In this sequel to City of Villains by critically acclaimed author, Estelle Laure, teen detective Mary Elizabeth continues to unravel a dark conspiracy that has turned her best friend and boyfriend into villainous monsters—all while battling her own inner demons. Picking up where City of Villains left off, this sequel finds Mary Elizabeth reeling from the battle at Miracle Lake in which she watched, horrified, as her boyfriend James and best friend Ursula turned into full-fledged, villainous monsters. Now James, Ursula, and Maleficent have gone underground—and are plotting their revenge. Mary Elizabeth is determined to find them and bring the truth to light, digging deeper into the dark underbelly of Monarch City and the history of magic, and uncovering a conspiracy theory that reaches farther than she could have imagined. But a city divided by politics and ideologies, a new love interest, and her own inner demons might just stand in her way. What are the Villains planning in secret? And is she the next villain to rise? This gritty fairy-tale inspired crime series is perfect for readers of Serena Valentino's Villains series, and TV shows like Riverdale and Veronica Mars.
Release date: May 31, 2022
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Print pages: 231
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City of Hooks and Scars
DESIRE AVENUE IS DEAD NOW, NO ONE ON THE streets, all the businesses shuttered and shadowed. Black-and-white shots of James, Ursula, and Mally are slapped across their fronts, warning everyone that the villains have disappeared, no one knows where they are, and to report any sign of them at once.
Use the #fearthevillains hashtag for more information or to share anything you know, or text 332277.
Mud streaks the sidewalk, left over from the last unexpected storm. All storms are unexpected in the Scar. According to the news reports, there hasn’t been more than a light patter of rain here since the weather went on record. That and the flowers in the Ever Garden were all that remained of magic after the Great Death thirteen years ago. Ironic that magic is back and the weather has turned gray and gloomy. I wrestle with my bag of groceries, the baguette I bought my aunt Gia giving me some cover as I pass a Legacy couple in the street carrying five huge packages of toilet paper. They look at me warily as they approach, but I don’t think they recognize me.
“Legacy Loyalty,” I say.
“Loyalty for life,” they say back as they fumble with mountains of plastic.
I finally left the apartment after two days of being trapped inside, the media waiting on the stoop for any signs of me, hoping for a glimpse of James Bartholomew’s girlfriend, or for a comment from me since they can’t find James. But then today, mercy. Caleb Rothco, aka the Mad Hatter, made a scene at his arraignment. Apparently it was pretty entertaining. It’s not quite enough to pull all the focus from the Battle at Miracle Lake and the return of magic, but it’s certainly enough to get the reporters off my doorstep and up to Midcity, where the press conference is being held.
It’s been two days since everything changed, since my life got ripped away from me without warning and everything got turned on its head. Two days since I cut my boyfriend’s
hand off with an ax to save him, since my best friend, Ursula, disappeared along with him and vicious Mally Saint, since Wrong Magic showed its face during the battle.
I could have gone with them, but I chose Legacy, the desolate streets of the Scar, and the possibility of finding a way to help them from here. I don’t know how yet, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
THE PARK AROUND MIRACLE LAKE IS transformed. Legacy, those descended from a magical lineage and carry the Seed mark on their wrists, are everywhere, in satin coats, leather jackets studded with sequins and silver and gold-colored beads, decked out in heeled boots and bright hair. They’ve set up blankets and lawn chairs on the outskirts of the park, where there are fewer people, like they’ve come to watch a parade, a game, a spectacle, a fun diversion on a Sunday afternoon. They’re having snacks and chatting as I weave among them and finally find a place to stand out of the way.
The wind blows my hair back from my face, and I pull my hood tighter around me.
A blast of noise surges from the stage area and we all look up. #FEAR THE VILLAINS flashes across three enormous screens like fireworks, along with more obnoxious attention-grabbing noises. And then there’s Mally at the end of the battle when she was desperate to get away and she magicked herself into a dragon and tore through the Scar, unleashing fireballs on cops as they tried to shoot her out of the sky.
The crowd gathers, hushed, some with tears hovering at the edges of their eyelids, others with their mouths hanging open, stupefied.
There was once magic in the Scar, but even when it was alive and well, it was more the fairies-granting-wishes-type magic than the dragons-snorting-fire-at-you kind. No one has ever seen anything like it.
The spectators cuddle into each other, watching as buildings are set aflame, as officers scatter trying to take cover.
The Legacy around me are afraid, and maybe they should be.
Now Ursula, giant, slimy squid limbs spilling out everywhere, towers over the city. Her yellow eyes shine spotlights into the streets as she swipes at anything she can reach. She doesn’t do much damage, but I don’t think anyone notices that. She is monstrous for sure, gone full kaiju.
As the scene changes to the door in front of Wonderland, the bar where I spend so much of my time, I know what’s coming next and my lungs empty out, squashed. I clench my fists and jaw, and wait.
The sound of club music bounces out onto the street. People pass by in groups wearing costumes, commemorating the death of magic, honoring our families and all we have lost, as we do every year.
“We’re at Wonderland! We’re actually in the Scar!” a girl squeals, then says, “Get in the frame! We need evidence.”
Another girl trots into view, adjusting her hair, just as, behind her, a guy with red hair and black-and-white-checkered shoes comes out of Wonderland. He reaches into his pocket and then stops, completely still, like someone hit pause on him.
The girl who’s filming her friend says, “What the hell?”
And then she realizes it’s not just him who’s frozen, it’s not just the guy outside of Wonderland reaching into his pocket for his phone or whatever. It’s happening inside Wonderland, too. The girl filming zooms in on the dance floor and the bar. Everyone is completely still, not moving, not even breathing. The music beats on, but they’re immobilized.
I buckle, then will myself to keep it together.
“Tracy,” the girl filming says, voice shaking. “Tracy, look!”
Her friend, a girl with voluminous black hair and too much lip gloss, lets out a shriek and says, “Oh, holy mother,” just as James comes barreling through the doors holding a girl dressed all in black, who’s clinging to him like he’s the only thing keeping her from death.
The girl is me.
James glares up and down the street, eyes on fire, then, in two bounds, leaps over a car, denting it as he goes, and takes off between two high-rise buildings, disappearing from sight. Once we’re gone, the people inside Wonderland all flop to the floor at once. So does the guy, the bouncer who was just outside. He collides with the wall. The girl holding the phone screams long and hard.
A message flashes across the screen:
Text 332277 with information
I breathe again now that the clip is done, I try to tamp down the surge of emotion that rips through me. I miss James so much, even with his eyes glowing like that, with him sweaty and out of control. I assume the Monarch police have an eye on me, so I haven’t gone to all the
places I think he might be, but even if I did, I wouldn’t find him. James Bartholomew is not in the Scar, but he would never leave it. How can both things be true?
Before the screen goes black again, a guy with a mop of blond hair runs out onto the stage, taps the mic, then runs back offstage left. The crowd rumbles before ripping into applause as two uniformed police officers and Mayor Triton sidle across the stage. Triton looks sturdy, tanklike, if a little soft in the middle. She never comes to the Scar. I’ve personally never taken much interest in her. Crime was my thing, which is why I applied for an internship with the Monarch City Police while I was still in high school. Politicians have always seemed a combination of uninteresting and pathetic, whereas law enforcement like Chief Ito had real power to effect change, to save lives and put criminals behind bars. That’s where I envisioned myself. I didn’t realize that Chief Ito was a politician, too, and just as pathetic, just as much of a liar as the rest of them. Worse, even, because Chief Ito is Legacy. She has the Seed mark. She should remember where she came from. She is one of us.
I watch Mayor Triton with renewed interest now, and apparently I’m not the only one. All the Legacy around me are freaking out like she’s a rock star.
The mayor puts her hands on the lectern and stares solemnly outward, waiting for the perfect moment to begin. “Citizens of the Scar,” she says, “valued members of the Legacy community, I stand before you because the city of Monarch faces unprecedented times. We occupy a special pocket on this planet. We have always taken this job seriously and reverentially. Even after the Great Death, we have sought to preserve our history, and many of us have hoped for magic’s return.”
There’s a murmur of agreement, and the woman beside me hoots and holds up a sign that reads MAGICALISTS AGAINST THE VILLAINS in jagged crimson paint.
“While many of us hoped the Scar would reassume its former glory, we never imagined that the return of magic would bring with it such dark tidings.” The mayor raises her hands theatrically and shakes her head. “The very sky has turned against us.” She pauses. “Magic has indeed returned as we have all hoped for so long. But not as the bright and loving force for good it once was. It has returned as evil.”
Behind her the two-story images appear again: James with a new, shiny hook, all covered in tattoos; Mally with her sharp, dangerous horns; and Ursula with her seeking, oil-slick tentacles. All three of them are sneering, menacing, frothing at the mouth. They look nothing like the people I love. It’s easy to imagine they’re evil villains instead of regular kids who ended up on the wrong end of someone’s plan. But they are kids.
“Since the Battle at Miracle Lake, life as we know it in the Scar has changed, and change it must,” the mayor goes on, tapping the lectern to emphasize her words. “If this were an isolated event and we could trust these villains were gone for good, we would not continue to fear the worst. But we know this is not the case. We fear the villains are only at the beginning of a violent spree, and because they have power we cannot compete with, they will continue to use it to wreak havoc on the Scar and its citizens. They are cowards, so they hide, but
nevertheless, they are unpredictable and extremely dangerous.” Mayor Triton sighs, pauses, gathers herself. “It is with the heaviest of hearts that I share the tragic news that in the last three days, two of the Scar’s precious Legacy children have disappeared without a trace.”
Another ripple of alarm threads through the crowd. A few cries emerge. Mayor Triton nods.
“With the help of the Monarch police, we have been able to determine that the chilcren have been taken by the villains, villains we now know mean to do us harm. There have also been reports of various sightings, which is how we know James Bartholomew now wears a hook for a hand, and we are relying on you for more information. No tip is too small. We need your help to bring the villains in and get them under control.”
“Kill them!” someone shouts.
There are howls of agreement, and the crowd gets loud and pushy. Cameras snap from all sides. The mayor settles everyone down with a few nods.
“I want to assure all of you that we are doing everything we can. Along with our stellar chief of police, who is frankly the best in the country, maybe the world, we will not rest until we track down the villains, and I have no doubt we will be successful in bringing them to justice.”
The crowd cheers.
I spot Gia’s friends off to the side, decorated in beads and swaddled in bright clothes, collectively holding up a sheet that says NATURALISTS FOR PEACE! I steal out of their line of vision.
“This evening,” the mayor goes on, “I am introducing a series of emergency initiatives that will help us navigate this time, and I seek your full cooperation. I trust that you understand the gravity of what lies ahead.” She pauses, waiting for everyone’s full attention. “Until further notice, the Scar will observe a nine p.m. curfew, and I encourage all citizens to go to work, and then go home. Keep your children off the streets. Do not linger outside your homes. Do not stay out unnecessarily after dark.”
There are a few murmurs, but most stay silent. I get what she’s trying to do by making everyone feel safe, but also, I know it’s not going to help anything. Beatrix Lindl disappeared two days ago, right from her apartment. I know because Cindy, who’s part of Gia’s Naturalist group, is her aunt. Beatrix, who has cerebral palsy, was brushing her teeth when her dad heard a thump. She had fallen before, so he thought it had happened again and rushed into the bathroom and found her toothbrush in the sink with the water running and no sign of Beatrix anywhere. No sign of anything except a single line of damage to the wall next to the sink. Damage that might come from a hook. And Beatrix was gone.
But yeah. By all means stay huddled in your house. That’ll keep you and your kids safe.
The mayor goes on. “We will also be setting up a special task force, which we have named the Watch. Composed of Legacy as well as Monarch City Police, their mission is threefold: One, they will protect; two, they will bring the villains to justice; and three, they
will be collecting information about illegal magic and cracking down on it with the full force of the new emergency laws we have put in place.”
There are some sounds of protest, but they’re minimal.
“Magic has always been a source of pride for Monarch and especially, of course, for the Scar, but this is not the magic we know and love. It’s an evil perversion. I know it won’t be easy, that it’s asking so much of you when you are already cold and afraid and facing a vast unknown, but if you see any signs of magic being practiced, we ask you to report to the Watch by texting three-three-two-two-seven-seven. This is a sacred duty and is the only way to keep Legacy safe.”
The crowd goes wild. People jump up and down.
I can’t believe what I’m seeing. They’re buying this.
I don’t understand all the details of this situation yet, but I know my friends are victims, not villains, and no amount of spin is going to convince me of anything different. People are afraid, and yes, the fact that kids are disappearing is unsettling for sure, but it doesn’t make any sense that Kyle Attenborough isn’t anywhere in this conversation. He’s the one who kidnapped my friends and experimented on them, and he’s the one who found a way to bring whatever this magic is to the Scar. He considered Legacy kids expendable, and he used them to try to find a marketable form of magic. The police and the mayor have to know this. I saw Kyle get arrested the night of the battle.
Not a single mention of him or his son, Lucas. No mention of the lab where the so-called villains were being held in cages, either? It doesn’t make sense. Except Kyle Attenborough has money, enough to buy whoever he wants. My friends are scapegoats while Kyle Attenborough is somewhere in the Narrows sitting on a golden throne.
I hug myself and look around. Maybe I should have gone with them after all. And what’s going to happen when they’re found? I picture them hanging from this same stage, people all around jeering. They’ve forgotten James and Mally and Urs are Legacy. They belong to the Scar.
“I heard since James Bartholomew has a hook for a hand now,” says a boy with sloppy bangs and a nose ring, “he makes people walk the plank and wears a patch over one eye.”
“Well, I heard Ursula the sea monster steals people’s essences and keeps them in some kind of prison in the ocean. It’s called the Garden of Poor Unfortunate Souls or something. Terrible. Just awful,” says a woman next to him.
“Where are you hearing this?” I ask the boy.
“Huh?” he says.
“I said, where are you hearing these rumors? The plank, the souls. . .all of it.” My heart is racing, not because I think he’s lying but because it sounds like what he says could be true, and if it is, then someone, somewhere knows where they are.
“Hey,” the woman says, hiking up her dress, which is too big and falling down over her shoulders. “I know you. You’re Captain Crook’s girlfriend.”
“Hell yeah you are. Hey!” the boy yells. “James Bartholomew’s girl is over here harassing me!”
I narrow my eyes at him, wishing I could still do any kind of useful magic, and then look away and dash deeper into the crowd, closer to the front. That was not intelligent. Chief Ito needs to think I’m an annoying little gnat who’s out of her hair once and for all.
You think approaching that little weevil was unintelligent? What was unintelligent was not snapping his neck. One hard crank would have done it. Would have been as refreshing as a cold plunge.
Oh good. Great. Excellent. She’s back. The voice that’s been in my head since the night of the battle, the only thing left of the reaction I had to the magic Lucas forced in me. She sounds like me, but. . .mean. Like, really mean.
And She won’t shut up. I really wish I’d been left with something more useful. Mally had some sort of magical staff. Where’s mine?
As though She’s punishing me for thinking such thoughts, a pulse throbs in my temples and I remember the ax coming down hard on James’s wrist. She’s not wrong about how good it felt, how final. And now he might have cold metal to replace his overheated flesh? What else would he do? Wear a prosthetic? That’s not really his style.
You should join James, She says, and my skin curdles. Look at these losers. Why did you choose them over him? The voice is raspy and slow.
Like I said, She won’t shut up.
I weave my way out of the crowd, start to make my way home to Gia, when a man with a beard and rabid eyes waves a sign in my face. OFF WITH THEIR HEADS! it reads. I blink hard, and when I look again, the sign reads WHAT’S GOING ON IN THEIR HEADS?
The last time I saw James, Urs, and Mally, we stood on a darkened street with James bleeding out on the pavement and Mally swanning around impatiently. They asked me to go with them, but just then, I couldn’t conceive of it. I wasn’t thinking of where we might go or what that could mean for any of us. I was only thinking it wouldn’t be here, and that it would mean choosing not to be inside the system anymore. I was still imagining a future as a detective, myself as the lone arbiter of justice, a necessary piece of the Scar’s complicated clockwork. I imagined, as much as I could process in the few seconds I had, that if I went with them, I would be tipping the balances of the Scar so far into chaos it would never be able to right itself again.
I thought I was that important.
And I thought about Gia, leaving her behind, being a fugitive. What that would do to her. There would have to be no hope left for me to abandon her like that. But I should have asked where they were going, when they would be back. We should have made a meeting place and time. I couldn’t have predicted how maddening it would be to be left alone, everything gone south without any of them.
And while I wasn’t given nearly as much of the Wrong Magic as them, it’s still inside me, too, affecting me.
I don’t know what you’re complaining about, She says just as I push myself free of the crowd and head for the back entrance to my building. Now you’re not so all alone. You have me!
But I don’t want Her. I want James. I want Ursula. And I want them back the way they were before they were stolen from me. I need to do two things: find them and find some sort of cure. Otherwise it’s only a matter of time before they all end up swinging in the wind.
I’m not going to let that happen.
As the frenzy builds behind me, Legacy bashing into each other, howling along with the noise coming off the stage, I know exactly where to start undoing this knot.
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