Set in a gorgeous world of bone and shadow magic, of vengeful gods and defiant chosen ones, The City of Dusk is the first in a dark epic fantasy trilogy that follows the four heirs of four noble houses—each gifted with a divine power—as they form a tenuous alliance to keep their kingdom from descending into a realm-shattering war.
The Four Realms—Life, Death, Light, and Darkness—all converge on the city of dusk. For each realm there is a god, and for each god there is an heir.But the gods have withdrawn their favor from the once vibrant and thriving city. And without it, all the realms are dying.Unwilling to stand by and watch the destruction, the four heirs—Risha, a necromancer struggling to keep the peace; Angelica, an elementalist with her eyes set on the throne; Taesia, a shadow-wielding rogue with rebellion in her heart; and Nik, a soldier who struggles to see the light— will sacrifice everything to save the city.But their defiance will cost them dearly.
Release date: March 22, 2022
Print pages: 576
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The City of Dusk
Taesia Lastrider had never considered herself a good person, nor did she have any intention of becoming one.
She was fine with that. Beyond the confines of her House’s villa, she was freer to do whatever she wanted. Be whomever she wanted.
The last breath of summer’s heat coiled around her as she shifted in the shadow of a market awning. Shoppers were buying melon juice and sarab, a clear Parithvian alcohol served with a pinch of orange-colored spice that cooled the body down. Jewelry on a nearby cart glittered in the sunlight, cuffs of hammered silver and brass sending spangles into her vision. Taesia blinked and retreated even farther into the shade.
It put her in view of the building she had been adamantly trying to ignore. But it was almost impossible to overlook the size of it, the swirling, conch-like design of shimmering sandstone, the length of the shadow it cast across the city of Nexus.
It was quite lovely, for a prison. But crack that pretty shell open, and all its filth would come pouring out, the discarded and condemned souls of Nexus’s convicts.
Someone bumped into her as they passed by, and the shadows twitched at her fingertips. She was so jumpy it took her a moment to realize it was merely a common thieves’ tactic: make someone paranoid enough to pat their trousers or their sleeves to know where to strike later.
An amateur trick. It didn’t matter there were more guards than usual patrolling the marketplace; pickpockets would take any chance they could get.
At the next stall over, a man was prying open boxes with a crowbar, chatting with the vendor as they checked the wares inside. “Would’ve gotten here sooner if I hadn’t been held at the city gates,” the man with the crowbar said. “Guards were sniffing around me like the dogs they are.”
“King’s got ’em on alert.” The vendor glanced at the nearest guards and lowered his voice. “Had an incident not too long ago. Some weird magic shit went down near the palace.”
“What kinda weird magic?”
“Wasn’t there myself, but sounds to me like it was necromancy. Folks say a buncha spirits came and wrecked shit.”
“Spirits? Were the Vakaras acting up? I’ve heard they can kill with just a snap of their fingers.”
This caught Taesia’s attention like thread on a nail. It was well known throughout Vaega—as well as beyond its borders—that those who made up House Vakara, descended from the god of death, were the only ones who possessed the power of necromancy. It was also well known that once in a while, a stray spirit managed to wander from Nexus’s overcrowded necropolis to cause trouble.
But the incident the two men were gossiping about had been different: a sudden influx of violent spirits converging close to the palace square, destroying buildings and harming those unfortunate enough to be in their path. People had been rightfully terrified—and confused about who to blame.
“No idea,” the vendor mumbled. “But it was nasty stuff. Heard a man got his arm ripped clean off. Whole city’s gonna be tighter than a clenched asshole from now on.”
A tremor rolled across her body as Taesia turned back to the Gravespire. When the vendor beside her wasn’t looking, she grabbed a glass of sarab and downed it in one go, wiping her mouth with the back of her wrist.
Citizens blaming the Houses for their troubles wasn’t anything new. But the thought of Risha getting caught up in it made her want to punch something.
The shadows twitched again. Impatience crackled at the base of her lungs, made her roll onto the balls of her feet as if poised on the edge of something reckless.
“Follow me,” a low voice whispered behind her.
She breathed a sigh of relief and waited a couple seconds before turning and following her brother through the market. Dante was dressed down today in a long, sleeveless tunic with a hood, the lean muscle of his dusky brown arms on display. A few people pretended not to stare as he stalked by. Not in recognition, but in appreciation of his features despite the hood’s shadow. Or maybe they were drawn to the smooth, confident way he moved, the way Taesia never seemed to get quite right.
“Did you get the information you needed?” she whispered.
“I did. We should be—”
She nearly ran into his back when he suddenly stopped. He lifted a hand for her to stay put.
She soon saw why. A couple Greyhounds had descended on a confused vendor. They were inspecting jars from her stall, dropping what didn’t interest them to the ground. The vendor flinched at the sound of breaking pottery.
Taesia cursed under her breath. Although the vendor had no horns, the bluish dark of her skin and the white tattoos on her forehead marked her as a Noctan. Perhaps a mixed-race offspring from one of the refugees. Mixed blood would explain how she could stand to be in this heat in the middle of the day; most of the night-dwellers from Noctus couldn’t bear it, often getting sunsick if forced to endure it for too long.
“Please, I have no contraband,” the vendor said softly. They were beginning to draw spectators eagerly searching for a distraction from the heat. “These were all fairly traded within Vaega.”
“We’re not looking for foreign goods,” one of the guards said.
His partner waved a small pot in his direction. The guard took it, sniffed, and scowled.
“Sulfur.” The single word was leveled at the vendor like an arrow. “A Conjuration ingredient.”
Taesia sucked in a breath. While many were eager to call the incident last week necromancy, the Vakaras had never been shy to demonstrate their magic, and their methods didn’t line up with the attack. For in the ravaged spot where the spirits had congregated, something had been left behind: a cleverly drawn circle containing a seven-pointed star and a ring of strange glyphs.
Conjuration. An occult practice that hadn’t been seen in decades.
The vendor shook. “I—I didn’t know! I swear, I—”
The Greyhounds didn’t waste time listening to her stammer. They shackled her wrists as excited murmurs ran through the small crowd they’d gathered.
“Wouldn’t have bought from her anyway,” someone muttered. “Anything the Noctans touch is tainted.”
“Did they say Conjuration? Isn’t that demon—?”
“Shh! The Greyhounds won’t hesitate to haul you off, too.”
“She should have stayed in the Noctus Quarter.”
Taesia curled her hand into a fist. Dante grabbed her as she took a step forward.
“Don’t,” he said. Not a warning, but an order.
“We’re responsible for the refugees.”
“They’re cracking down on Conjuration materials,” Dante whispered. “If you interfere, think about how it’ll reflect on the House.”
She didn’t give two shits about that. “You’re saying you’re all right with this?”
“Of course I’m not. But we can’t do anything about it right now.”
Taesia watched the guards haul away the vendor, who was trying and failing to stifle her terrified tears. Dante didn’t let Taesia go until the tension left her body. When he did, she spun to face him. “Are you sure you want to go through with this? You said it yourself: We can’t have anything negatively impacting the House.” She dropped her voice to a murmur. “Especially considering what the Vakaras are going through. Even if you manage to find what you need, what are you going to do with it?”
“Not summon a horde of spirits, if that’s what you’re concerned about.”
It wasn’t—not really—but there was so much about Conjuration they didn’t understand, since all the old texts had been destroyed.
“You want to put a stop to these scenes, right?” Dante nodded in the direction of the vendor’s abandoned stall. “To not have to worry about House politics when it comes to issues like defending the people?”
She swallowed, certain her hunger for that very thing was plain on her face. “What does that have to do with Conjuration?”
“Indulge me a little longer, and you’ll see.” He paused, then leaned forward and sniffed. “Have you been drinking?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
They walked past the beehive hum of the crowd and continued on to the edge of the market, where four children were playing with a couple of dogs. A gangly man was slumped over a counter. He watched the children with an air of someone who probably should be worried about their safety but couldn’t muster up the energy.
“I don’t want to be Thana,” one of the children was complaining in a nasal voice. “Thana’s scary. I want to be Deia!”
“I’m Deia,” said another child, a tall girl with dirt smudged across her face. “I’m always Deia.”
“Just because you have weak earth magic doesn’t mean you can be Deia every time,” mumbled a boy with Mariian black skin. Judging by the crown made of twigs and sticks resting on the tight coils of his hair, he was supposed to play the part of Nyx, god of night and shadow.
“It’s not weak!” With a flick of her finger, she flung a pebble at his forehead, making him cry out.
“You can be Phos instead,” said the last child, likely the Mariian boy’s brother. He handed the girl who didn’t want to be Thana his toy wings made of fluttering leaves, which made her brighten. “And I’ll be Thana. I’ll put her in a cage of bones.”
Taesia smiled wryly. It was common for children to play at being gods; she herself had done it with her siblings when they were younger. That was before they’d understood only one god demanded their family’s piety.
Dante rapped his knuckles on the wooden counter, making the gangly man start. “Heard you have good prices,” Dante said, his cautious inflection almost making it a question.
The corner of the man’s mouth twitched. “Come see for yourself.”
Dante glanced at the children, the dogs barking and chasing after them when they ran. “Will they be all right on their own?”
The man shrugged and headed toward the nearest alley. They were led away from the market to a building that had seen better days, with a tarp-covered window and weeds sprouting along its base. The man eased the door open and ushered them inside. A second door on the far end of the room was open, revealing a set of stairs leading down. Taesia’s nose wrinkled immediately at the smell, a bitter blend of ash and pepper.
“Ruben,” the gangly man called. “Customer.” He left to return to the market.
A heavyset man in shirtsleeves appeared on the stairs, wiping his hands on a handkerchief. “Hello, hello. This way, please.”
Dante kept his hood up as he and Taesia descended into a basement. It might have once been a wine cellar, cramped and cool. But instead of racks of wine, the place was now stocked with sacks of herbs and roots, boxes of chalk, and jars of sulfur. There was even a display of small knives along the wall.
Dante’s eyes lit up the way Taesia imagined a librarian’s would at finding a rare book for their collection. He began to wade through the assortment, peering into sacks and running his hands through unknown substances. Taesia meandered toward the knives and inspected one with a serpentine blade.
The man, Ruben, cleared his throat. “Let’s keep this brief, yes? No guards saw you come this way?”
“Not that I’m aware of.” Dante’s voice was distant, the tone he got when someone tried to interrupt him. He picked up a jar and shook it, the black specks inside rattling. “What’s this?”
“That would be powdered lodestone.”
“And what does it do?”
“It’s a magnetized bit of mineral, known for attracting iron. Rich deposits of it along the eastern coast.”
“I’ll take ten grams, as well as loose chalk.” Dante paused before pointing at a nearby sack. “Throw in some hellebore root as well.”
Taesia grimaced. For all his intelligence and charisma, her brother wasn’t particularly skilled at pretending to be something he was not. The order strung through his words might as well have painted a broadsheet across his face reading I’m a noble, can’t you tell?
Ruben didn’t seem particularly affected by it either way. Taesia obediently held the sachet of hellebore root Dante handed to her while he tucked the vial of powdered lodestone and pouch of chalk into his own pockets. Coins exchanged hands, the clink of gold loud in the cellar.
“A pleasure,” Ruben said with a sickly smile.
Taesia took a much-needed deep breath once they were back on the street. “Again, are you absolutely sure about this?”
“I’ll be careful.” Despite Dante’s light tone, she noted the divot between his brows. He was nervous.
Spotting the tip of the Gravespire rising above the buildings, Taesia thought about the Noctan who had been hauled away and swallowed.
Nexus had once prided itself on harboring people from every country, every realm, to form an eclectic microcosm of their broad universe. Now it seemed as if they were doing their best to eradicate those who didn’t belong, whatever that meant.
She was jolted from her thoughts when someone slammed into her and sent her crashing to the ground.
“Stop her!” someone shouted.
Taesia gaped up at the face staring down at hers. The girl couldn’t have been much older than her, with lustrous black skin and a cloud of dark hair. She winked and scrambled off Taesia in a flash, slipping into the startled crowd like a fish.
Dante helped her up as a few Greyhounds ran by in pursuit. Taesia stared after the girl, rubbing a sore spot on her chest.
“You all right?” Dante asked.
“Yeah, I’m—” She checked her pockets. “She stole the hellebore root!” Not an amateur thief, then.
Dante shushed her. “It’s fine, I can get by without—Tae!”
She charged after the thief with a fire kindled in her chest, stoked and restless since Dante had stopped her from interfering with the guards.
Finally, some damn action.
The Greyhounds were slowed by the crowd, but Taesia easily evaded limbs and bodies. The thief hoisted herself onto the roof of a stall, so Taesia did the same. She rolled across an awning and leapt onto the next roof, which swayed dangerously under her feet.
She lifted her hand. To anyone else, the silver ring on her fourth finger bore an onyx jewel, but the illusion broke when her shadow familiar spilled from the bezel and into her palm.
“Do something for me?” she panted as she leapt the space between two stalls.
Umbra elongated, forming a snakelike head of shadow. It tilted from side to side before it nodded.
Taesia flung out her hand and Umbra shot forward in a black, inky rope. One end lashed around the thief’s wrist, making her stumble. With a sharp pull on Taesia’s end, the thief crashed through an awning.
Taesia jumped down. The thief groaned and staggered away from cages full of exotic birds flapping their wings and squawking at the disturbance. The vendor gawked at them as Taesia summoned Umbra back to her ring and took off after the girl.
The last thing she wanted was for rumors of a Shade tussling in the market to reach her mother.
Taesia dove into a narrow alley to try and cut the thief off at the cross street, only to be met with an arm that swung out from around the corner. It collided with her chest and Taesia fell onto her back with a grunt.
The thief stood over her, breathless and smiling. “Well! Gotta admit, this is a first. Never stole from someone like you before.”
Taesia coughed. “You punched me in the tit.”
“And I’d do it again.”
Taesia braced herself on the ground and kicked the girl in the chest, sending her reeling backward. “Now we’re almost even.”
The girl wheezed around a laugh. “Suit yourself.”
Taesia sprang to her feet and charged. The thief ducked and hit her in the back, dangerously close to her kidneys. Taesia caught her arm and twisted. The thief stomped on her instep, making her yelp and let go.
“Whew!” The girl’s face was alive with glee despite the dirt and sweat streaked across it. “Must’ve stolen something you care about.”
“Not really.” The shadows trembled around her, ready to be called in, but she couldn’t risk it. She’d already been too careless using Umbra. “Just needed to stretch my legs today.”
The girl barked a laugh as they circled. Her dark eyes flitted to the alley over Taesia’s shoulder before a blow caught Taesia across the backs of her knees, sending her reeling forward.
As Taesia fell, a young woman—likely the thief’s partner—ran to the nearest wall and made a broad swirling motion with her arms. Both of the thieves were caught in a sudden cyclone of wind that lifted them up onto the roof.
An air elementalist.
“Better luck next time,” the thief called with a mocking salute. Taesia gave a rude gesture in reply, and the girl laughed before she and her partner disappeared.
A moment later, Dante burst out of the alley. “Taesia, what the fuck—”
“She got away.”
“I don’t care! I told you it didn’t matter.” He ran a hand through his hair, hood fallen across his shoulders. “You’re filthy. We can’t let anyone in the villa see you like this.” He pointed a stern finger at her. “Do not do that again.”
She wasn’t sure if he meant chasing after thieves or using her shadow magic out in the open. Before she could ask, he turned and began the trek home, not even bothering to see if Taesia would follow.
Like always, she did.
The black iron gates of the Lastrider villa were manned by House guards in black-and-silver livery. But Taesia had long since figured out a path over the tall adobe wall, through the gardens, and up the rose trellis her father had built when she was a child. It was easy as a song to slip into her bedroom and change into clean clothes.
She met up with Dante at the entrance to the vaults, the underground chambers where House treasures were stored. The two of them had often played here as children. Their younger sister, Brailee, had been too afraid to stay longer than five minutes, but Taesia and Dante had made games of the thick shadows and silent rooms. As heir, Dante was the only person aside from their mother who possessed a key.
“I know you said you don’t plan to call down a horde of spirits,” she said as he lit a lantern and led the way down the musty corridor, “but that still begs the question of what you areplanning to do.”
“I’m more interested in the origins of Conjuration rather than using it as a conduit for two-bit necromancy.”
Umbra slithered up her arm as Dante shoved open a door at the end of the corridor. His own familiar, Nox, began to play around his shoulders, no longer required to stay hidden. Taesia wondered if they could feel the presence of Noctan artifacts down here, a tentative link to a realm they had never seen.
Dante lit candles in the stone-walled room. It had once been used for storage but now served as his workshop. Shelves bore jars and vials waiting to be filled, and the very center of the floor was covered in a thick rug.
He pulled the rug aside to reveal a hazy, stained area where he’d practiced drawing Conjuration circles. Taesia’s breath caught, remembering the events of last week, the circle with its seven-pointed star left by people the king condemned as radicals. Nox brushed Dante’s cheek as it peered over his shoulder.
“So,” he said. “Lodestone. Typically used for its magnetism, but there was an ancient use for this that’s long since fallen out of memory.” He shook the vial. “It was used as an offering for Deia.”
Taesia raised an eyebrow. “If you wanted to give an offering to Deia, you should have gone to her basilica.”
He smirked and pulled out a jar of sulfur. He began to mix it with the loose chalk he’d bought, and Taesia fought against the urge to sneeze. “When we talk about Conjuration today, it’s always associated with one thing: summoning demons.”
Demons. Cosmic beings that prowled between the realms, in the pockets of the universe only the gods could access. There were countless stories told to children to make them behave, to warn others away:
“Narizeh will come and steal your voice if you don’t stop screaming.”
“Never follow a woman with lips tinged black. That is Vorsileh luring you to her bed, where she will turn you into a worm once she’s done with you and slurp you up.”
“The sound of coughing means Celipheh has visited to spread his plague.”
But Conjuration had been outlawed over two centuries ago, the grimoires and texts burned in a massive purge of all things occult in Nexus. There had never been a case outside the city; why that was, no one could say.
Taesia grimaced. “What do demons have to do with an offering for Deia?”
He gave her a loaded Dante smile, silent secrets hidden under an ocean of charm. “What we call Conjuration today is a bastardization of an ancient ritual to commune with the gods. Back in the day, priests would draw a circle to replicate the shape of the universe, add offerings unique to the god they wanted to chat with, and there you have it.”
Taesia felt cold as she watched Dante draw two circles with the laced chalk, one nested within the other. She leaned against the wall and crossed her arms. “So you want to talk to the gods, is that what you’re saying? Why?”
He paused, staring at the diamond he’d just drawn within the inner circle. Quietly he said, “To understand why the Sealing happened.”
Taesia’s fingers tightened on her arms. “And you’re certain it’ll work? That we won’t end up with some unsavory visitor?”
His laugh was tinged with apprehension. “Not at all.” He poured the powdered lodestone around the diamond, then opened a jar and sniffed its contents. “I wish we had the hellebore root, but this should be a good enough substitute.”
He sprinkled something that smelled like tobacco. When he looked back up, a lock of dark hair fell across his forehead.
“I figured trying is better than sitting around feeling helpless,” he said, his voice gone soft again.
A wave of fondness washed over her despite the fact she was staring at her brother across a very illegal, very pungent Conjuration circle. Dante had more willpower than she did, but they both shared the desire to act.
He unsheathed the small knife at his belt and cut the pad of one finger. A drop of blood, trembling and infused with ancient power, fell into the center of the circle, over the upside-down horseshoe-esque symbol commonly used for Deia.
Nothing happened at first. Taesia braced herself, Umbra nervously coiling around her neck. Dante stayed kneeling, brow furrowed. Then a steady, low hum began to fill the room, the edges of the circle glowing red.
The offerings within the circle trembled, the hum traveling up the soles of Taesia’s feet until it made her molars ache. Umbra hid itself in the crook of her neck, and it took all her strength to not make a run for the door.
“Deia, we beseech you to speak with us,” Dante intoned. “Please bless us with your presence.”
It was one thing to visit the basilica of Nyx, the god of Noctus, the founder of the Lastrider line, and feel a hint of night-touched breeze on her face. To sense the distant stars overhead and the depth of shadows in every corner. A reminder of where they came from, and what they could do. But this was Deia, god of elements, god of life, with the power to raise volcanoes and turn entire cities to ice. Attempting to summon her in this cramped room was perhaps not the best idea.
Yet as they continued to stare at the floor, waiting—for a voice, or the outline of a body, something—nothing happened.
A frustrated sound wrenched out of Dante’s throat as the glow died, casting them back into dim candlelight. He scored the circle with a hand, and Taesia couldn’t help her relieved exhale.
“I don’t know what else to do, other than try different offerings.” Dante glared at the wasted lodestone. “Or perhaps try to find a different configuration of symbols.”
“Even if you manage to summon one of the gods, what good would it do?”
Dante worked his jaw, the tension fading gradually from his face. “It’s not just about talking to them, or asking why they sealed the realms from one another. I want…” He ran a hand through his hair. “You’re going to think I’m mad.”
“I already do. Tell me.”
He sat back on his heels. “I want to convince them to undo it.”
Taesia waited a beat. Then another. Her mouth twisted to keep from laughing.
“It’s not impossible!” he argued. “If we undo the Sealing, we reopen the realms and the natural flow of the universe will be restored. We can use our godsblood for good, to prevent our realm from dying.” He lowered his voice. “It’ll also give the Houses leverage over the king. We can gain support from the people to take away the Holy King’s authority.”
It was something they had discussed before, in the privacy of Dante’s study. How he admired their neighbor to the north, Parithvi, and the Parliament they had instated with more populist beliefs.
“We can actually use our privilege for a change,” Dante said.
They sat in the possibility a moment, familiars drifting between them, a couple more shadows in a room that smelled of forbidden magic.
It sounded stupidly heroic: going against the will of the gods, wresting control of their country from a man who believed himself untouchable. Again she thought of the Noctan refugee who had been seized in the market. Under Dante’s watch, those scenes could disappear completely.
But there was one problem.
“I don’t foresee myself with a political career,” she said. “Once you’ve established this parliament of yours, what role would you give me?”
He wrinkled his nose. “Tae, you were born into a political career.”
“Firmly without my say-so.”
“Well, don’t worry. Once the realms are reopened, I plan to restore the profession on which the Lastrider line was founded. I’ll need someone to spearhead it.”
Status came hand in hand with responsibility if you were a member of the Houses. Yet each household also had to contribute something to Nexus, to the kingdom, and to the throne in order to maintain that status. The Vakaras performed all things necromantic, the Mardovas cultivated powerful mages, the Cyrs produced and oversaw soldiers for the militia, and the Lastriders acted as inter-realm emissaries of trade.
Or at least, they had before the Sealing. Now, with resources both natural and Other-Realm dwindling in Vitae, the Lastriders worked with the surrounding countries to conserve what little was left.
Taesia felt cheated of a life of jumping from realm to realm, collecting artifacts and precious resources and exploring the wonders and dangers of other worlds. To not have to sit still. To have the freedom to go where she wished.
To not be a purposeless spare of House Lastrider, chained to a responsibility she’d never wanted.
“You’re flirting with being labeled a radical for a hopeless plan,” she said, though it sounded weak even to her.
He smiled at the greed suffusing Taesia’s expression, his eyes glimmering with the same thrill she knew must be mirrored in her own. “But are you willing to flirt with it?”
Taesia glanced again at the forfeited circle. Dante wouldn’t delve into something he didn’t think was for the greater good. Dante believed in a better world, and she believed in Dante.
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