The Blood Moon rises. The Blood Veil falls. The Tournament begins.
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from All of Us Villains, a dark tale of ambition and magick from co-authors Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman—publishing November 9th with Tor Teen.
The Blood Moon rises. The Blood Veil falls. The Tournament begins.
Every generation, at the coming of the Blood Moon, seven families in the remote city of Ilvernath each name a champion to compete in a tournament to the death.
The prize? Exclusive control over a secret wellspring of high magick, the most powerful resource in the world—one thought long depleted.
This year, thanks to a salacious tell-all book, the seven champions are thrust into the worldwide spotlight, granting each of them new information, new means to win, and most importantly, a choice: accept their fate or rewrite their story.
But this is a story that must be penned in blood.
Though it was seven great families who originally founded the tournament, it’s important to remember—that was a long time ago. Not all of them have remained great.
A Tradition of Tragedy
The funeral party flocked around the grave as the pallbearers lowered the casket into the earth. The weather was dreary and damp—heeled shoes sinking into mud, the grass field trodden and flooded, black umbrellas raised skyward. Funerals in Ilvernath were solemn, traditional affairs of veils and pearls and handkerchiefs. Families had lived here so long that many had designated burial grounds, where descendants could be entombed beside their ancestors.
Atop the hill overlooking the graveyard, the Macaslan family watched, licking their lips.
The Macaslans were a vile lot—stringy red hair, bulging purple veins, reeking of the most expensive yet repulsive cologne money could buy. There was no funeral in Ilvernath they didn’t attend, but it wasn’t to pay their respects.
They came to collect.
Before common or high magick was sealed in a spellring or a cursering, it was considered raw. And raw magick was a tricky thing to find. It could appear at random: in the accidental shattering of a mirror, tucked into the pages of dusty books, dancing in a clover patch the hour after dawn. Nowadays, much of it was mass produced—farmed and bottled like high-fructose corn syrup, sprinkled as a primary ingredient in everything from lipstick to household cleaners. But not so much in Ilvernath, where the old ways stubbornly continued on.
Isobel Macaslan examined the raw common magick shimmering white across the graveyard, like glitter caught in rain. People had magick inside them, too. And when someone was laid to rest, that life magick dispersed. If left uncollected, the wind picked it up and carried it away, where it would later nestle itself into forgotten places.
It was a beautiful scene.
Isobel was trying her hardest not to vomit.
She rubbed the two puncture marks at the base of her neck, where the Asp’s Fang had bitten her. Her stomach had quaked all morning. A healing spell would cure her, but she refused to waste magick on Alistair Lowe.
She smiled, remembering the frowning, irritated photo of Alistair in this morning’s edition of the Ilvernath Eclipse. Or even better: the fury on his face when she’d peeked into his mind. He had no idea how much she’d uncovered.
She knew about the crossword kept in his pocket, about the single word he couldn’t guess that had irritated him all day (the word was “elixir,” Isobel had realized almost instantly). He compared himself to a monster because of the stories his mother had told him as a child, the ones that still made him shiver. He’d found her attractive, and she wondered what he must’ve thought of the white kiss her spell had left on his skin, in the shape of her own lips.
Not that she’d uncovered his every mystery, only his thoughts floating at the surface.
But even if Isobel wanted to call last night a victory, there was only one victory that mattered. A victory the whole world expected the Lowe champion to claim.
And she had made herself his target.
“You look nervous,” her father commented from beside her. He had a coarse, raspy voice from decades of smoking, and his brittle fingernails dug into her skin as he placed his hand on her shoulder. “You have nothing to be nervous about.”
“I know,” Isobel said, forcing false confidence into her tone. She was good at that.
“You’re the most powerful champion our family has seen in generations,” he reminded her for what felt like the thousandth time. “And this afternoon, you’ll secure an alliance with the town’s most respected cursemaker.”
Isobel wished she shared her father’s optimism. But ever since A Tradition of Tragedy was published last year, her life had crumbled. Isobel had never wanted to be champion. Yet the newspapers had named her one eleven months ago without her family’s knowledge, and long before any of the other competitors. Seemingly overnight, Isobel was crowned Ilvernath’s murderous sweetheart. Reporters started camping outside both of her parents’ houses for the chance of a scandalous photograph. Her prep school classmates had dumped her like she was last season’s trend. And the one friend she’d thought would understand more than anyone had betrayed her, then transferred schools just to get away from her Macaslan stench.
At the funeral, the white shimmering of raw common magick grew brighter in the air surrounding the grave, dissipating like a sigh across the field.
The Macaslans waited until the mourners had scattered before scuttling down the hill. A few stragglers watched them angrily as they worked—most of them the deceased’s loved ones. One woman in a sleek black pantsuit hovered away from the crowd, assessing Isobel in particular. Maybe it was because of the contrast between her family’s gaudy clothes and Isobel’s patent leather miniskirt. Or maybe the woman was a reporter.
Isobel ignored them all as she coaxed a twinkling of magick into a flask. She sealed it inside, warm and humming.
“You shouldn’t be here,” another woman growled behind her.
Isobel turned to face one of the mourners. The woman hugged her arms to herself and glared at Isobel. Mascara ran down her cheeks.
Isobel pursed her lips. Of all the unpleasant methods her family employed to collect magick, funerals were by far the worst. Most considered the collection of raw magick from a burial unthinkable, but to the Macaslans, it was simply pragmatic. It wasn’t as though the dead were using it anymore.
Isobel glanced at her relatives, hoping they might intercede for her. Truthfully, Isobel had rarely attended these family gatherings until recently. But they were all too busy to notice the confrontation.
“I’m sorry,” Isobel told her, “but—”
“You’re a bloody scavenger is what you are. All of you.”
At that, the woman stormed away, and Isobel squeezed her silver locket in her fist, the one she always wore tucked beneath her blouse. Beneath her primer and long-wear foundation, Isobel’s skin remained painfully thin.
The town’s scorn had been easier to swallow before that book. Before strangers spray-painted obscenities on Isobel’s front doors. Before photographs of her taking out the rubbish became tabloid fodder.
But Isobel was the strongest champion the Macaslans had raised in hundreds of years.
And she wouldn’t be ashamed of doing what it took to survive.
The MacTavish cursemaker shop was in the roughest part of town, full of repurposed factories and condemned tenement complexes. Isobel’s heels slipped awkwardly between the cobblestones as she walked beside her father to the door. The store had nothing to mark its name, only an orange neon sign of a dragonfly in the window, dull in the afternoon light.
“Are you sure this is it?” she asked. The other spellmakers in town had cleaner, more fashionable storefronts, with spellstones glittering in elegant displays in their windows.
Everyone in the world used magick, but the average person typically bought brand-name spells at department stores or patronized local spellmakers rather than craft enchantments themselves. Spellmaking families had their own dynasties and secrets, passed down from parent to child for centuries, bits of knowledge collected from all over the world. The spellmakers in Ilvernath might not directly participate, but they, too, played a vital role in the tournament.
The Glamour Inquirer called them the arms dealers.
Since Isobel’s mother was a respected spellmaker herself, she’d already volunteered to supply Isobel with all her spells for the tournaments. But to secure victory, Isobel would also need curses—enchantments designed to do harm. And her mother had no specialty in those.
The MacTavishes, however, were the best cursemakers in Ilvernath.
“This shop has been here for over six hundred years,” her father answered.
“Yes,” Isobel said, eyeing the splintered doorframe. “It looks it.”
Before they could enter, a van pulled up behind them. The window rolled down, revealing a man with a video camera. Isobel swore under her breath. She was never free.
“Isobel!” he said eagerly. “I’m with SpellBC News. Securing Reid MacTavish as a sponsor would be a big win for any champion. Is that why you’re here today?”
“This isn’t a good time,” she said.
“Oh, come on,” her father told her, smoothing down the lapels of his imported pin-striped suit. “Smile for the camera. Give the man his story.”
When Isobel had accidentally found herself in the spotlight last year, her family had seized on it, hoping that her fame would garner her more spellmaker support. And so Isobel grinned through gritted teeth.
“I’m visiting the MacTavishes today to discuss a sponsorship, yes,” she told the reporter. “And I hope I’ll earn it. That’s all—”
“Don’t be modest,” her father cut in. “You’ll earn it.”
“Do you have any comment on Alistair Lowe’s picture in the papers this morning? For months, he’s been called your rival, but with only thirteen days remaining until your face-off, what do you—”
“My daughter doesn’t have anything to fear from him, or anyone else,” her dad said. “Put that in your story.”
Eager to be done with the interview, Isobel swiveled on her heel and entered the store. Inside, too, it was unlike most other spellshops, where counters gleamed, petty class one and two stones were heaped high in porcelain bowls and last season’s spells were discarded to the clearance section. This place was so dimly lit she needed to squint, and everywhere was cluttered with scrolls, quills, trinkets, and dust. She hugged her purse to herself to keep it from scraping any surfaces and spritzed some peony perfume in the air to help conceal the smell of moldy paper.
A fair-skinned young man sat at the desk, poring over a leather-bound grimoire of divination spells. He wore more than a dozen necklaces, each covered with oval-cut spellrings whose stones had cracked, leaving them unglowing and empty. His clothes were black and looked thrifted, matching his dark and unwashed, unstyled hair. He would’ve been attractive if he wore less eyeliner.
Isobel cleared her throat. “Do you work here? We’re looking for Reid MacTavish.”
He lifted his head and smiled insincerely. “That would be me.”
She hadn’t expected him to be so young, only a couple years older than herself. He didn’t look like any of her mother’s spellmaker colleagues, and she wasn’t embarrassed by her mistake. If he wanted people to take him seriously, he should have removed his tongue piercing.
“You must be Cormac Macaslan.” He reached out an ink-stained hand to her father, who shook it a bit too eagerly. “And you must be the famous Isobel.”
“The media adores Isobel. They can’t get enough of her,” her father said, patting her back. “When we spoke on the phone, you said to come with raw magick. So we have. More than enough for the recipe we discussed.”
The Roach’s Armor. It was an old spell passed down in the Macaslan family, and it protected the caster temporarily from death. It wasn’t infallible, but it was armor. And very traditional. Every Macaslan champion obtained the spell.
Not that it had done her predecessors much good. Isobel’s family hadn’t won the tournament in thirteen generations.
“I can have it ready by tomorrow night,” Reid said. “Maybe in an hour, if you’re willing to wait.”
“We certainly are,” her father said. “You have a fascinating collection here.” He scanned the rings piled carelessly on the countertop. They were distinctive—more of those oval-cut spellstones set in twisted, well-worked metal. The MacTavishes liked people to know their curses when they saw them.
After greedily examining one particular ring a moment longer, her father set it down and handed Reid their flasks of raw magick, collected from all the dearly departed of Ilvernath over the past week. Isobel unclasped her locket and handed it to him, as well. “Isobel, why don’t you watch Reid craft the spell? It’ll be good study for you. Unless . . . Reid, do you mind?”
“Not at all,” he said swiftly, professionally.
Isobel and her father had planned for this moment—this was why they’d patronized a cursemaker for a spell in the first place. She rubbed her lips together to ensure her lipstick still looked good. She could do this.
Isobel followed Reid through a pair of black velvet curtains to a cramped workroom behind the main shop. He rifled through cabinets full of empty crystal spellstones while Isobel hovered awkwardly in the corner.
“Do you own the shop?” Isobel asked.
“I do,” he responded tersely. He placed a wooden spellboard on his desk, built from a lustrous mahogany wood and engraved with a septogram. Spellboards created an energy field that directed raw magick into the crystals.
“For how long?”
“Since my father died. You should know. You were at the funeral.”
Her smile faltered, but only for a moment. “Yes, I’m sorry about that,” she said, though she had no memory of any of the town’s specific funerals. Since her family had started dragging her to them, she’d learned to block the details out. “I’ve heard good things about your father, and your family.”
Reid only responded with a noncommittal grunt. She edged closer, peering over his shoulder. On each point of the septogram, Reid had placed the revolting ingredients for the Roach’s Armor, including a single link of vertebrae, a molted cicada exoskeleton, a handful of thistle, a clump of iron ore, a tablespoon of grave dirt, a fly’s wing, and an unearthed burial shroud—her family made a habit of relying on the sort of spells that required resources no one else wanted to touch. Isobel’s locket lay open at the spellboard’s center, exposing the white crystal within.
Next, Reid popped open the corks on each of the containers of raw magick. The radiant white speckles hovered inside, still as starlight, as though not wanting to be disturbed. Carefully, he coaxed the magick out—a stroke around the mouth of the flask, a gentle word whispered so close that his breath fogged against the glass.
Gradually, the magick poured out over the septogram, a whole cluster of fireflies illuminating the otherwise dimly lit room. Once each container had been emptied, Reid leaned down and kissed the spellboard, as was common with preparing any spells or curses involving death. At once, the magick began to stir.
“I don’t like people hovering over me as I work,” he said curtly.
Even though Isobel had crafted enchantments countless times herself, she was so transfixed watching him that it took her several seconds to realize that he’d spoken to her.
“You said I could watch,” she said defensively.
“You’re not here to watch.”
As she’d feared, her father had been overly optimistic to expect an alliance with Reid.
Still, unwilling to give up so easily—especially after her father proclaiming such confidence to the evening news—Isobel scanned the room for some other topic of conversation. Her eyes fell on a paperback at the corner of his shelves, the spine worn from excessive use.
“A Tradition of Tragedy,” she read, fighting to keep her voice bubbly when the words left a sour taste in her mouth. “You don’t see many Ilvernath locals with that.”
“An Ilvernath local wrote it,” Reid pointed out.
“A Grieve wrote it,” she corrected. That hardly counted; the Grieve family was a joke.
“Do you disapprove of them airing Ilvernath’s dirty laundry?”
Isobel knew she should be playing polite, but it was hard to rein in her opinions where that book was concerned. “It’s disrespectful. And just when all the publicity settled down, the Blood Moon showed up. Now the city is crowded with even more protestors shouting at us, reporters bothering us, cursechasers gawking at us—”
“You’re one to talk. I saw the show you gave out there for that reporter.”
Isobel tried not to cringe. “Well, it doesn’t mean I approve of us being a spectacle.”
“Every twenty years, we send seven teenagers into a massacre and reward the one who comes out with the most blood on their hands,” Reid said flatly, still facing his work. “You should be more concerned about us being despicable.”
Isobel would never have expected to hear someone from the city’s most reputable cursemaking family criticize the tournament. The MacTavishes had made a living off causing harm to others, pushing the boundaries of their country’s strict cursemaking legislation. They were one of the few besides the competing families who’d known about the tournament before the book’s release. This might have been business to them, but it was tradition, too. Something to be proud of.
At least, that was what her father had told her last winter, when her relatives had named her champion.
What do you mean you don’t want to? he’d scolded, despite her tears. It’s your duty, Isobel. So what if the media found out a little early? Finally, we have a champion who can make this family proud.
“Then why are you making me that curse?” Isobel asked Reid, shaking away the unpleasant memory. “You know I plan to use it in the tournament.”
“I never claimed not to be despicable, too.”
This struck Isobel as an unsettling answer, but before she could press him further, he added, “You’re not the first champion to visit me. I’ve already met with Carbry Darrow and Elionor Payne. Carbry’s family knows more than anyone about past tournaments. Elionor delayed attending university specifically to become champion. And whoever wins the Thorburn title will have beaten scores of competitors before the tournament even starts. Yet you’re the one the newspapers rave the most about. Why might that be?”
It was because after the media latched on to Isobel, her family started selling them stories. Photographs of her casting complex spells. Report cards from as far back as primary school. Even quotes from her father about what it was like to raise a gifted child.
“Because I’m capable,” Isobel answered.
“Every champion announced so far has been capable.”
“I’m top of my class. I’m a better spellcaster and spellmaker than any of them.”
Reid didn’t respond.
She tried hard to find something else to talk about, some other reason to linger in the room. A yellowed grimoire rested on the opposite end of the counter. Curious, Isobel opened it to a random page, to a recipe for a death curse called the Reaper’s Embrace. She’d never heard of it before. She traced her fingers across the faded instructions, squinting as she deciphered it.
The text claimed that the curse killed its victim gradually . . . and definitively. The enchantment ranked at the highest class of all spells and curses—class ten. Isobel already owned countless mid-class death curses her family had bought for her for the tournament, but they were easily defended against with shield spells. Powerful curses were hard to come by, even for the right price.
“A locket with a spellstone embedded inside. How old-fashioned,” Reid commented. “Where did you get it?”
“My mother gave it to me.” It had been passed down on the other side of her family, most of whom lived in larger cities down south. Sometimes Isobel forgot that a world existed outside of Ilvernath, a world full of enchantments and stories of its own.
“A bit elegant for a Macaslan, don’t you think?” he sneered, turning around and locking eyes with her. Isobel’s hand froze over the page for the Reaper’s Embrace, but with so much clutter in the room, Reid didn’t seem to notice she’d snooped through his things.
“Tell me, princess.” Isobel stiffened at the nickname. Unlike the children of more respected tournament families, Isobel hadn’t had the luxury of growing up with fairy tales. “If you won, do you really think that your family would wield high magick any better than the Lowes?”
The next time the Blairs or Thorburns call us leeches, her father had said in his usual throaty rasp, they’ll be sorry. It’s our turn to taste true power again.
“Anyone is better than the Lowes,” Isobel said, dodging the question.
Reid’s laugh sounded hollow. “But haven’t you come here to ask me to choose you?”
“I did,” Isobel said. “But you won’t.”
“At least you Macaslans don’t bullshit. I’ll give you that.”
Isobel had already braced herself for disappointment, yet it hurt all the same. Reid had made up his mind long before she’d set foot in his shop.
“Then if not me, who will you choose?” she asked.
Reid turned back around to the spellboard, apparently annoyed by her question. “Seven rotten families in an insignificant city, fighting over the most powerful magic left in the world. Why do any of you deserve it?”
Isobel didn’t have an answer for him, just like she hadn’t had an answer for the countless reporters who’d asked her the same question. She thought her family was rotten, too.
What have we been raising you for, if you abandon your flesh and blood the moment we need you?
“Thank you for letting me watch,” Isobel said, her voice masking the sound of her ripping the Reaper’s Embrace from the grimoire and slipping the page into her purse.
Excerpted from All of Us Villains, copyright © 2021 by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman.