassady is the one to inherit. I don’t know why you’re surprised. This is no orchestration against you; it’s the way things are. Are you so against your family, against your people, that you can’t see that? We need a leader; we need somebody on the throne. Even a child figurehead like her. Our survival depends on it.”

“Because of your war?” Even to Cassie, her mother sounded petulant.

“No,” Morris said curtly. “Because of your family’s cursed legacy. So if you are done acting like a foolish child, can you please cooperate now?”

“I told you, no. I swore to myself that Cassie and I would never go back there. And you can’t break the binding that keeps us here, I’m sure of that. So I can continue to be childish and uncooperative all that I want.”

“Why must you do this?” Morris sounded almost sad.

“To protect my family. Look at what happened to my husband, my uncle, even Mother. With the Rite invoked, nothing is safe. Only here, away from Light or Darkness can we live freely. Even for all the worlds of the universe I cannot risk my daughter’s safety. Please understand that.”

There was a long silence. Cassie shifted uncomfortably. She was very aware of the fact that she was eavesdropping on a private conversation.

Finally, Morris said, “Then you must understand that I will not risk all the worlds of the universe for your peace of mind. We will speak again soon.”

At the first sound of movement Cassie bolted, taking pains to make no noise as she rushed away. In a flash, she was back out the door and across the porch before anyone could leave the kitchen. If she could only pretend that she’d just pulled up…

“Cassie, you’re home.” Charlotte opened the door as her daughter was hopping down the front steps.

Cassie froze on the sidewalk. “Yes,” she turned around slowly, her heart beating in her throat. “I left my cell phone in my car, I was just going back to get it.” She tried to look as innocent as possible as she faced her mother and the man beside her on the porch.

Charlotte looked even more harried than usual. Her bright auburn hair, which reached the bottom of her ribcage at its longest, was half escaping from a large clip, forming a frazzled halo around her face. She looked paler too—her cheeks more sunken and her green eyes dull. But Charlotte still tried to carry herself with her usual confident air. She stood at least half a foot taller than Morris, who was a short man to begin with. Cassie had never seen someone so young with grey hair before, but he couldn’t be much more than thirty with hair an elegantly tarnished silver. He’d grown it about shoulder length and tied it back into a refined ponytail with a thin, black ribbon. Which of course looked very odd with the bright purple track pants and white long-sleeved tee he was wearing. As if the uncomfortable look on his face didn’t make him look out of place enough.

There was at least a full minute of awkwardly exchanged glances before Charlotte felt the need to say, “Cassady, this is Morris. He was a friend of your grandmother’s.” The word “friend” sounded very forced; Morris raised an eyebrow at it.

Cassie herself winced at the use of her full name. Her mother only used it when she was angry or trying to make a point. Probably both, Cassie thought. She had a feeling that Charlotte knew Cassie had overheard them.

Purposefully ignoring Charlotte’s ire, Morris bowed handsomely to Cassie. “How do you do, Cassady? I’m very glad to meet you; your grandmother always spoke highly of you. I served as her steward for a long time. She was an extraordinary woman.” This last remark seemed to be directed at Charlotte, who pretended not to have heard it.

“Yes, well—”

Cassie interrupted her mother, “You were her ‘steward’? What exactly would Gran have needed with a steward?”

“Think of me as an assistant,” Morris answered before Charlotte could cut in. “Your grandmother was a very important woman, you could hardly expect her to manage all her affairs alone.” His eyes were very wide, as if trying to hint at something.

“Seriously?” Cassie had known her grandmother had some money—an inheritance or investment of some kind. But Gran never spoke about it much, and Charlotte refused to accept any part of it anyway. Cassie had always figured it just amounted to a lot of money piled in offshore bank accounts. It was odd to hear her grandmother spoken about like some business mogul.

“Yes,” Morris nodded, eyes still round as saucers. “A lot of people depended on her. And now that she’s dead—”

“They’ll find someone else to depend on,” Charlotte interjected curtly. “I thought you had somewhere to be, Morris?”

Morris shot Charlotte a very long, disappointed glare before he nodded. “Yes, well. I’ll take my leave now. I’ll be contacting you again soon, Charlotte.”

“Great, I can’t wait.”

Morris tutted under his breath and walked up to Cassie. He made a fist and twisted his hand in a circle, cracking the joint in his wrist before opening his hand and offering it to Cassie. “It was good to meet you, Cassady.”

“Oh, yes. You too.” Cassie shook his hand. Because her mother was watching, she just managed to school her face from showing surprise as she felt Morris press the piece of paper into her palm. She looked up into his face and his eyes were wide again. This time it was clear what he was trying to say: this is important, don’t show it to your mother. Cassie didn’t want to nod so she widened her own eyes and hoped he saw that she understood. Morris released her hand and walked away. Cassie looked after him, realizing that her own car was the only one in sight. “Did he walk here?” she asked.

“Come inside, Cassie,” Charlotte ordered. “I need to speak to you about something.”

Cassie tightened her hand around the small scrap of paper. “Um, actually I was going to go over to Finn’s house. Homework and stuff. I kind of promised her. Can we talk later?”

“Cassady I really think…”

“I promise I’ll be back soon, mom.” It wasn’t a lie when Cassie said it; not that she knew of. She didn’t even spare a glance back as she hurried to her car, Morris’ note clutched tightly in her hand.

Finnia Morgan had been Cassie’s best friend since middle school. She lived in the next neighborhood, less than a ten-minute drive from Cassie’s house. When Cassie arrived unannounced on her doorstep, Finn had just returned from marching band rehearsal and was still in her workout gear—a grey running tank with green stripes on the sides and grey sweatpants.

“So explain to me again why you came here and really listen to the crazy this time because it’s just delightful.” Finn said. She was sitting cross-legged on her bed. Cassie had just finished explaining what had happened and was now pacing around Finn’s room. Finn tracked her with hawk-like brown eyes.

“It’s not that crazy,” Cassie said without breaking her stride. “I just didn’t want to open the note at home because I know Mom would know about it if I did.”

“Even if you were alone?”


“And you don’t hear anything wrong with that?” Finn said.

“No. I mean yes, I know she’s not clairvoyant it’s just…she can’t know what’s in this note. I told you, this guy—”

“Ok, ok.” Finn pulled her golden hair out of her ponytail, shaking it loose about her shoulders before starting to put it back up. Her expressive face carried a tinge of concern, from her full lips to her thin eyebrows. Finn had a long nose in a rounded face, with small ears that she usually wore big earrings to lengthen. Overall, though, her features came together into an energetic, lively look, helped by Finn’s slightly muscular frame and constant movement. It was reassuring to look at her now; Cassie could feel some of the tension leaving her shoulders. It was just a note, after all. “So what exactly does it say?” Finn asked.

“Let’s find out.” Cassie pulled the paper out of her pocket and sank into Finn’s desk chair. She took a deep breath, “Here we go.” The piece of paper was perfectly square and just the size of her palm; Cassie unfolded it slowly. Morris’ writing was tiny and neat in shining silver ink. “If you want to know the truth,” Cassie read aloud, “go to your grandmother’s attic. There you will find what she has left you. The door will open on your command.” She looked up at Finn. “What the hell?”

“I have no idea.” Finn finished snapping her hair into her ponytail and dropped her hands into her lap. “Do you think ‘the truth’ has something to do with your mom and grandma?”

“I don’t know.” Cassie shook her head. She brought the note closer to her face, as if examining it for a hidden message. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a hundred truths about Gran that I never knew. I’m more concerned about ‘what she has left me’.”

“You said they were arguing about some inheritance?” Finn said. “Maybe she left you something your mom didn’t want you to have.”

Cassie shook her head. “No, she didn’t leave me anything. She didn’t even have a will.”


“Yeah, it was a big deal. You know how she has all that money, and a couple houses. Mom’s been dealing with lawyers this whole time. It sounded more like Morris was talking about a job, or something like that. He wanted me to be a leader.”

“Of what?”

Cassie shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t even know what Gran did for a living. I honestly thought she was retired. But you should have heard how serious they were. Like it was life and death.”

“Well I’m sure you can find that in an attic,” Finn said. “It must be something else. Like letters or records. How else could they tell you the truth?”

“But I don’t see why that has to be such a secret from my mother. Especially if it has something to do with the law.”

“I couldn’t tell you.” Finn said. “But, I think you should be careful. Your mom ‘gave up her rights’ to whatever this is. It might not be something you want either.”

Cassie twisted her mouth in thought. “Mom did sound pretty against whatever it was Gran and Morris were involved in.”

Finn laughed. “Maybe she was in the mafia or something.”


“Well, you said your mom thought it was dangerous. ‘I want to protect my family, no one will be safe’ you know? Maybe all your grandmother’s ‘affairs’ are actually some sort of gangster family she wanted you to take over.”

“So now you’re accusing Gran of being a mob don?”

Finn shrugged, smiling. “You have to admit, your grandmother had an edge.”

“Yeah sure.” Cassie waved the comment aside with her hand. “Anyway, it’s pointless to speculate. Or joke.” She looked down at the note, seeing Morris’ wide eyes imploring her, full of intensity. When Cassie looked up again, she was decided. “We just have to go over there and see what’s in the attic.”

Finn narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Are you sure? What does she keep in the attic, anyway?”

“I don’t know; I’ve never been in the attic.”

“What do you mean, you go over there all the time. You have to know something. You house sit when she’s out of town running the mafia.” Even though her voice was serious, Finn’s smile was crooked.

“Stop that,” Cassie said, smiling back nonetheless. “But, no, I’ve never been in the attic. There’s never been a need. Besides, she keeps it locked. I don’t think I’ve even seen her go in.”

“It’s locked all the time? That’s pretty suspicious. What do you think she’s hiding in there?”

“‘The truth’,” Cassie said mockingly. Then she shrugged. “It must be something good, if Morris went through all this trouble. Although, I don’t know how to get into the attic. ‘The door will open on your command’, what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Maybe there’s some fancy voice activated lock?” Finn shrugged. “Don’t hate me for saying this, but the whole thing doesn’t seem to hold up. If it really were some legal matter, you’d hear about it in a lawyer’s office, wouldn’t you? Sounds more like this guy just wants to get you alone.”

“You think he wants to kidnap or rape me?”

“It’s possible. I mean, what do you know about this guy anyway? He sounded pretty shady.”

Cassie looked at the note again. The script shimmered tantalizingly. If you want to know the truth…

“Maybe you should talk to your mom about it,” Finn suggested.

Something about that comment filled Cassie with instant resolve. “You’ll come with me. This guy’s pretty tiny; the both of us could take him. You keep telling me how strong all that marching band training makes you, right?”

“I love how you say that like it’s already decided.”

“Come on, you know you’re curious.”

Finn sighed deeply. “If I don’t go, you’re going to get raped and murdered just to spite me, aren’t you?”


“Fine. But let’s go now, cause your grandma’s place is far and I still have homework to do tonight.”

“All right,” Cassie stood up and stretched.

“Also, you’re buying me dinner after.”

“Yes, yes.” Smiling she grabbed Finn’s arm and pulled her along. Morris’ note lay behind in the desk chair, stark against the black fabric.

When they arrived at Gran’s house, the sun was already sinking toward the horizon. Cassie punched in the security code to open the front door, glad that her mother or the realtor hadn’t changed it yet. As they walked into the cavernous foyer, Finn turned in circles looking at the high ceiling. “Well whatever your grandma was into, it certainly paid off,” she said. “This is like one of those upstate Kennedy manors you read about in “New England Living” or some such.”

Cassie flicked the light switch and the restored chandelier sparkled to life. “Mom told me she inherited this house from my great-grandfather. I don’t know how true that is, but all the houses around here are old family estates.”

The two of them started to climb the large, sweeping staircase that lay to one side of the foyer. “You know, that’s something I’ve always wondered,” Finn said.


“What drove your mom to run away from all this,” she gestured at the house around them.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Cassie said. She led Finn across the first floor to the second set of stairs. “She fought with Gran all the time, but they were so careful never to be specific. I asked, believe me, but all I ever got was a lot of ‘it’s complicated’ and ‘it’s none of my business’.” She shook her head. “As far as I can figure they had some huge fight before I was born, and they’ve never gotten over it.”

“Maybe it has something to do with this weird job Morris is trying to push on you,” Finn suggested.

“Maybe,” Cassie said. “Whatever it was, it happened around the time my dad died. Mom never said anything, but I always got the sense it had something to do with that.”

The girls crossed the third floor to the attic stairs. At the top was a small landing before a plain wooden door. The brass door handle shimmered ominously in the light of the single bulb hanging above them. Cassie reached forward slowly and turned it, but it clicked against itself and didn’t budge. “It’s locked,” she said dumbly.

“Morris said it would open for you,” Finn said. “Maybe the lock,” she leaned over to look at it but saw nothing but wood and the handle, “doesn’t exist” she finished. “The door doesn’t have a lock on it. How can it be locked without a lock?”

“Maybe it’s stuck?” Cassie jiggled the handle and shoved against the door with her shoulder.

“Maybe you have to command it,” Finn joked. “The note was very specific.”

Cassie laughed, leaning on the door handle to try and unstick it. “Right, because to open—ahh!” Cassie stumbled as the door opened inward, taking her arm with it. She let go of the knob as if it had burned her. The two girls exchanged a wide-eyed look.

“Well, that was weird.” Finn laughed nervously.

“I guess it was voice-activated after all.” Cassie peered cautiously into the darkened room, trying to see beyond the doorway.

Finn squeezed her shoulder reassuringly. “Well, come on. Let’s go find the ‘truth’.”

They pushed open the door and walked inside. The attic was one big room, floored with the same teak paneling as the rest of the house. One wall was lined with tall bay windows while the rest were filled with shelves and cabinets. A few piles of boxes, trunks, and old mementos were strewn along the edges of the room, but the majority of the space was empty except for a large shadow in the middle. There was still enough dusky light streaming in for Cassie to find the light switch on the wall. Another refurnished chandelier lit up from inside the peak of the roof.

“Oh my god,” Finn whispered from behind Cassie.

Cassie could see her concern. Now that the light was on, the shadowy shape in the center of the room was clearly visible. It was the same kind of counter island that was usually found in a kitchen, with a stove on one side and granite tile on the other. And sitting on top of the large, single burner was what could only be described as…

“Is that a cauldron?” Cassie walked up to it and reached out her hand, not touching it but hovering over the cast iron as if it was still hot.

“Certainly looks like it. God, it’s big enough to sit in.”

“Maybe it’s just for cooking?”

“Then why isn’t it in the kitchen? Besides, it’s not exactly a pot.”

“There are handles here.” Cassie pointed to the side. “It’s moveable. You could use it as a pot.” She turned around, looking at the shelves that surrounded them. “This is…less explainable.” The shelves were lined with various jars and spices. Everything was labeled in Gran’s neat handwriting—thyme, ramie, wolfsbane, nightshade, dried starfish, snakeskin. Several things looked to be organs pickled in jars. A nearby mini-fridge bore a crooked label that read simply, “reagents.”

Finn walked up to a shelf and read the small label on a green jar, “‘Bat spleen’. What the fuck?” She looked over her shoulder at Cassie. “What the hell was your grandmother doing up here?”

Cassie didn’t reply. Her eye had been caught by the large book sitting on a stand by the windows. It was the thickest book she had ever seen—thousands of pages and the size of a small tombstone. The pages were yellowed with age, but the leather binding was oiled and soft. Gold lettering traced strange symbols over the front cover, graceful as lace. Cassie walked toward the bookstand as if transfixed.

Finn turned around and saw what Cassie was looking at. “What is that?”

“I don’t know. But somehow I get the feeling that this is what I was supposed to find.” She walked around the stand, tracing a hand over the wood, eyes fixed on the book. With her back to the window, Cassie stood before it, trying to read the strange writing on the cover.

“A book?” Finn crossed the room as well, standing in front of the stand, looking upside down at the book, over it at Cassie. “It doesn’t exactly look like legal records.”

Cassie nodded. She lifted a hand but was reluctant to touch the smooth leather. “‘There you will find what she has left you…’” she repeated softly. “I don’t know what it is about this book, though. I don’t even know what it says.”

“Good because for a second I thought you were about to tell me that you magically understood this.” Finn gestured at the strange writing. “I don’t think it’s a real language.”

“Or just not one anyone speaks anymore…” Cassie’s voice was still low. She looked up into Finn’s eyes, and Finn was taken aback by the look of worry there. “Somehow I get the feeling that this is some big deal. And I don’t know why I feel that way, but it’s like the second I even touch this book…” Cassie trailed off.

Finn opened her mouth to contradict her, but then decided to close it. Instead, she nodded. “I think I know what you mean.” She looked down at the embossed tome between them. “It’s like it’s giving off an aura.”

Cassie shook her head violently. “God, this is stupid. It’s a book.” She placed her palm squarely in the center of the cover.

The whole world spun.

Cassie stood in a clearing in the woods. Everything was grey and slightly indistinct, like an old, fuzzy movie. The wind moved through the trees, leaves shushing like ocean waves. A carpet of moss covered the ground, springy and warm against her bare feet. She stood facing an enormous tree, too big to throw her arms around, with silver bark and a large hollow in its center. Suddenly, like a jolt from an earthquake, the world shifted. Cassie blinked furiously. She could see the tree and the clearing around her, but then suddenly there were two. Two clearings, two skies and two earths—two trees, the black hollows staring at her like a pair of eyes. A path, something inside her seemed to say. Choose a path.

Cassie looked around her, blinking against the double vision. Standing beside her in the clearing were three others. Finn was there, next to a tall boy with spikey hair, and on Cassie’s other side was another, dark-haired boy with swirling black tattoos up and down his arms. In Cassie’s hand was the largest gemstone she’d ever seen. It was hard to tell what kind of stone it was without color, but it was pretty as it caught the light and she could feel the hard corners of its edges pressing into her skin. The others were talking but she couldn’t hear what they were saying. It was as if she were listening to them from underwater and far away, their words blending into a singular murmur. However it seemed she could hear her own voice, though she had no control over what she said. “I think I understand,” Cassie heard herself say. “I think I understand the real reason why.” More murmurs from the others, so indistinct that she couldn’t tell who was speaking “Maybe he didn’t want to change the world.” Cassie responded. “Maybe all he wanted was a different future for his family.” She took a step forward and it was like stepping out of her body.

The double sensation surrounded Cassie. On one side she felt herself pulling back her arm and throwing the gemstone against the tree. She watched it shatter on impact, a thousand glittering fragments raining down like snow. But on the other side she cradled the stone to her chest and turned to look at the others. She met the black-haired boy’s eyes as she said, “We have to end this, no matter what.”

Choose a path the voice said again. Cassie watched, like looking down two moving hallways at once as scene after scene played out, skipping from one to the other almost too fast to follow, all with her at the center.

On one side: A glorious city with buildings of iridescent stone that towered around her. The streets were lined with people, somber and silent as if they watched a funeral procession. Cassie stood before a huge statue in the center of the city. She touched the marble feet, looking up at the statue’s face. Instantly light flared like a beacon into the sky where it splashed outward in an arc over the whole city.

Cassie and Finn stood in a dark room. Finn handed her a battered journal, and Cassie ran her hand over the cover almost lovingly. On her finger was a ring with a small round stone and a thick engraved band.

A young man sat by a lake, his face simple and kind, smiling as he turned toward Cassie.

A battlefield. Blood coated the ground and chaos was everywhere. Among the combatants horrific beasts threw their damage in, tearing men apart by the squadron. A creature that looked like a gigantic snake with spikes spiraling around its body slithered up and Cassie turned to meet it, holding only a wooden staff that was smaller than the creature’s own fangs.

Now the fighting was distant, winding down. Shadows moved all around her. She sat on the ground, the dark-haired boy from the clearing lying in her lap. Blood soaked the front of his shirt and poured over Cassie’s legs, pooling on the ground beneath them. Cassie wept, her body shaking as she brushed the hair from his face. He whispered a few last words that the vision wouldn’t let her hear. All Cassie heard was her phantom self whispering, “I love you.”

On the other side: A woman with wings like a bat’s and skin dappled like tree bark held out her hands to Cassie. When Cassie took them, they were so warm. The woman said something to which Cassie responded, “With all the power that I possess.”

She stood on a cliff, a group of people behind her, looking out at the view. This high above the clouds the world looked like a sea, mountains pushing up like jade islands in the distance. Cassie was holding one hand out in front of her, a necklace clenched in her fist, its chain spilling out between her fingers. The chain was dripping, oozing something thick and black. “It’s one thing to kill people,” Cassie said, raising her voice above the sound of wings. She turned to face the others around her. “But it’s another thing to let them die.”

Up in the sky, circling like a vulture, was man. A man with wings wider than a house, with white hair and yellowed skin and two spots of searing light for eyes. Cassie put her hand to her neck where the same gemstone from before hung. She clutched it tight in her hand as she shouted, “I can save you. I can save all of you. Just don’t do this!” The man reached out his hand and smiled, some kind of energy pulsed from his hand and Cassie threw herself forward as the wall at her back collapsed. Fire spread out from the rubble through the streets of an exposed city, and even without sound Cassie could hear screaming as everything began to burn.

The dark-haired boy stood above a large, broad-shouldered man, pinning him to the ground with a sword at his heart. The boy was shouting, his eyes blazing with rage. The man clenched his jaw in a sneer, but Cassie could see the fear in his eyes. Eyes that were so like the boy’s. The man made one last plea. The dark-haired boy drove his blade downward.

Cassie lay back on a doctor’s table, feet in stirrups. She was panting and drenched in sweat. A man and woman hovered over a table on the other side of the room, talking in whispers. “Is the baby ok?” Cassie asked fearfully. The woman answered with something, and carried over a squalling little bundle. Cassie took the babe with a smile. She pulled the corner of the blanket back so she could see the infant properly. It settled happily in her arms, a beautiful baby girl. But it looked up at Cassie with golden eyes, golden even in this grey dream, and she saw, folded tightly against the baby’s back and still sticky with afterbirth, a small newborn pair of wings.

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