“I feel like I should warn you: this is going to be absolutely brutal.”
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from All of Our Demise, the epic conclusion of the All of Us Villains duology by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman, out now from Tor Teen.
For the first time in this ancient, bloodstained story, the tournament is breaking. The boundaries between the city of Ilvernath and the arena have fallen. Reporters swarm the historic battlegrounds. A dead boy now lives again. And a new champion has entered the fray, one who seeks to break the curse for good… no matter how many lives are sacrificed in the process.
As the curse teeters closer and closer to collapse, the surviving champions each face a choice: dismantle the tournament piece by piece, or fight to the death as this story was always intended.
Long-held alliances will be severed. Hearts will break. Lives will end. Because a tale as wicked as this one was never destined for happily ever after.
Forbidden love? Champions Isobel Macaslan and Alistair Lowe spotted in a scandalous embrace.
Glamour Inquirer, “Star-crossed Romance Leaves Ilvernath Swooning”
Isobel Macaslan woke tied to a chair.
The room was cramped and dark. Slivers of daylight sliced through the crack between the drawn curtains, illuminating speckles of dust suspended in the air. Along the walls, she dimly made out shelves cluttered with vials, jars, and plastic canisters. The air smelled of herbs and must.
As the fog in her mind abated, she realized she recognized this place: the back room of Reid MacTavish’s curseshop. Or rather, one of the back rooms. There was a powerful enchantment cast over this space, swapping out its contents like slides on a projector.
Isobel frantically tugged at the magickal restraints on her wrists, bit at the gag tied across her mouth and knotted beneath her greasy red ponytail. In a panicked rush, she replayed her most recent memories.
The battle at the Champions Pillar. The curse that had struck her, one that should’ve been fatal.
Reid MacTavish, all too willing to nurse her back to health.
Her own spell that had let her peer into Reid’s thoughts, glimpsing the truth of who he was, what he’d done, and what he still planned to do. Every one of the champions was in danger—
Something shuffled from beyond the room.
Isobel froze. Then, when no one entered, she yanked harder at her restraints, rubbing her pale skin red and raw. But the enchanted paracord didn’t budge. All of the spellrings had been removed from her fingers. Her locket, gone.
Panic tore up her throat, yet no cry or whimper came with it. It took her several moments to realize that she wasn’t breathing— she didn’t need to. Her heart did not beat, was nothing more than a leaden weight in her chest. And she was cold, frighteningly cold, for reasons that went beyond the October chill.
Reid had explained what had happened to her, but still she couldn’t believe it. Her father had promised that the Roach’s Armor would protect her, and though it’d saved her life, he’d never told her the price she’d pay in return. Her body felt alien to her. She was broken.
Already as good as dead.
Isobel sucked in air through her nose in stuttered, forced breaths, so much that she coughed into the gag.
You are a Macaslan, her father’s throaty voice rasped in her mind. You are a survivor.
He’d repeated those words to her a hundred times over, and even when imagined, they still grounded her. She willed herself to calm, to focus. Such a feat should’ve been impossible in this situation, but over the past two and a half weeks, Isobel had lost and regained her ability to sense magick, betrayed her former best friend, and condemned the boy she cared about to die.
Even before her heart stilled, she had been ice.
Isobel rooted around the floor with her feet. Her trainers smacked a piece of furniture—a desk, if she remembered the room right. She lifted one leg and swept it across the surface, kicking books and jars to the ground with a crash.
She paused for one moment, then two, three. Nothing: Reid must’ve cast a soundproof spell on this room to better hide her, exactly as she’d hoped.
Isobel threw her weight to the side. Her chair toppled, and she winced as her shoulder smacked the floor. She grasped around until her fingers closed over a shard of glass.
It was awkward work. Before long, her left arm went numb, and she’d accidentally cut into her palm. But eventually, the glass hacked through the restraints and the enchanted paracord vanished, glittery white magick winking around her wrists until it faded into the air. She scrambled to her feet, then tore the gag from her mouth.
Isobel went for the window first. She ripped back the black velvet drapes, squinting as her eyes adjusted to the daylight, tinted a muted red by the Blood Veil.
She was met with the sight of a mossy, gray brick wall only a meter away.
“If I make it out of this tournament alive,” she muttered, “I’m never coming back to Ilvernath.”
With no chance of waving down a passerby for help, she tried opening the window, but it was nailed shut, and hurling herself through it would only result in a three-story drop.
Isobel swiveled around and examined the newly lit room. She lunged for the spellstones on the counter, but one touch told her they were empty crystals, without any enchantment sealed inside. She could craft a spell or two—the room hardly lacked in ingredients— but that would take time, and Reid could return at any moment.
Fleeing was her only option.
Cautiously, she twisted the knob, peered through the crack in the door, and took in a narrow hallway with unpleasant floral wallpaper. Reid MacTavish decorated like her grandmama.
Whatever shuffling she’d heard earlier, it was silent now. She waited several more tense seconds before creeping into the hallway, her footsteps dampened by the beige carpet, and surveying either direction. To her right, bedrooms and a rattling radiator. To the left, a stairwell.
She tiptoed down the steps, whose walls displayed a gallery of framed family photographs. The oldest portraits were black-and-white or sepia, but there were more recent ones, too, snapped with a disposable camera. She spared a fraction of a second studying a toddler-aged Reid, her captor, straddling an orange tricycle.
The second story included a kitchen and living room, not unlike her own mother’s flat above her spellshop. Microwave meal trays overflowed the rubbish bin.
“Stop. Calling. Me. How many times do I have to tell you that I’m not interested?”
Isobel stiffened halfway to the ground floor. That was Reid’s voice.
“Yeah, obviously I saw the inner Blood Veil fall.”
Isobel withheld a gasp. Though she knew the barrier separating downtown Ilvernath from the tournament grounds had been breaking, she hadn’t realized it’d fallen entirely.
“What did people expect?” Reid continued. “Ilvernath’s curse is eight hundred years old—of course it’s unstable. And I for one don’t give a shit.”
In different circumstances, Isobel might’ve laughed at how ridiculous that lie was. Reid didn’t just give a shit about the tournament—he was obsessed with it. After all, he was the anonymous author of A Tradition of Tragedy, the tell-all book that had catapulted Ilvernath from quaint vacation destination to notorious, international landmark. But only Isobel knew that.
Carefully, she peeked around the corner. Reid hunched over the front desk of his shop. With his back to her, Isobel could only see the stringy ends of his dark hair and his finger twisting around the coiled wire of the landline telephone.
“No, no, I don’t want to meet in person. I—I… Why not? Because I have better things to do.”
Her gaze ricocheted in every direction for a possible exit. Prior to being delivered to Reid for medical assistance, she’d only visited the shop once before, and she’d entered and left through the front, where Reid stood now. Then she spotted a hallway behind her that hooked around the stairs. Her hope lifted. That had to lead to a back door.
After double checking that Reid wasn’t looking, she ducked beneath the banister. Past a bathroom and a broom cupboard. Then around the corner, a door.
Isobel lunged for it and twisted the handle.
She crammed her fingers through the blinds, spreading them enough to glimpse a narrow alley. Behind a chain-link fence were several empty cars in a narrow parking lot. She didn’t spot a soul.
“What does my age have to do with it? I’m the best cursemaker in the city!” Reid spat from the other room. “You know what? Whatever. Call Aleshire. Call Calhoun. Call whoever you want. I’m sure you’ll find a spellmaker who’d love to give you their opinion.”
She spun around. Maybe the key was stashed nearby. She rifled through the pockets of the coats hanging on the rack beside her. All she found were drained spellstones, crinkled receipts, gum wrappers, and a flyer for Ilvernath High School’s Annual Autumn Bake Sale.
Cursing silently, she wrenched her hand from the last leather jacket. It slipped and crumpled to the ground, the zipper smacking the floorboards with a loud clack.
“I—I have to go.”
Petrified, Isobel dashed toward the broom cupboard and threw herself inside, but before she could shut the door, Reid MacTavish’s hand caught it. The dozen crystal spellrings on his fingers glimmered.
“Tried to slip out the back, did you?” He heaved the door open, exposing Isobel crouched amid winter coats and cleaning supplies. “I have the shop locked from the inside. A No-One-In No-One-Out. Clever, isn’t it? People can only leave when I permit it.”
Isobel’s forced composure cracked like the brittle thing it was. But she refused to let him see her fear. Behind her back, she grasped a plastic handle—a mop. “You can’t keep me here forever.”
“Oh, I don’t need to keep you here forever, princess. I’ll only need you another hour.”
A pompous sneer stretched across Reid’s face. He loved how much she loathed that nickname, which only he used, as though they knew each other far better than they actually did.
Or maybe Reid just thought he knew Isobel Macaslan, the girl whose face had been plastered across news headlines for the past year. The whole world certainly thought they did. After being unwillingly announced as the first of Ilvernath’s “Slaughter Seven,” Isobel’s identity had been reduced to the length of her heels, the brand of her makeup, and the hemline of her skirts. Pretty and popular, with stellar grades to match. The paparazzi starlet. Murderous Miss Perfect.
Truthfully, Isobel had sized Reid up in the same way. His tacky bad boy getup, ten renditions of the same black T-shirt, all of which hung shapelessly on his lanky frame. Eyeliner that made his fair skin look paler. A dozen necklaces of cracked, dead spellrings. A silver stud of a tongue piercing. Whatever other nonsense perfected the look of the eighteen-year-old punk wannabe who’d inherited his parents’ curseshop.
Reid MacTavish was a greater villain than any of them had given him credit for.
“What happens in an hour?” Isobel asked warily. She slid her hand down the mop, getting a better grip on it.
“A finale,” Reid said. “Even if it doesn’t go the way I hope, I think it will make collapse inevitable.”
Briony wanted to dismantle the tournament safely, piece by piece, letting all five remaining champions walk out alive. But Reid wasn’t willing to be patient, or to leave the reward of Ilvernath’s high magick to chance. He wanted to destroy the tournament, and let the curse take the remaining champions down with it. Then the high magick would be his to claim.
“What could possibly give you that in an hour?” she asked.
Reid grinned. “You.”
As he reached for her, Isobel swung the mop at Reid’s head. He caught it a hair’s breadth from his jaw, then winced, his other hand clutching oddly at his side. Isobel grunted and aimed a kick between his legs, but before she could make contact, a curse shot out of one of his rings, white magick whirling through the air.
She cried out as the magick tangled around her like puppet strings, and her leg lowered back to the floor of its own accord.
“Come.” Reid beckoned with his pointer finger. “I’ll show you.”
Isobel tried to resist the spell, but it was too strong. She was a passenger in her own body as she followed him to the front of his shop. Atop the desk rested a wooden spellboard, engraved with a seven-pointed star. Pewter rings and vials of ingredients had been shoved aside to make room for it, some of them strewn across the floor.
At the center of the spellboard was the Cloak. It was one of the seven Relics of the tournament, objects that fell from the sky like shooting stars, granting whichever champion claimed them unique and powerful high magick enchantments. The Cloak offered spells of invisibility and invincibility. Now it lay bunched in a wrinkled heap.
“You claimed this Relic,” Reid said. “That means I need you here.”
Staring at the Cloak, a clump of painful memories wedged in Isobel’s throat. Alistair Lowe, gifting it to her. Alistair Lowe, whispering monster stories in the dark. Alistair Lowe, clinging to life, offering his own blood so she could reawaken the power she’d accidentally lost.
It took Isobel several moments to summon her voice. “Wh-what are you doing to it?”
“Sit,” Reid said dismissively, ignoring her. Isobel’s body slumped onto the wooden stool in front of the spellboard. He tapped the spellstone outlet beside the door. Automatically, the neon orange dragonfly in the window switched off. The curtains dropped, blocking the potential prying eyes of pedestrians and drivers amid morning rush hour. And the cardboard sign flipped over on the glass door. CLOSED.
Satisfied, Reid grabbed an aluminum fold-out chair, positioned it across from her, and straddled it. An intrusive thought of the tricycle photograph prodded at the back of her mind. “Have you ever cast a class ten curse?”
Enchantments came in two varieties: spells, designed for usefulness; and curses, designed to harm. Class ten was the highest class of any enchantment crafted with common magick. Daily life rarely required spells higher than class two or three, and most people never attempted any beyond class six. Most people didn’t have reason to.
“You know I have,” Isobel answered. The class ten Reaper’s Embrace she’d cast on Alistair had come from a recipe in Reid’s own family grimoire.
Something flickered across his features, and if Isobel didn’t know better, she’d guess he was impressed. Until it vanished, replaced by a snide smirk.
“Right. How could I forget?” Reid nodded to today’s edition of the Ilvernath Eclipse on a shelf to their right, where a massive photograph of Isobel in Alistair’s arms dominated the front page, their lips pressed in a kiss. She imagined this week’s Glamour Inquirer, the favorite national tabloid, would feature an equally scandalous cover story. “I’ve always found it romantic. ‘A death cast with a kiss can never miss,’ so the saying goes.”
There had been nothing romantic about it.
Unlike most death curses, the Reaper’s Embrace claimed its victim slowly, with each wrong committed. Although Alistair might still live and breathe for now, he was the cruelest of all the champions left in the tournament. Even Isobel, who’d seen the good in him, couldn’t deny that. She doubted he’d last more than a few days.
Isobel blinked away useless tears. Even if casting that curse had broken her unbeating heart, she didn’t regret it. The moment Hendry had returned, Alistair was lost to them. And if not for the Roach’s Armor, Isobel would already be dead—at Alistair’s hand.
She glared at Reid. He was goading her, and she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing it was working.
“Is this when you start talking about whatever bad music you like?” she asked flatly.
He frowned. “This is when we drive the nail into your coffin. Together.”
Even while she struggled against it, Isobel’s left hand extended across the table toward him. With his smug expression locked on hers, Reid slid a tourmaline quartz cursering onto her fourth finger, like the most horrid of proposals, directly beside her champion’s ring. Similar to most rings in his store, it sported an outdated pewter band and a distinctive oval cut to the stone.
“Your curse controls my body, not my mind,” Isobel said. “You can’t make me cast anything.”
Reid squeezed her hand and turned his own over, letting his arsenal of ugly rings sparkle in the light of the fluorescent ceiling panels.
“Belladonna’s Bane. The Iron Maiden. Guillotine’s Gift,” he drawled, naming each of them. “You can take your pick.”
So he would force her, no different than holding a knife against her throat.
“You wouldn’t,” Isobel said, thinking again of the pictures. Of the upholstered furniture and the floral wallpaper and the once upon a time happy family home.
Reid examined her incredulously. Her bold words scarcely matched her blood-splattered, preppy pink velour tracksuit.
When he finally spoke, his voice was grave.
Without her heartbeat, her own fear felt alien to her. It made it harder to swallow down.
“F-fine,” she stammered. “What curse am I casting?”
“An Inferno’s Wake, directly on the Cloak. I realize that high magick doubles the class of any casting, and so being made of high magick, the Cloak ranks even higher than class ten. But since you’re the one who claimed it, that should be nullified. I think.”
Ignoring her, Reid fished in his pocket then pulled out another stone, this one a delicate rose quartz, and placed it atop the Cloak. No glow emanated from it, neither the white light of common magick nor the red of high magick. It was empty.
“What’s that for?” she asked.
He clicked his tongue, as though she were a petulant child. “So many questions. You need to focus. If you fail at casting a class ten curse it could rebound back at you—or worse. And don’t bother casting it on me instead. I’m wearing a shield of equal class, and this Guillotine’s Gift would sever your head from your shoulders before you even had a chance to feel sorry.”
Isobel had been considering just that but, unfortunately, she believed him. He wasn’t foolish enough to slide a cursering on her finger without being prepared to defend himself.
But casting an Inferno’s Wake on the Cloak would destroy it, and that would ruin everything that Briony and Finley had planned. Without the Relics, the only way to break the tournament’s curse would be to sacrifice themselves, so that no champion walked out of the Blood Veil alive.
Her stomach roiled with panic. She wanted to resist, to survive, but not at the expense of her allies. And if Reid’s plan worked, then Isobel would die anyway.
The choice should’ve been obvious. Surely it was better to die nobly now than as a coward later. Briony or Finley would. Even Alistair, as cruel and lost as he was, had risked himself for what was important to him—for her.
Her composure finally shattered with a sob. She was so tired of impossible choices. She wanted to go home, wanted her bed, her mother. She wanted her body to feel like hers again. She wanted to stop feeling so wretched and afraid.
As Isobel considered her death, a terrible thought occurred to her. If she let Reid kill her, who would claim the Cloak? Per the rules of the tournament, only champions could claim Relics… but the tournament was already breaking. It shouldn’t be possible for Isobel to be here, in Ilvernath proper. Yet she was. As a noncompetitor, Reid shouldn’t be able to speak to her, to hurt her. Yet he could.
If Reid killed her, who was to say that the Cloak’s ownership wouldn’t pass to him, and then he could destroy it himself? It might’ve been unlikely, but Isobel wasn’t Briony or Finley or Alistair. She couldn’t risk her life just because it might be right to. Maybe that meant she was damning the others. Or maybe, once Reid let her go, she could find a way to fix this.
It was the only choice she had.
“I’d lean back, if I were you,” she choked.
Then she cast the Inferno’s Wake.
White flames exploded over the Cloak. Its beautiful silky fabric shriveled as though no thicker than tissue paper. A powerful stench wafted up, like burning hair, and the Relic’s three spellstone clasps cracked one by one, the red light of high magick gradually fading from within each of the fissures.
As Reid had warned, it was dangerous for Isobel to lose her concentration. But Reid’s gaze never wavered from the Cloak, and the firelight danced in the dark of his eyes.
Then the empty spellstone resting atop the Relic blazed scarlet.
Isobel gasped. Not only was Reid destroying the Cloak, but he was stealing its high magick. He shouldn’t have been able to do that—the tournament’s rules forbade it. But she had no time to dwell on the impossible.
Tentatively, she twitched her fingers. She was right. Distracted, Reid had dropped the puppeteer spell.
As carefully as she dared, Isobel slid whatever cursestones she could onto her lap and stowed them in her pocket.
She had no chance to celebrate her paltry success. A moment later, the Inferno’s Wake fizzled out, leaving nothing more of the prized magickal artifact than a pile of dust.
As Reid plucked the stone from the Cloak’s pyre, Isobel wiped the tears from her cheeks and asked, “What are you going to do with that?”
“Add it to my collection, of course.” Reid lifted the stone to eye level and marveled at its crimson radiance, his tongue piercing flicking over his lips. “Thanks to us, Briony’s plan is doomed to fail. The tournament is one step closer to collapse, and soon Ilvernath’s high magick will be mine to claim.”
Isobel white-knuckled the rim of her stool. High magick could level mountains, could summon or quell a hurricane with a single enchantment. What would Reid MacTavish, who’d plotted and lied and now destroyed the only hope they had, do with that power?
“I-I’ve done what you wanted.” Isobel’s voice quivered. “Now I’d like to leave.”
“Leave?” Reid tilted his head to the side with mock curiosity. “Who said anything about leaving?”
A new curse spun from one of his rings. Isobel’s first instinct was to lift her arms to shield herself, to brace for the gory end that he’d promised. Instead, she felt only a prick on her finger, and everything faded into blackness.
Eyewitnesses claim a seventh person took part in the confrontation at the Champions Pillar, but whoever they were, they did not appear in any photographs.
Ilvernath Eclipse, “Tournament Violence Strays into Ilvernath”
Three Lowes wandered the woods, hand in bloodied hand.
The one at the lead was in a foul, murderous mood. As he stalked through the underbrush, the trees and shrubs contorted out of his path. Plausibly, it could’ve been the wind’s doing. But Alistair Lowe preferred to imagine them cowering, scuttling to flee from him. He loved monster stories, after all, and he was undoubtedly the monster of this tale.
“Do you know where you’re going?” his older brother, Hendry, whispered behind him.
The two boys resembled each other: dark hair that had gone too long unwashed and uncombed, faces chiseled with sharp lines, eyes of asphalt gray. But where Hendry’s fair skin was freckled and warmed from afternoons napping in sunshine, Alistair’s was pale, almost sallow in the red of the daylight. Where Hendry’s features were soft and boyish, Alistair’s widow’s peak was needle-thin as a spindle. Whereas Hendry freely gave his smiles, Alistair’s lips rested perpetually in a sneer.
“We’re going home,” Alistair answered. “A new home.”
Mere hours had passed since Alistair and Hendry had returned to the Lowe estate to exact their vengeance. Alistair wondered if the bodies had already been discovered. Their uncle, sprawled in his four-poster bed. Their grandmother, lying prone beneath the grim ancestral portraits that covered the parlor walls. Their mother, slumped over her bathroom sink.
Alistair could still hear the echoes of her scream, as though she’d spotted a ghost in the mirror. Even as he shuddered, he hoped to never forget it.
“What if I don’t want a new home?” asked the third Lowe, eight-year-old Marianne Jr. She was a fright of a child, dressed entirely in black except for the white lace trim of her socks and the repugnant bubblegum pink of her backpack. Her favorite things included toffee candy, Saturday morning cartoons, and collecting the bones of dead animals, especially teeth. Her least favorite thing was Alistair. Since her toddler years, Alistair had often awoken to find her looming at the threshold of his bedroom, as though she’d been infesting his sleep with nightmares.
“No one asked you, Maggot,” Alistair grumbled.
Hendry shot Alistair a warning look, which he ignored. If Alistair had his way, then Marianne would be spelled unconscious on the stoop of Mayor Anand’s home, with a postage stamp slapped on her forehead like the ghastly parcel that she was. But Hendry had insisted the remaining Lowes needed to stick together. Alistair would rather keep a pet skunk.
In response, Marianne stabbed her black-painted nails into Alistair’s hand. Even through his woolen glove, Alistair was certain she’d drawn blood.
Above them, the treetops rustled as a crow cawed and took flight. Alistair jolted, and his Vampire’s Stake ring brightened, a weapon readied. Withered leaves fluttered around them like flakes of dead skin.
Hendry, too, stiffened. But as the seconds passed and no new horror emerged, he spoke softly, “It’s nothing, Al.”
It was his brother’s nickname for him, not his instincts, that made Alistair relax. A lifetime spent preparing for the role of champion had honed Alistair into a blade, and only Hendry had ever seen him as something more, something human.
They trekked on, and soon the forest opened into a clearing, where a stubby stone cottage slouched on a slant. Seven historic structures known as Landmarks were scattered across the tournament grounds on the wild outskirts of Ilvernath, each offering unique, powerful attributes to the champion who claimed it. The Cottage was the least coveted of them, as it only held the basic necessities of survival, like food and water. But having spent the past two weeks subsisting almost entirely on dried instant noodles and protein bars, Alistair wouldn’t decline a good meal.
However, that wasn’t why he’d chosen the Cottage. He’d picked it because not once in the tournament’s history had any Lowe champion claimed it.
“No way,” Marianne whined. “I want the Crypt.”
“You can have first pick of the beds,” Hendry told her.
Appeased, Marianne scampered toward the entrance, crushing the flowers of the charming garden beneath her patent Mary Janes. But when she twisted the doorknob, she called back, “It’s locked!”
Alistair started after her, holding his breath. Only champions could control the Landmarks, and even then, each could only command one at a time. Sixteen days ago, Alistair had claimed the Cave. And though the Cave was destroyed now, he had no idea if the Cottage would accept him, or where what remained of his family would go if it didn’t.
Thankfully, as soon as Alistair grasped the wooden knob, the power of the Cottage thrummed at his touch, and overhead, scarlet wards descended around the clearing in a misty shroud. The door swung open, revealing a cramped kitchen of clay pots, assorted pickling jars, and cast iron skillets. The fire roared to life, a welcome heat in the coolness of October. The curtains opened. The tea kettle whistled.
As they walked inside, Hendry swiped his index finger down the window, leaving a streak across the grime. “This place is filthy. I thought Landmarks adjusted to their champion’s taste?”
It reminded Alistair of a witch’s cottage, the sort from the frightening stories their mother used to whisper to them before bed. Alistair had once clung to those stories. He’d spun his identity out of them—someone heartless and wicked. After all, he grew up fearing the very tournament he was being raised for, but in the Lowes’ tales, the villains always won.
But he couldn’t want that anymore. He and Hendry had slain the true villains. Yet the Cottage didn’t change, as though taunting Alistair that he hadn’t either.
Alistair dispelled the dread from his mind, and after taking in their new, humble home, he paused in front of the fireplace. A gigantic slab of stone jutted from its mantel and through the ceiling—the pillar, the heart of the Cottage’s magick. Etched on one side had been a circle of seven stars, one for each of the seven Relics. However, three of them had since descended to stone’s bottom, indicating the Relics that had already fallen: the Sword—now destroyed—the Cloak, and the Mirror. The opposite side listed the names of each of the champions; slashes cleaved through those of the dead.
Carbry Darrow. Sweet, naive, studious. Pierced by a dozen arrows. An accident, Briony Thorburn swore.
Elionor Payne. Cunning, ruthless, stubborn. Thanks to Alistair’s curse, her body had burst like a popped balloon. And it’d been no accident.
Alistair thoughtfully traced one of the three cracks that severed the coarse gray stone, this one only a few centimeters below Elionor’s name. Each of the fissures bled with hazy, ominous scarlet light, as though the tournament was leaking high magick, the very power that held it together. A single crack splintered the pillar’s other side.
Four cracks in total, a fallen inner Blood Veil—the tournament really was breaking.
But Alistair didn’t care about that anymore.
Behind him, the faucet sputtered, and he turned to watch Hendry wash their family’s blood from his hands in the kitchen sink. When he finished, he faced Alistair with a cold expression. It didn’t suit him, but it did match the gruesome white line etched across his throat, the scar that made even charming, good-natured Hendry Lowe look like a monster.
“How do you feel?” Alistair asked him warily.
That was all that mattered, because only two days ago, Hendry hadn’t been.
Alistair scooped Hendry’s discarded backpack off the floor and dumped its contents onto the dusty table. At least a hundred spell- and cursestones scattered across it, all raided from the Lowe estate. Alistair’s gaze caught on a particular onyx crystal, and he lifted it in his gloved left hand, letting its grooves glitter in the firelight.
A Demon’s Pyre. His grandmother’s favorite.
“You can’t use these, Al,” Hendry said. “Not any of them.”
“Because I’m above that now?” Alistair scoffed. The two of them had exacted their justice, but that didn’t make him noble.
In the other bag, wedged among a fresh collection of crossword books, Alistair retrieved a wooden spellboard and set it on the table in front of them. In the center, he placed the empty Demon’s Pyre.
“No,” Hendry said. “If you do, your curse will only worsen.”
Unable to help himself, Alistair stretched down the neckline of his sweater, as he’d done constantly, anxiously over the past two days. After their family reunion this morning, the bleach white stain of the Reaper’s Embrace had crawled from his fingertips to his shoulder.
Alistair recoiled and let go of his collar. He hated to look at his cursemark, to dwell on the death inevitably coming for him.
“I know how the Reaper’s Embrace works,” he said heatedly. “I helped Isobel craft it, didn’t I?”
He ripped the cork from a glass vial and dumped it over the spellboard. Raw common magick eddied through the air, white and glittery like flecks of stardust. Once a spellmaker imprinted an enchantment into a stone, the stone needed to be filled with raw magick before it could be of use. And raw magick was simple to find, easily purchased at any local supermarket or corner pharmacy, or collected by anyone industrious enough to go looking for it themselves. Magick often settled into quiet places, like cemeteries, forests, or attics. A few speckles of it even shimmered in the Cottage, winking within the kitchen sink.
Alistair tried to coax the raw magick into the cursestone with impatient jabbing motions. Raw magick was supposed to be handled tenderly, but the mention of the Reaper’s Embrace had flared his already cross mood like gasoline doused on a fire. It hurt to remember what Isobel Macaslan had done to him, the first person other than Hendry who’d seen him as something more than a villain, more than a Lowe.
Or so he’d pathetically believed.
Today, their star-crossed kiss was the front page story of the Ilvernath Eclipse. Tomorrow it would surely be his murdered family.
He pictured how the headlines would cast him: the troubled son, the bloodthirsty champion, the monster. He pictured them piecing the appalling truth together, the truth that Alistair himself hadn’t managed to uncover in his sixteen years growing up in that home, the truth of why the Lowes won so many tournaments. Every one of their triumphs had been bought with a sacrifice—a death used to fuel an unspeakable, ultimate weapon.
This generation, that sacrifice had been Hendry.
The grimness of the Cottage soured further. The kettle over the fire bubbled, thick and mucky, like swamp water. The shadow of a rodent scurried across the floor.
Hendry reached for Alistair. As he moved, a streak of red light trailed behind him, as though there was a lag to his image. Because even though Hendry was real enough to breathe and sleep and cast enchantments, he was only alive thanks to the high magick of the tournament. And if the tournament broke the way Briony and the others wanted—the way Alistair had once wanted—then Hendry would go back to being dead.
Hendry swallowed. “I want you to win because I want you to survive. But what if you win the tournament, and I’m gone anyway?”
“That won’t happen,” Alistair snapped, his voice betraying his panic.
“Al, you don’t know—”
“I do. Because when I win, the high magick will belong to the Lowes. And that’s…” For the second time, he banished the phantom sound of his mother’s scream. “That’s just us now.”
Hendry squeezed Alistair’s hand tightly. He smiled one of his real sunlight smiles, and Alistair could almost imagine that the tournament was far behind them, that they’d already escaped Ilvernath together, just like they’d always dreamed.
“I hope you’re right,” Hendry murmured.
“I am.” Alistair had spent his entire childhood studying his family’s high magick. He was sure.
“But how can you possibly win? If you kill the other champions, the curse could consume you.”
“I don’t see another choice.”
“And what if they kill you? You nearly died once already.”
“That was before. Everything is different now.” Alistair slipped his newly filled cursestone onto his fourth finger, watching the onyx shine with sinister white light. He would wear his grandmother’s favorite toy like a trophy now. A reminder that even if he’d rejected the Lowe name and everything it stood for, he was still the most formidable champion in the tournament, the one whom all the others knew to fear. “Now I have something to lose.”
Excerpted from All of Our Demise, copyright © 2022 by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman.