Read an Excerpt from Angel Mage, a New Fantasy from Garth Nix

More than a century has passed since Liliath crept into the empty sarcophagus of Saint Marguerite, fleeing the Fall of Ystara. But she emerges from her magical sleep still beautiful, looking no more than nineteen, and once again renews her single-minded quest to be united with her lover, Palleniel, the archangel of Ystara.

It’s a seemingly impossible quest, but Liliath is one of the greatest practitioners of angelic magic to have ever lived, summoning angels and forcing them to do her bidding. Four young people hold her interest: Simeon, a studious doctor-in-training; Henri, a dedicated fortune hunter; Agnez, a glory-seeking musketeer; and Dorotea, icon-maker and scholar of angelic magic.

The four feel a strange kinship from the moment they meet but do not suspect their importance. And none of them know just how Liliath plans to use them, as mere pawns in her plan, no matter the cost to everyone else…

Garth Nix, bestselling author of the Old Kingdom series, crafts a new fantasy with Angel Mage—available October 1st from Katherine Tegan Books.

 

 

ONE

The young woman woke in total darkness with cold stone under her, and her questing hands felt stone above and to the sides. But the moment of panic that came with this realization ebbed as she remembered why this was so and disappeared completely when she heard the voice.

The voice of power and strength that made her feel complete, made her feel alive. With it came a sudden, intense sensation of being enfolded, held close and safe. Not by mere human arms, but within great wings of light and power.

“As you commanded long ago, that which you waited for has occurred, and so I awake you.”

“How… ?”

Her voice croaked and failed. She swallowed, saliva moving in her mouth and throat for the first time in… who knew how long. She had been stopped for a long time just short of being dead, she knew. She would have seemed dead if anyone could have looked inside the tomb, though the remarkable preservation of her flesh would have given pause to any observers. But the chance of any onlookers had been greatly reduced by her choice of resting place. The great stone coffin, topped with a massive slab of marble, all sealed with lead.

It would have been natural for her to ask how long she had been in the coffin. But that was not her first question. She thought only of what was needful, for her all-consuming plan.

“How many suitable candidates are ready?”

There was a long silence. Long enough for her to think the presence gone. But then the voice came again.

“Four.”

“Four! But there should be hundreds—”

“Four,” repeated the voice.

For a moment, fury coursed through her, extreme anger that her plans—her destiny—should once again go awry. But she fought the anger down. Though she had hoped for many more possible candidates, to allow for error or mischance, four should be enough. Even one might suffice.…

“Where are they?”

“In four places in Sarance, but they will come together. Soon.”

“And the Order? It continues? You have shown them the signs of my awakening?”

“I have shown the signs. I know not if any survive to see them, or if they have been acted upon. As you know, I am not entire, and mightily resisted… only your will anchors me to your world. Almost I wish to fully disassociate—”

“You will do as I commanded!”

She spoke urgently, her voice imbued with all her natural power and intense, concentrated will.

“I obey. I am yours entire. I can speak no longer, my—”

The voice stopped. This time the silence was complete. She knew there would be no further speech, no warmth, no sensation of utter security and love. Not now. Tears began to form in the corners of her eyes, but she fiercely blinked them away. She had no time for tears. Ever.

“I love you,” whispered the young woman. She felt better saying the words, coming back to herself, to what she had been. Her voice grew stronger, echoing inside the stone coffin. “I will always love you. We will be together. We will be together!”

She felt her hands. Her skin still had the soft, velvet smoothness of youth. More important, the rings were all there. She touched them, one by one, letting the power within begin to rise, just a little, before she settled on the least of the nine. The ring on her left thumb. Made from ancient electrum, the band held an oval of ivory, carved to show fine, feathery wings almost obscuring a human face, painted or perhaps enameled, the eyes tiny rubies. The halo above the almost hidden face was a line of gold no wider than a hair.

“Mazrathiel,” whispered the woman in the coffin. “Mazrathiel, Mazrathiel, come to my need.”

Light shone from the ring, cold like moonlight, though brighter. She shut her eyes against the sudden illumination and felt the lesser presence appear. It came with a sensation of warmth, but this was no more than the welcome heat of a kitchen fire on a cold day, nothing so remarkable as the feeling that had encompassed her whole being before, when she had spoken to him. Similarly, she felt the rush of air as if from the folding of wings, and the faint, clear tone of a single harp string, plucked far away.

“Mazrathiel is here,” said a faint whisper only she could hear. “What is your will? If it lies within my scope, it shall be done.”

The woman whispered, and Mazrathiel did her bidding.

Brother Delfon had always liked the cool quiet of the Saint’s Tomb in the lowest crypt beneath the temple. It was very cold in winter, but he had not been sent to a vigil here in winter, not since his sixtieth year. That was more than a decade behind him now, and like all practitioners of angelic magic, he was older than his years. The more fragile followers of Saint Marguerite only stood vigil in high summer, and in truth Delfon would have been spared the task, save that he insisted. He did acquiesce with the suggestion of his superiors that he bring a cushion and a blanket, and sit upon the wooden bench in the corner that served to rest weary pilgrims on the high holy days when they were allowed to visit.

He slumped now, no more than half awake. So it took him some several seconds to notice that he was no longer alone. A sister stood above him, looking at him with a quizzical expression as if uncertain what to make of the elderly monk.

A young sister. She wore a similar habit to his own, the black and white of the followers of the Archangel Ashalael, but there were variations in the width of the white cuffs at the sleeves and in the hem of the robe, and even the blackness of the cloth looked a little different in the light of Delfon’s lantern. Slowly he realized it was perhaps a very dark blue, not black at all, and the badge on the breast, picked out in gold, showed a pair of seven-pinioned wings, Archangel’s wings. But Ashalael’s wings were always shown in silver, and besides, these were surmounted by a strange, nine-tined crown with a halo above, not by the miter of the Cardinal.…

But then his eyes weren’t what they once were, nor his ears. The same applied to his memory, so he did not long puzzle himself over the badge, or why he didn’t recognize this tall, patrician-looking sister. She was curiously young, perhaps no more than eighteen or nineteen, surely a novice. But against that, she carried herself like a visiting bishop, or an abbot, and he glanced at her nut-brown hands, nodding as he saw she wore many rings on her fingers, rings set with rectangular or oval pieces of painted and gilded ivory, or intricately engraved gilded bronze. Icons of angelic magic, though he could not immediately see which angels they represented, what powers they could summon.

“I didn’t notice you come in, your grace,” he said. Her face was a little familiar. Young and beautiful, dark-eyed and almond-skinned, her hair black as a rare slice of jade he had once engraved to make an icon of Karazakiel. Her expression was severe—Delfon could not recall who she was, though she did remind him of someone.…

“No, I did not wish you to,” said the strange young sister. She held out her right hand, and Brother Delfon took it and brushed his lips in the air several inches above her fingers, his old eyes trying to focus on the face of the angel so beautifully painted on the ivory plaque held in the prongs of the most distinctive and extraordinarily powerful ring. He recognized neither face nor the style of the painter, which was exceedingly odd, for Brother Delfon was a prominent icon-maker himself. He had studied icons all his life, and painted thousands of angels, and in his heyday had been able to channel the power of no fewer than nine very useful, if relatively low-ranking angels into his work.

He could not deal with so many now, but there were still three lesser angels who would answer to him and would lend their power to inhabit the icons he made, which he finished with his own blood.

“I do not… I do not recognize your badge, your order,” muttered Delfon, releasing the Bishop’s hand to shakily point at her habit.

“You do not?” asked the young woman. She laughed, and her eyes sparkled with something of equal parts exuberance and mischief. “It is the blazon of Palleniel Exalted, of course.”

Delfon drew back. Surely he had misheard…

“Palleniel Exalted,” repeated the woman, louder. She seemed to enjoy saying a name that was no longer spoken. Or perhaps even remembered, save by those like Delfon whose lives were bound up in catalogs and listings of angelic beings. Besides, his childhood had been spent near the border of Ystara, the lost country whose Archangel had been Palleniel.

“Palleniel? But he is no more, gone from this world, banished by the other Archangels!”

“But here is his Archbishop, and you have looked upon her. Not all that you have been told is true.”

Delfon frowned and started to speak, but at that moment he finally noticed something behind her, which he should have seen immediately. Words dried up in his mouth as he saw that the Saint’s Tomb, the great stone sarcophagus that dominated the center of this circular, vaulted chamber, was no longer as it had been.

The lead-sealed marble lid of the vast coffin had been slid aside. It weighed several tons, and had surely been put there originally only with the greatest effort of engineers, sheerlegs, and rope. Or with the aid of a most powerful angel…

The woman saw the direction of his stricken gaze.

“You seem perturbed, brother. But I assure you Saint Marguerite did not object to my sharing her crypt. Indeed, when I crept in I found nothing there, suggesting the predecessors in your order were not entirely truthful about the founding of this place.”

“But, but… what—”

Liliath sat down on the bench next to the old man and put her arm around his shoulders. He tensed and tried to draw back, but she easily held him close. She was disturbingly strong, and he quickly decided to remain still, though he turned his face away.

“Now, now. Have no fear. I would like to know something of considerable import. To me, at the least, for I suppose it has been a long time.”

“W-w-what?”

“A long time I have been gone,” said Liliath. “I knew it would be, but not in any exact measure. How many years is it since the Doom of Ystara?”

“One hundred and… ,” whispered Delfon. “One hundred and thirty-six— No, one hundred and thirty-seven years ago.”

“It seemed but a night’s good rest,” said Liliath, almost to herself. “A long time…”

She was silent for a while, slim fingers resting on one of the icon rings. Delfon sat next to her, shivering, suddenly as cold as he ever had been in the tomb in winter, in bygone days. He thought he heard the soft flutter of angel’s wings, some other summoning, but he couldn’t be sure. His head hurt, and his ears felt thick and closed.

“So you are Delfon,” said Liliath, pinching his chin and turning his head toward her. He shivered more violently, for he had not told her his name.

She looked even younger close up, and Delfon suddenly remembered where he’d seen her face before, or something like it. There was a handwritten annotation at the end of one of his books about the icon-makers of the ages, with an accompanying sketch. This young woman was the person in that sketch: Liliath, the Maid of Ellanda. The woman who had led the only organized band of refugees to escape from doomed Ystara, dying in mysterious circumstances soon after crossing the border into Sarance.

According to the dozen or so lines added to the end of the book, Liliath had been an incredible young woman, astonishing the world with her ability to make icons and channel angels from childhood, hence her early naming as the Maid of Ellanda. A name possibly rendered ironic later, as rumor had it she was the lover of the King of Ystara, and others, though this was never to anyone’s definite knowledge.

The notes also questioned a rumor that Liliath was uniquely able to avoid the cost of calling upon angelic powers. To summon angels took something from a mage, some of their living essence. Mages and priests aged swiftly, the more they used their powers, and the greater the angels they summoned.

The great Handuran had quantified this loss in The Price of Virtue. A few hours from a span of life to summon a Seraphim was of course of no account, but to call upon a Principality would age the summoner by a year, and an Archangel, several years. One famous example was the Cardinal Saint Erharn the Blessed, who had gone from a vital woman of forty to an ancient, wizened crone and then death in the span of only a day and a night, wielding the powers of the Archangel Ashalael to hold back the sea in the Great Flood of 1309.…

Delfon realized his mind had wandered. The young woman was asking him something again. But she could not be the Maid of Ellanda. No, surely not—

“Tell me, you are an icon-maker?”

“Yes,” muttered Delfon. He clasped his hands together, as if he might even now hide the stains of paint on his fingers, the dried patches of egg white and raw pigment, bright on his leathery dark brown skin. The pattern of small scars in crosshatched ridges of even darker flesh across the backs of his hands, where his blood had been drawn.

“You still summon as well as paint?”

“Yes. Not often…”

“Which angels speak to you? Is Foraziel one?”

“Yes!” exclaimed Delfon, very much surprised. Though he was obviously an icon-maker, he wore no icons on the rope belt of his habit, had no rings, nothing at his neck or wrist to give her a clue as to the particular angels who were his allies in the craft. Given there were ten thousand angels in the host of Ashalael alone, the chance of her knowing which angels he knew was—

“I thought as much,” said Liliath, interrupting Delfon’s panicked thoughts. “He put you here for my awakening.”

“He?” asked Delfon, puzzlement mixing with the panic. Though angels did not strictly have a gender, there was a tradition of depicting most of them as either male or female, and traditionally, Foraziel was female.

Liliath ignored his question.

“I need an icon of Foraziel,” she said. “I need her power to find what I seek, and I do not want to waste time making an icon of my own.”

Delfon nodded dumbly. Foraziel’s scope was for finding things and people lost or forgotten. But he could not help gazing at this young woman’s strange rings. She had major angelic powers there. One of the lesser ones—and he shivered to think it lesser only because of those neighboring icons—did not show the typical face and halo of an angel but a wheel within a wheel, both rimmed with tiny eyes of diamond. A Throne, one of the strange angels, highest of the First Sphere. Higher than any angels Delfon ever channeled, a being of far greater puissance than little Foraziel. But the other rings held icons that suggested greater angels still.…

Liliath flexed her fingers, lantern light making tiny ruby and diamond eyes and gilded halos flash and glitter.

“Sometimes it is a small, specific power that is needed,” she said, correctly gauging the tenor of Delfon’s thoughts. “Not the awful majesty of Principalities or Archangels.”

Delfon bowed his head, his body shaking as if he had suddenly caught the ague. This was all too much for him, this strange sister… bishop… saint… whatever she was, and the power that went with her. The painted icons on her rings were not simply representations of angels, they were direct conduits to great and terrible beings. And she might even have somewhere hidden an icon of the greatest, if she spoke true about being some high priest of Palleniel, who was an equal to the Archangels who guarded the greatest countries of the world.

Though Palleniel had not guarded his country but destroyed its people with the Ash Blood plague, and so now—if mentioned at all—he was called the Fallen Angel, his name used as a curse.…

“Is there an icon of Foraziel in this temple?” asked Liliath. Delfon hesitated, but only for a moment. Whoever this woman really was—presumably some enemy from Alba or the Eighty-Six Kingdoms—she had power far beyond his own, or for that matter far beyond anyone else in the temple, including the abbot. Though how she could be so young, not aged by the powers she called upon… it was beyond him, and he knew he had no choice but to honestly answer and obey.

“Yes,” he said. “In the workshop. I finished it only a few days past.”

“Good,” said Liliath. “You can show me the way. I didn’t have time to look around on my… ah… way in here.”

“Yes,” mumbled Delfon as he slowly got to his feet.

“Good,” said the woman again. She held up her hand and touched one of the rings, muttering a name under her breath. Delfon raised one arm to shield his old eyes from the light that came then, but he peeked a little. Whichever angel this woman had summoned, it made quick work of putting the coffin lid back, the strips of broken lead rising to move into place like snakes being charmed to their rest. Within a few minutes, the tomb appeared exactly as it had been when Delfon had begun his vigil at sunset.

The old monk leaned on the wall and looked at the woman, shutting one eye so his best, the right, could better focus. A lock of her hair had turned white, but even as he watched, black flowed back through it, like wine mixing with water. She had not paid the price of using whichever angel had closed the tomb. Or had done so only temporarily.

“You will kill me, I think, when you have the icon?” he said slowly. “So no word can spread of… you.”

“Yes,” agreed Liliath. “I expect that is why he called you here, you who are soon to die in any case. Better than any of the younger ones. Palleniel is more compassionate than I.”

“Ah,” replied Delfon. He did not feel frightened now, which he thought strange. Just curious, and very tired. There had been too much excitement in the past few minutes. And the angel’s residual light had frosted the corners of his eyes, making it more difficult for him to see than ever. “Palleniel. Plague bringer. The antagonist.”

“Palleniel, yes. Those other names are the invention of others. I did say not all you have been told is true.”

“But how can he have called me to be the one here tonight?” asked Delfon, genuinely curious, even faced with the prospect of death. Once an angelic mage, always so, even in great age and final hours. “In this place of Ashalael, in Sarance? Palleniel holds no sway here. And angels do not act of their own volition.”

“The orthodox hold it so,” said Liliath. She smiled with the satisfaction of secret knowledge. “But in truth, the scope of angels’ actions upon this world are not rigid boundaries of their making but are defined by long use and custom of people, and they can be bent. Or if geographic, pierced in small locales. And some can be given instructions to act upon in time to come. Given sufficient will and power.”

Delfon shook his head.

“I cannot believe what you say is so,” said Delfon. “Or I would not, save that if you are indeed Liliath… I read of you in Decarandal’s Lives of the Magi. Though it was not Decarandal who scribbled in the final pages… whoever that was said Liliath could make icons swiftly, at need, and summon angels previously unknown to any temple.…”

“Go on,” said Liliath. “I am curious. What else was written?”

“Her skill in icon-making was unparalleled. And the rumors, the talk that she did not physically pay the toll of summoning… but then she died young, only nineteen, in years at least, and so it seemed she had aged after all, if not outwardly. Some thought it a tragedy, a bright promise lost to the world.”

“Yet as you see, I did not die,” said Liliath. “And I will fulfill my promises. All of them, but one most of all.”

Delfon peered at her, not understanding, but recognizing the strength of her feeling. He had seen that intensity in others before, in pilgrims, or those undertaking great tasks, driven by internal forces they often barely recognized themselves. But in this woman it was magnified a thousandfold.

“Come, we must go,” ordered Liliath.

“You won’t hurt me?” asked Delfon tentatively. “Before, I mean…”

“No,” agreed Liliath matter-of-factly. “Your heart will simply cease its movement. I think you are already weary, are you not?”

“Yes, yes, I am,” muttered Delfon. The angel light around his eyes was spreading, and with it, a welcome warmth. He had not felt so relaxed inside himself, not for many years, his pulse very slow and steady. It made him feel very much as if an extraordinarily comfortable bed lay in his close future, a much more comfortable bed than his own in the cell above them in the temple.

“Not yet, Mazrathiel,” whispered the woman. Mazrathiel was a Dominion, of broad scope, encompassing movement of any kind. Including the beating of a heart, though only the most powerful—and selfish—of mages could force an angel to perform a direct act to take a life. “Not until I have the icon, and he is sitting down.”

“What’s that?” asked Delfon, coming back to himself a little.

“You serve a true and noble cause, one it is a great honor to die for,” said Liliath. Her eyes seemed to shine with an inner light as she spoke, and her mouth trembled in a smile. Delfon shivered again, seeing it, feeling so much power and belief in this young woman. Just a girl, really, at least to look at—but one with such strength of will and purpose, so many angels at her beck and call…

Liliath took his arm and led him to the door, which was already uncharacteristically ajar. “Which way?”

“Left,” said Delfon. “And up the winding stair.”

He hobbled out, Liliath at his side.

“Tell me,” she said. “What has been going on in the world? Who rules Sarance?”

Behind them, the door slowly creaked shut, accompanied by the faint sound of a distant, heavenly choir ending all together on a single, discordant note.

 

Excerpted from Angel Mage, copyright © 2019 by Garth Nix.

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