yra sat cross-legged in front of the fire, breathing in the incense and focusing on the door in her mind. It was a small door, growing smaller every day. Behind it lay the soul voices of humanity. Her gift. Her torment. The voices had once battered her mind, rendering her incapable of normal human interaction. Emetsam tarrea. Ya emetsam tarrea. Emetsam tarrea me. The whispers grew quiet. Emetsam tarrea. Kyra reached out in her mind and closed the door, imagined pressing her palm against it and holding it until the pressure in her mind eased. Then she took a deep breath and released it slowly, grateful for the silence that followed. Kareshta. The silent ones.
Daughters of Fallen angels and human women. They were her sisters, her friends, and her burden. Kyra breathed in and out, tasting the damp sea air on her tongue along with the spice of the incense and the scent of orange blossoms coming from the orchard outside the farmhouse above the sea. Her eyes were closed as she focused on keeping her breath steady and her body still. She wore the loose sundress she always wore to meditate and prayed the beam of morning light she felt across her back wasn’t burning her pale skin. Her thick hair was piled on top of her head, and dark tendrils brushed across her neck, moved by the warm breeze rolling down the hills. She, her brother, and their charges lived a nomadic existence. This retreat was in the mountains near the Bulgarian coast. It was isolated and remote. The neighbors either had no curiosity or her brothers had dissuaded them from inquiring, but no strangers had ever come to visit.
In the months and years that had followed the Battle of Vienna—the great struggle among the Fallen where her father had finally sacrificed his life—many of Kyra’s sisters had sat with her, practicing the mental discipline that would allow them to mingle among humans. One by one, they had left. The kareshta who had longed for the world had learned the necessary spells and fled. Some to Irin scribe houses in the major cities, eager to find among the sons of the Forgiven mates who could protect them in their strange new reality. Others took human lovers or struck out on their own, longing for a taste of the life that had been so long denied them by the angels who had sired them or the Grigori brothers who had guarded them. And then Kyra was alone. Some of the kareshta who remained had tried to learn from her, but most were unmotivated. They didn’t desire community with humans, felt too exposed by silencing their minds, or had psyches too damaged to practice magic. Many were old, far too old to learn new magic, they said. They only wanted peace in their final years.
Then there were the children. The children were the most damaged of all. While her brother, Kostas, remained in the city hunting minor angels and Grigori who threatened the human population, Kyra resided in the mountains outside Burgas with her half brother Sirius, caring for the weakest and oldest of their family. She heard raised voices coming from outside her cottage. Sirius and Kostas were fighting again. “Then you tell her!” Sirius shouted. “You tell her she’s to remain here, locked away from the world while her sisters—” “Her sisters are not my sister. Not my twin. You know why she needs to remain close to me. I have to find a way—” “She deserves her own life, Kostas.
She deserves far more than we can give her, but while she still has time…” Sirius’s voice trailed off as Kostas dragged him back inside. She heard a door slam. And then silence. While she still has time… Kyra closed her eyes, and her lips tingled at the memory of a dark corridor and a tall scribe’s stubble against her mouth. His scent was in her nose, and her fingers clutched his shirt. His arms were strong around her, holding her as she pressed her ear to the wall of his chest, searching for the sound of his heartbeat. She’d been afraid, so afraid for him. “Come away with me. Or stay here. Just don’t leave again.
Give this a chance, Kyra.” “I can’t.” “Your brother—” “My brother is not the reason.” “Then what?” The farmhouse door slammed again, and she heard footsteps on the path to her cottage. Sirius. After one hundred years, she recognized his step. She’d watched him grow from a baby to a boy to a man. Now the tall warrior was the protector of the weakest ones. The ones who remained. And Kyra.
Sirius knocked quickly and opened the door, only to pause and fall silent when he saw her sitting before her fire. “Give me a moment,” she said quietly. “I can come back.” “Or you can wait. Patience.” She breathed in and out for five more breaths, trying to ignore the frustration bouncing around the room. Sirius was usually the calm and quiet one, but something her sullen and serious twin had said must have riled him, and Kyra suspected it had to do with her. Sirius was constantly pushing her to be more independent. He’d trained her to fight with daggers when Kostas had refused. She’d learned how to fire a gun properly and even participate in hand-to-hand combat under his instruction.
The baby she’d raised after his mother’s death had become her teacher. He pushed, always gently, for her to go into the village more often despite Kostas’s objections. He regularly gave her tasks that would put her in the path of a variety of humans, from the local priest to the clerk at the village store. At his urging, she’d even learned to drive a car and taken a drawing class in Burgas. She turned and motioned to the spot on the carpet next to her. “Come. It’ll do you good to meditate a little.” Sirius rolled his eyes a bit, but he came and sat beside her. “What are you two shouting about, bata?” He couldn’t stop the grin. “Should you still be calling me little boy when I’m taller than you?” “I wiped your nose when you were a baby.
I can call you what I want.” Sirius laughed and kicked his feet out, laying his head in Kyra’s lap as he had when he was a child. Kyra put her head on his forehead and let some of the nervous energy that had built up in her mind release against her brother’s skin. He’d been working in the sun, and his usually fair complexion had turned a pleasing light brown. Sirius grabbed Kyra’s hand and pressed it to his cheek. “You’re upset.” “No, just feeling anxious today.” His forehead wrinkled. “The voices?” “Not that.” She took a deep breath and imagined herself walking among the orange groves, smelling the heady fragrance of the pale cream blossoms.
“I was thinking about a visit to Ava in Istanbul.” Ava Matheson was a kareshta who had lived as a human for most of her life. She’d had no idea she was the granddaughter of a Fallen archangel; she just thought the voices she heard were the result of mental illness. When she met Malachi, an Irin warrior, she discovered a shadow world where angelic and human blood mingled. Now Ava and Malachi were “mated” in the Irin tradition, and Ava and Kyra spoke frequently by phone or video call. Kyra suspected a visit to Ava might not be too objectionable as long as “that damn scribe” wasn’t there. Ava understood Kyra better than any other person she’d met. She’d lived with mental chaos and didn’t take silence for granted. “It’d be good to see Ava,” Kyra said softly. “I haven’t seen… anyone outside our family.
Not in months.” “What if I had an idea other than Istanbul?” Sirius asked quietly, his eyes closed, and Kyra stroked his cheek. Her touch, and the contact with his sisters, was one of the reasons Sirius was nearly faultless in his interactions with humans. Offspring of the angels all hungered for soul energy. Irin males got it from their Irina, but Grigori who were starved of soul energy turned to taking it from humans since most weren’t raised with sisters. They were slaves to their angelic fathers and would stalk humans like a lion hunting his next meal. Kyra had no illusions about the Grigori. Most were evil. Only a few managed to live an honorable life. But Sirius had been raised in Kyra’s arms.
Never had the boy been hungry for love or affection. Instead of a predator, he’d grown into a protector. “What kind of idea?” Kyra asked. “You know Kostas won’t let me travel far without him.” “You could go back to the compound in Sofia.” Kyra shook her head. Two of her half brothers had found mates among the archangel Jaron’s daughters. Kostas’s men had once protected the women by hiding the kareshta for Jaron, but since the angel’s death, the women were free and happy to find husbands among Kostas’s men. It wasn’t mating like the Irin had, but it was something, and the Grigori couples who found each other were happy. While Kyra was delighted for her brothers, she felt out of place at the compound in Sofia where they lived.
Added to that, seeing his men content with wives seemed to have an adverse effect on Kostas, whose simmering anger bled into Kyra’s mind, sending her anxiety through the roof. No, Sofia was not an option. “If you don’t want to visit Sofia”—Sirius sat up and crossed his legs, grabbing Kyra’s hands and holding them between his own—“then I want you to listen to me.” She could feel his excitement. “I always listen to you, bata.” “And you have to keep an open mind.” “What are you talking about?” “There is a theory among some of the free Grigori. Others like us. About how to better control our magic.” Kyra frowned.
“What kind of theory?” “Have you heard of Yantra tattooing?” Sirius asked. “Sak Yant, to be precise?” Leo put his hands on his hips and squared off against his opponent. She was small, but Leo knew not to underestimate her. “No.” “Yes!” Two-year-old Matti mirrored Leo’s stance, tiny fists on her hips and her rosy-pink cheeks covered in chocolate. They stared at each other. The tall, blond warrior had faced off against his small rival on many occasions. This wasn’t the first time. It wouldn’t be the last. Ava and Malachi’s children were tiny forces to be reckoned with.
His watcher’s children were the first in history—that anyone knew of—to carry the mingled blood of Fallen and Forgiven angels. Their powers were unknown and potentially dangerous. They were also perilously cute. “You’ve already had two cupcakes. You were only supposed to have one.” Leo lifted the plate from the counter and set it in the bread cupboard. “Your mother will be angry with me if I give you more, Matti.” “Mad?” she asked. “Yes, mad. Angry.
” “I’m not mad,” Matti said. “Hungry. Need mo’ cake.” Leo narrowed his eyes at the tiny terror. Her dark curls and sweet face were only a front for a master manipulator. “If you were hungry, you would have eaten your apples.” Matti’s twin brother Geron sighed deeply and put his chin on his hands. His face was also covered in chocolate. His liquid grey eyes were pools of pleading, but Leo refused to be moved. “No cake,” Leo said more firmly.
This did not suit Matti well. She raised her voice and shouted, “Baba! I want mo’ cake.” Leo pointed at her. “That won’t work this time. Your father is in Vienna.” Leo’s Irin brother Rhys walked into the kitchen and scooped Matti up in his arms. “What are you doing to the child, Leo? She’s hungry.” “She doesn’t need more cupcakes. She barely touched her lunch.” Rhys kissed the top of Matti’s head.
“Poor darling. Why would she eat lunch when there are cupcakes? I wholly agree with you on this, Matti. Hold out for the sweets.” Sensing an ally, Matti giggled. “Reez, more cake. Peez.” Rhys turned to Leo. “She said please.” Leo grimaced. “You’re not helping.
Aren’t you supposed to be working on a new translation of the Hokman Abat?” The pale British scribe walked to the bread cupboard and reached inside. “Well, I thought I’d take a break and have…” “Don’t do it!” Leo yelled. “Cake!” Matti squealed. “Want mo’ cake, Reez.” Geron lifted his arms. “Lo!” he shouted at Leo. “More cake.” “This is the problem,” Leo said, lifting Geron into his arms. “They gang up on you. And they have… chubby cheeks.
And they’re very, very cute.” “Relax,” Rhys said. “You take minding them too seriously. What’s the fun of being uncles if we can’t make them sick to their stomachs on sweets?” Matti giggled, which made Geron chuckle. Soon the kitchen was filled with laughter, and Rhys was stuffing more cupcakes in both children. Leo licked chocolate frosting from his thumb. “If they get sick, I’m blaming you.” “I only gave them one cupcake, you gave them two.” “Three cakes!” Matti yelled, her tiny fist raised in triumph. “They’re frighteningly intelligent,” Rhys said.
“Developmentally, they’re very advanced. Did you see Geron copying Malachi last week?” Leo nodded. “He’s so quiet, but he can already write both old script and the Roman alphabet.” “I wouldn’t think a child would have that much small-muscle coordination.” “And Matti…” Leo trailed off as the little girl started to sing and dance around the kitchen table. It was a childish song she’d learned from one of the Irina, a song intended to teach young girls control over their magic, but Matti had already mastered it. As she lifted her voice, the flowers in the vase on the center of the table bobbed along to the tune, dancing and nodding their heads when she called their colors in turn. Rhys stared with wide eyes. “I haven’t seen children in so long, I don’t know what’s normal and what’s not. But that seems very advanced for her age.
” “I’m fairly sure it is.” Leo had no experience with children other than Matti and Geron. His mother had been killed during the Rending, the attempted annihilation of the Irin race, when he was no older than the twins. His father had been lost for years and was never really the same after the loss of his mate. He and his cousin, Maxim, had been lost for a year until they’d shown up at a scribe house in Vilnius. He had little memory of his life before his grandfather had taken him and Maxim in. Leo liked children, but he’d never spent time with any. But now there was a baby boom in the Irin world. Leo would give anything to join in the numbers of scribes and singers starting their families, but he wouldn’t be satisfied with any mate. He wanted his reshon.
His soul mate. The woman chosen by heaven to be his partner in life. He hadn’t practiced patience for two hundred years to settle for anything less. “What about your own family?” “I don’t know if that is possible for me.” “How do you know it’s not possible if you won’t give us a chance?” “Leo, you don’t know me.” “Are you sure about that?” A loud crash broke through his reverie, and Leo spotted the source of the racket in the doorway to the living room. Matti was sitting on a rug that Geron was pulling across the wooden floor. It was unfortunate that a side table was in their way. The glass lamp sitting on it had not survived. “Oops!” Both children turned wide eyes to Leo before they raced out of the room and up the stairs.
“Come back here!” Leo ran after them just as his phone began to buzz. “Hello?” “Are you on patrol?” It was his cousin, Maxim. “Are the Grigori hunting in daylight now?” “I’m on twin patrol,” Leo said, pounding up the stairs. The two culprits would scatter, of that he was sure. They had excellent evasion tactics. But where would they hide? And did they have any glass shards in their little bare feet? “I need you to go to Bangkok,” Max said. “What?” “Bangkok,” Max repeated. “Thailand.” “I know where Bangkok is.” Leo pushed open his own bedroom door and walked to the closet.
“I’m just not sure why I need to go there.” “I’ve cleared it with both Malachi and Damien. The scribe house is expecting you.” Leo pulled open his closet door. The first thing he checked was his weapons cabinet. Locked, as expected. One couldn’t be too careful. “Matti?” He bent down but didn’t see anything under his clothes. “What are you doing?” “They broke a lamp. There are probably shards.
I haven’t seen any blood, but you can’t be too certain.” “What are you talking about?” “The children, of course. What’s in Bangkok?” “What do you think? The usual. You’ll meet your contact at the airport.” “I still don’t understand—” Leo walked backed to the hall. “Geron? Matti?” He heard giggling from Ava and Malachi’s room. “I know it was an accident, but I need to check your feet. I don’t understand why I need to go to Bangkok, Max. There’s an active scribe house there, and as far as I know they have an excellent reputation. Why is Damien involved?” “Just get there.
I have to go.” Max chuckled a little. “And good luck with the little ones.” Another crash came from downstairs. Leo shoved his phone in his pocket. “You have got to be kidding me.” Matti giggled as she watched Leo’s feet walk away from her. She loved her uncles, especially Leo. He was like a giant bear with yellow hair and beautiful drawings all over his skin. His drawings were different than her baba’s.
When she looked closely, she could see little animals playing in Leo’s writing, which made his talesm much more fun. Her uncles played with her every day, even when they were very tired from hunting. Leo never got impatient like her mama or baba, but sometimes he didn’t understand her games. She crouched in the closet and turned to the black cat who watched her with gold eyes as brilliant as her own. Matti pointed at him. “You’re not a kitty.” The cat opened its mouth and spoke clearly. “You are very perceptive, small singer. And very magical to have seen me. Your parents and your uncles do not.
” “My name is Matti.” “I know your name. You should be careful not to offer it so freely.” Matti narrowed her eyes. This creature didn’t sound like it wanted to play with her. How rude. “Do you want to know my name?” the cat asked. “We can play.” “Yes, I’ve seen your play.” The cat hissed words that Matti had never heard before.
Special words like Mama and Baba warned her about. At his words, the shoes in the closet began to tap their toes, dancing in the low light from her parents’ bedroom. Matti clapped for the dancing shoes. This was a fun game! It was much better than making the flowers dance when she sang their colors. She imagined making all the shoes in the house dance. Her mama’s and her baba’s. All her uncles’ big boots. She could make them dance down the stairs and into the street. Or up onto the roof where Baba grew his vegetables! Matti opened her mouth to say the cat’s words but felt Baba’s magic holding her back. She growled in frustration.
“Soon, small singer,” the cat said. “You are still growing into your power. One day I think you will make all of them dance.” Matti played with her toes and watched the cat that was not a cat. “I like to sing.” “I know you do. And I think I should like to hear your song,” Vasu said. “One day.”