The Shadow Reader, Book 3
The Sharpest Blade
Torn between two worlds.
Torn between two lives.
McKenzie Lewis’s ability to read the shadows has put her—and …those she loves—in harm’s way again and again. The violence must end, but will the cost of peace be more devastating than anyone ever imagined?
After ten years of turmoil, the life McKenzie has always longed for may finally be within her grasp. No one is swinging a sword at her head or asking her to track the fae, and she finally has a regular—albeit boring—job. But when a ruthless enemy strikes against her friends, McKenzie abandons her attempt at normalcy and rushes back to the Realm.
With the fae she loves and the fae she’s tied to pulling her in different directions, McKenzie must uncover the truth behind the war and accept the painful sacrifices that must be made to end it. Armed with dangerous secrets and with powerful allies at her side, her actions will either rip the Realm apart—or save it.
Read an Excerpt
The time in the bottom right corner of my computer screen mocks me. I try not to look at it, but no one has come to the reference desk in over an hour, and I can stare at nothing for only so long. Even though this is only my fourth day working as a library clerk, I know every hour is going to drag. Theoretically, that should be a good thing. It means no one’s swinging a sword at my head or aiming a gun at my chest, and I’m not in a situation where I’m forced to hurt or kill someone. The problem is if I’m not distracted by people asking questions, I’ll be distracted by something else.
Or rather, someone else.
A flicker of emotion travels through the bond I share with Kyol. If I close my eyes, I can picture him perfectly, his firm, unsmiling lips and his dark silver eyes. His gaze is always steady and unwavering. He’s one of the strongest men I know, and sometimes his presence unravels me, especially when chaos lusters spark across his face. It’s hard to believe we haven’t seen each other in three weeks. It feels like I’ve spent every day with him. I know when he’s asleep. I can tell when he’s sparring with his men or when he’s talking to Lena, the Realm’s queen. Right now, he’s thinking about me. Probably because I’m thinking about him.
I force out a frustrated sigh because he’s not the fae who should be invading my thoughts. Maybe he wouldn’t be if Aren were around, but there’s been no sign of him or Lena or any of the rebels since I left the Realm. They’re giving me space, time to live my life without interruptions from the fae. That’s something I’ve asked for a hundred times in the last couple of years, but now that I finally have it, I’m going a little crazy. Not having any news from the Realm makes me restless.
Kyol’s mood darkens when he senses my unease. I try not to let that affect me, but I fail, and a cloud settles over me just the same. This is one of the reasons I’m glad I haven’t gone back to the Realm. Even though Kyol and I are in separate worlds, our emotions spiral off each other’s until one of us is distracted enough to feel something else. It would be a thousand times harder to block him out without the In-Between separating us.
And the other reason I haven’t returned? I lean back in my swivel chair and scan the quiet, calm library. This is the first time in ten years that I’ve been a normal human.
Of course, I’m not completely normal. If I were, I wouldn’t see the pale, erratic lightning flitting across the skin of the girl who’s coming in the library’s door. Two of her friends are with her. I don’t know their names, but I’ve heard them call her Kynlee before. She’s shown up here after school every day I’ve worked. If she were human, I’d guess that she’s fifteen, maybe sixteen years old. Her friends are definitely close to that age, but they’re not fae. Kynlee doesn’t really look fae either. She laughs and smiles like a normal American teenager. She’s dressed like one, too, in jeans and a yellow crew-neck tee. The only thing odd about her clothing is the purple gloves that reach up to her elbows, but I understand their purpose: they keep her from skin-to-skin contact with humans.
When the trio walks by my desk, I lock my gaze on my computer screen to keep myself from staring at her chaos lusters. I’m almost certain her friends don’t know what she is. Humans who don’t have the Sight like I do can’t see the lightning, but they would feel the hot, tingling sensation when it leaped to their skin. Or, in Kynlee’s case, they would feel a surprisingly chilly sensation. Her chaos lusters aren’t as bright as a normal fae’s, which means she’s tor’um. She has little to no magical ability, and if this were the Realm, she and others like her would be considered the dregs of society.
After the tor’um and her friends take a seat at a table in the Teen section, my gaze ventures back to the time on my computer screen. Only three freaking minutes have passed since I last looked at it.
“You shouldn’t scowl,” the woman sitting next to me says.
“What?” I ask, turning toward Judy, my supervisor, even though I think I heard her clearly.
“It makes you look unapproachable.”
Yep. That’s what I thought she said. Surprising advice given that she’s always scowling. Judy is a full-time librarian with twenty years of experience marked by gold stars on her name badge. Unfortunately, she happens to hate having degreeless library clerks like me manning the reference desk. But it’s not my fault the city of Las Vegas had to make budget cuts, and considering that the most difficult question I’ve been asked today is “Where’s the restroom,” I’m pretty sure I can handle the job.
Planting a semipleasant expression on my face, I rest my folded arms on the edge of the desk and stare out at the bookshelves. At least the tor’um was enough of a distraction to break the cycle of emotion Kyol and I were close to being caught up in. He’s not thinking about me anymore; he’s concentrating on something else. What that something is, I don’t know. We can’t hear each other’s thoughts or see what the other is doing, but we have a ten-year history together. Even without our magical life-bond, I know him well enough to link his emotions to his thoughts, and right now, he’s not focused on my feelings. He’s focused on his actions.
I feel myself frowning. I can’t help it. Kyol is calm, but he isn’t relaxed. My muscles mimic the tension in his. It’s a strange sensation, one that makes me sit straighter in my seat. I don’t think Kyol’s worried, but he’s heading somewhere that isn’t safe.
I draw in a breath, then let it out slowly, trying not to let my emotions distract him. He was the previous king’s sword-master and is Lena’s lord general. He’s more than capable of taking care of himself.
Just like Aren is capable of taking care of himself.
A little stab of pain cuts through my stomach. I never thought Aren would stay away this long. I thought he’d come to his senses quickly, get over the life-bond, then come get me. The fact that he hasn’t hurts, and I don’t know whether to be pissed off about it or devastated. Most of the time, I’m both.
Still, I want to see him, but I can’t get to the Realm on my own. Fae can fissure from any point they want to as long as they’re not surrounded by silver, but I have to be escorted through a gate to survive the trip through the In-Between. Plus, if Aren wanted to see me, he would have found me already.
Which leaves only one conclusion: he doesn’t want to see me.
I don’t want to believe that because, if it’s true, if he’s letting this life-bond—a life-bond I didn’t have any control over entering—break us up, then I was wrong about him. He doesn’t love me half as much as I thought he did. He doesn’t love me half as much as I love him.
I swallow down the lump in my throat and scan the library again, looking for something to distract me, but no one looks like they’re lost or need help. There’s not even a paper jam at the printer station. My gaze finally rests on Judy, who’s flipping through a magazine. If she’s doing that, then she shouldn’t have a problem with me checking my e-mail for the hundredth time today. I’ve contacted every hospital in London looking for Shane, the Sighted human I left behind to save my friend, Paige. I lost track of him in a mass of panicked people at a concert, and I don’t know if he escaped, died there, or ended up in the hands of the fae. The London authorities have assured me he never checked into a hospital, and I keep hoping he’ll turn up somewhere safe.
As I’m reaching for the mouse, goose bumps break out across my skin. This is the only warning I ever get when a fae fissures into this world, so I stiffen, waiting for a flash of light. Several seconds tick by without anyone appearing in the library. I frown. Then I hear the soft rumble of the air-conditioning unit.
“Are you going somewhere?” Judy asks as she pulls on her thin white sweater. She’s looking over the brim of her bifocals at me, and I realize my hands are braced on the edge of the desk like I’m about to rise.
I clear my throat, then say, “I’m going to take a quick restroom break.”
“Your regular break is in five minutes,” she says. “You can wait.”
If I really had to go, I’d get up anyway, but since I don’t, I bite my tongue and sink into my chair. I really hate working with Judy, but hey, at least I have a job. And at least she’s my biggest problem at the moment. It could be so much worse.
As if to confirm that last thought, my chest tightens as a new emotion surges over Kyol. It’s not quite fear. He isn’t hurt, and he’s not fissuring in and out of a fight, but there’s definitely some kind of tension running through his body. Maybe I was wrong about him being somewhere unsafe. He could just be sparring with someone or—
Kyol’s pain hits me. It’s so potent and solid, my chair flies back when I leap up. I try to build a wall between my emotions and his, but I’m disoriented—too off-balance to even stay on my feet—and he’s too hurt to shelter me from what he’s feeling. I stagger into an empty book cart, knocking it over and falling to the ground.
Someone hurts him again. It feels like someone’s just punched me in the chest.
My vision blurs. I blink to clear it, then focus on the industrial-grade carpet beneath me, staring at the specks of white scattered through the blue pattern. Instead of blocking out what Kyol’s feeling, I project what I’m feeling: the cool touch of the air-conditioned air and the solid, steady ground beneath my hands and knees. I don’t think it helps. He’s still hurting, and I’m a whole fucking world away from him.
“McKenzie?” Judy asks, standing over me.
I look up. Her face is blurry, but she sounds genuinely concerned.
“I’m okay.” I force out the lie. I am not okay. I can barely think. If I’m affected this much by what’s happening to Kyol, then he must be…
No, he can’t die. I won’t let him.
Kyol! I mentally scream. I’ve shouted his name in my head before, and even though he can’t hear it, he can feel it. He’s always sent a wave of reassurance in return, but there’s no reassurance now. He’s badly injured.
Another surge of pain washes through me. I squeeze my eyes shut as I reach up for the phone. My hand knocks the whole thing off the desk. I grab the receiver anyway, manage to hit “9” to dial out, but who do I call? Everyone who can help is in the Realm. How the hell am I going to get there?
After slamming the receiver down on its base, I look up. Kynlee and her two friends have shot to their feet and are staring at me.
The whole library is staring at me.
I don’t have time to worry about it. I have to help Kyol, and I’m already on my feet and moving toward the tor’um’s table.
Kynlee’s eyes widen as I stride toward her, but she doesn’t move until I reach out to grab her arm. I manage to catch her gloved wrist.
“Hey!” the sandy-haired boy standing next to her says.
“I need to get to the Realm,” I say. Kynlee’s dark gray eyes widen even farther.
“What?” she squeaks.
“There has to be someone you can call,” I say, taking my cell phone out of my pocket and shoving it into her hand. “Someone who can fissure.”
“You can see . . .” She fades off, obviously figuring out that, yes, I can see the pale lightning on her skin.
“Call someone,” I order, shaking her arm. She won’t take my phone. I hear Judy calling my name, but her voice sounds as distant as the voices of all the other patrons murmuring in the background. I don’t care that I’m acting like a freak; all I care about is getting to Kyol.
“I don’t know anyone—”
“You have to!” I’m trying not to panic, but Kyol’s fighting for his life right now. If she doesn’t know a fae who can fissure me to the Realm, I won’t be able to get to him in time to save his life.
I might not be able to save him anyway.
“You have to know someone,” I say again, desperation leaking into my voice.
The guy standing to Kynlee’s left—her boyfriend, maybe?—steps forward.
“I think you need to go,” he says. There’s a little too much uncertainty in his voice for me to really pay attention to him, probably because I’m a good decade older than he is. He’s just a kid. So is Kynlee, I’m pretty sure. I shouldn’t have a death grip on her wrist. I shouldn’t even consider dragging her outside with me and—
“Okay,” she says softly.
“Then call them now.”
“No, I mean”—she glances at the guy—“I can do it. I can take you there.”
My grip tightens on my phone. “But you’re—”
“I know what I am,” she interrupts. “But I can do it. Well, I can do it if you, uh, have an anchor. I’ve never been there before. Oh, and I don’t know where a…” She looks me up and down. “Well, you’re…you and I can’t just, you know.”
I’m human. She can’t just fissure me to the Realm. She has to take me through a gate.
Beside her, her maybe-boyfriend frowns, understandably confused. “Kynlee?”
“It’s fine,” she says, turning to him with a forced smile. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
She grabs her backpack.
“Are you sure?” he asks.
I don’t hear her response to that. Tears pool at the corner of my eyes when agony surges through the life-bond. All traces of reason vanish from my mind. The only thing that matters is getting to Kyol.
Without any thought to the consequences, I pull Kynlee toward the exit.
Ten minutes later, when I’m pulling over on a deserted stretch of highway, I’m still not thinking of the consequences. I reach across the car to open the glove box and grab the small, draw-stringed bag of anchor-stones I have stashed there. I overturn it on top of the dash, then shift through the stones. They’re all opaque, almost like quartz, but they have different tints and weights. I find one that has a hint of red on one jagged edge. Lena gave me it before I left the Realm. It will take us to a safe house in the Outer City of Corrist, the Realm’s capital. After that…
God, I don’t know what happens after that. I don’t know where Kyol is. I’ll be able to tell his direction when I get there, but how long will it take to get to him? Will he be in Corrist or in some province a hundred miles away?
“That will take us to the Realm?” Kynlee asks, eyeing the stone.
“Yes.” My answer is short, just like it was short with the other questions she asked on the way. I can’t focus on anything but Kyol. He’s weak and alone, and I swear he’s just figured out what I’m about to do. Anger sparks along our life-bond, and if emotions were words, his would be yelling, “Stay the hell away.”
The intensity in that unspoken order jerks me out of the semitrance I’ve fallen into. For the first time, I look at Kynlee and really think about what I’m doing. I’m not just planning to fissure with a tor’um; I’m planning to fissure with a teenage girl who might not know a thing about the Realm.
This is the stupidest idea I’ve ever considered. Fissuring isn’t pleasant under the best of circumstances. Attempting it with a—
“Let’s do this,” Kynlee says. Then she’s out of the car, slamming the door shut, and crunching across the dry, dead grass that lines both sides of the road.
“Hey, wait,” I say, climbing out of my seat to follow her. Even though she’s walking and I’m running, it takes a second to catch up. Fae, even fae who are tor’um, move faster than humans do.
“Where is it?” she asks, stopping next to the river that connects Las Vegas with the lake to the east. I assume she’s asking about the gate.
I pinch the bridge of my nose. My head’s pounding. I’ve never been prone to migraines, but I have one now. It’s severe enough that I’m having a hard time focusing.
“I need to think about this,” I say.
Kynlee strips off one of her long, purple gloves. “We’re already here.”
An alarm starts going off in my head. Why is she trying to convince me to go through with this? I’m a complete stranger. She doesn’t owe me anything.
“Why are you so set on going to the Realm—”
My last word is more of a yelp. Kyol’s moving. I can feel it in the way he braces against the pain. He’s hurting so much he’s not breathing—a big mistake when you need oxygen to fuel your muscles—and I can practically feel the strength draining from his body.
Reason flees from my mind.
“The gate’s there,” I say, practically throwing her at the blurred atmosphere on the bank of the river. She lands on her knees but doesn’t hesitate to dip her hand into the water. She raises her palm to the sky, letting the water rain between her fingers. Each silver droplet glints in the sunlight. They seem to linger there, taunting me, drawing out the seconds and multiplying the panic ricocheting around in my chest. Finally, the drops solidify into a vertical slash of pure white light.
There’s no room in my mind for second thoughts. With my anchor-stone in my palm, I clasp Kynlee’s hand, then brace for the cold bite of the In-Between.