Wisty knows that the time has finally come for her to face The One. But her fight and her fire only channel more power to this already invincible being. How can she and Whit possibly prepare for their imminent showdown with the ruthless villain that devastated their world-before he can truly become all-powerful?
In this stunning climax of the epic Witch & Wizard series, the stakes have never been higher-and the consequences will change everything.
About the Author
Hometown:Palm Beach, Florida
Date of Birth:March 22, 1947
Place of Birth:Newburgh, New York
Education:B.A., Manhattan College, 1969; M.A., Vanderbilt University, 1971
Read an Excerpt
By James Patterson, Jill Dembowski
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2013 James Patterson Jill Dembowski
All rights reserved.
MY LUNGS ARE bursting, and if she dies, I'll die.
We're tearing through the cramped, dank streets of the capital, running for our lives from the New Order police and their trained wolves. My calves are burning, my shoulders ache, and my mind is numb from all that's happened.
There is no more freedom. So there is no escape.
I stumble through this strange, awful world we have inherited, past a mass of the sick who are shuddering from more than just the cold. A man collapses at my feet, and I have to wrestle my arm away from a woman holding a baby and pointing at me, shrieking, "The One has judged! He has judged you!"
And then there's the blood. Mothers scratch at open pustules, and children cough into rags stained red. Half the poor in this city are dying from the Blood Plague.
And my sister is one of them.
Wisty's even paler than usual, and her slight frame is curled over my back, her thin arms wrapped around my neck. She's in agony; her breath comes in gasps. She's murmuring about Mom and Dad, and it's ripping my heart right out of my chest.
The street pulses with waves of vacant-eyed citizens scurrying to work. A guy in a suit shoulders me to the curb, and an old man who seems to recognize me slurs something about "dark arts" under his breath and hurls a glob of spit at my cheek. Everyone has been brainwashed or brutalized into conformity. I can hear the shrieks from the abused populace as the goons hammer through them just a block behind.
They're gaining on us.
I can picture the wolves straining against their chains, foam building on their jagged teeth as they yank our pursuers forward. All missing fur and rotting flesh, they're Satan's guard dogs come to life. Something tells me that if—or when—the New Order police catch us, those animals aren't exactly going to go easy.
There's got to be an open door or a shop to slip into, but all I can see are the imposing, blaringly red banners of propaganda plastering every building. We are literally surrounded by the New Order.
Now they're right on us. The cop in the lead is a little zealot who looks like a ferret. His face is beet red under an official hat with the N.O. insignia on it. He's screaming my name and wielding a metal baton that looks like it would feel really awesome smashing across my shins.
Or through my skull.
No. I will not go out like this. We have the power. I think of Mom and Dad, of their faces as the smoke streaked toward them. We will avenge them. I feel a rush of rebel inspiration as lines of a banned poem thunder in my head along with the soldiers' boots.
"Rise like Lions after slumber / In unvanquishable number." I put my head down, hike up Wisty, and surge forward through the plague-ridden crowds. I won't give up.
"Shake your chains to earth like dew." I break away from the crowd, seeing an opening at the end of the street. "Which in sleep had fallen on you—/Ye are many—they are few." We used to be many, when the Resistance was thriving. Their faces flash before me: Janine, Emmet, Sasha, Jamilla. And Margo. Poor Margo. Our friends are long gone.
Now it's just me.
I burst through the mouth of the alley into a huge square. A mob of people gathers, looking around expectantly. Then a dozen fifty-foot-tall high- definition screens light up, surrounding us and broadcasting the latest New Order news feed. With everyone distracted, it's the perfect time to find a way out of this death trap. But I can't tear my eyes away from this particular broadcast.
It's a replay of footage from my parents' public execution.
My head swims as Mom and Dad look down from all around us, trying to be brave as they face the hateful crowd. And as I watch the people I love most in the world go up in smoke for the second time, I hear Wisty's hysterical, delirious ramblings.
"No!" She flails in my arms, trying to reach out for them just like she did that day. "Help them, Whit!" she shrieks. "We've got to help them!"
She thinks she is watching our parents' actual execution again.
Before I can soothe my sister, she's hacking, and I feel something hot and wet oozing down my neck and shoulders. I gag back my own bile, but the most horrific part of all is that the mess dripping down my sides is full of blood.
She hasn't got much time left.CHAPTER 2
I'VE GOT TO get Wisty somewhere safe—like, now. We seem to have lost the club-wielding pigs behind the crowd for a few precious seconds, so I whirl around to find another alleyway ... and nearly run smack into my own face. I stumble backward, chills running down my spine.
And then I see them.
A hundred posters, or a thousand, on every pole and window. Wisty and me.
I whip around again, hyperventilating. I feel eyes on me everywhere. An old woman grins up at me with a mouthful of missing teeth. A couple of suits trot down the white marble steps of the Capitol building, their cigars pointed our way. There's a little girl standing off to the side, her wide, gray eyes boring into me. She knows.
They all know.
Right on cue, the squad storms through the entrance to the square, their heads flicking around in search of us. And then, like something out of a horror movie, the zombie wolves start to howl.
There's a small, partially bombed-out stone building down a side street that I can spot from here, and it looks promising. Or at least more promising than the jaws of the half-dead mutts. I slink toward it as inconspicuously as possible and slip in through a side door.
A gargantuan painting of The One Who Is The One greets me, his bald head and Technicolor eyes bearing down, and a sign on the wall reads: CONFESS YOUR CRIMES TO THE NEW ORDER AND YOU WILL BE SPARED. THE ONE ALREADY KNOWS ALL. There are bullet shells on the floor.
This could be ... really bad.
But there's no one here. We're safe—for now.
My shoulders and lower back muscles are screaming, so I finally slide my sister down to the floor. She looks like the image of death. I sit her up in my lap. "Come on, Wisty," I plead, wiping her face with my shirt. "Stay with me."
Her red hair is matted with sweat, but her teeth are chattering. I hold her clammy hand, whisper the words of some of my surefire healing spells over her, and add every ounce of hope I have into the mix.
Only ... nothing works.
How can my power be bone-dry? I'm a wizard, but I can't even save my sister. She's my constant, my best friend. I can't just sit here and watch her get weaker, watch her eyes puff up as the blood leaks into them, watch her float in and out of consciousness until her world finally goes dark. I can't keep watching the people I care about most die.
I already did that.
I wince, thinking of Mom and Dad. If they'd only taught me a bit more about how to wield this power before ...
I can't finish the thought.
It's not just a problem with my power, I'm sure of it. There's something in the air here in the capital—like The One poisoned it or something—and it's turning the New Order followers into empty, nodding pod people, and the poor, potential dissenters into writhing, moaning Blood Plague victims.
The survival rates haven't been high.
"Why did you have to volunteer at that stupid plague camp and get sick, Wisty?" I whisper-shout at her through angry tears. "We've seen what The One can do, and if he wants every single freethinker in the ghetto to get sick, then no amount of healing spells is going to make you immune!"
I need my sister, the often annoying know-it-all, rebel leader, greatest threat to the New Order, unexpectedly rockin' musician, witch extraordinaire.... I can't do this alone. No—I can't do this without her. She was the only one I had left in the world.
My breath catches in my throat. I've already been thinking of Wisty in the past tense.
I feel everything within me explode at once. I smash my hand into the painting of The One, but it's as if it's made of metal, and my hand throbs in agony.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," a voice says from the door. I whip around to find a young soldier seemingly dressed in his daddy's too-big uniform, pointing a gun at me from the entrance.
I almost laugh. This is the twerp who's bringing us in?
"Yeah, I kind of figured that out now, thanks," I say, cradling my injured hand. I look behind him. No one seems to have followed him here.
"On behalf of the New Order and in the name of The One Who Is The One"—he looks up at the painting reverently—"I demand that you surrender your power and turn over The One Who Has The Gift."
He means Wisty. The One wants her fire. I take a couple of steps toward my sister protectively. The barrel of the gun follows, trained between my eyes.
"Freeze, wizard," his adolescent voice cracks. "One more step and I blow you from here to the next dimension." It's like he's been rehearsing his lines on action figures.
"I've been to the next dimension, actually," I quip. "The Shadowland's not so bad." Even with my hurt hand, I could easily deck him, if I could just get a few steps closer.
At my nonchalance, his expression changes to one of sour insolence. He evidently decides to up the ante. "Or I could just kill her instead," he says, swinging the gun toward Wisty. "They might even give me a medal."
They wouldn't. They'd be furious that he destroyed the potential of so much power, and probably execute him on the spot. I don't say this, though; the eager way he's fingering the trigger has my attention.
"Hey, now. No need to overreact," I say, putting my hands up. "Let's all just remain calm." I try to keep my voice even.
Boy soldier, brainwashed. When the first kill still feels like a game, when it still seems as if the victim will sit up afterward and ask to play again.
But Wisty won't.
Silence hangs thick between us as the kid debates between his conscience and his pride. I already know which will win, which always wins. His eyes narrow on the mark, his finger tightening. I start to sweat, ready to leap in front of my sister.
But before I get that far, his eyes flutter—and he crumples to the ground.
I let out a long breath. What just happened? Did my power suddenly flare up and go rogue? Did I have a perfectly targeted spasm of some kind?
No. Something had nailed him in the back of the head. I spot an object rolling to a stop nearby. A snow globe?
In the entryway behind him is that same big-eyed, grim-faced little girl who was watching me in the square. She looks fierce, her tiny mouth twisting in annoyance.
The expression kind of reminds me of Wisty at the height of her frustration with me. The girl is standing outside the door, beckoning me into the alleyway.
"You just gonna gawk at me, wizard boy? I've got more where that came from, if you need a little nap."CHAPTER 3
"YOU HAVE TWO choices," the pint-size vigilante professes.
I look at her warily. There's no telling if she's really on my side. They've used kids to get to us before, and there are almost no rebels left in the capital. There's a reward for our capture, no doubt; maybe she's got dark motives.
She's filthy and bone-thin, but she's got this strangely confident expression. And—weirder—she's wearing antlers.
Then it sinks in: the Holiday.
In my panic I must've missed the details. Though celebrating the Holiday is forbidden under pain of death, I now see hints of it everywhere as I glance out the window: ribbons clipped to New Order flags, candles winking from windowsills, and the kind of ice sculptures that Wisty and Mom went nuts for—only these are shimmering tributes to The One.
"You have two choices," the little girl repeats impatiently. "And they are your choices, and yours alone."
She's got her hands on her hips, her round, silvery eyes glaring out of her tiny face. She's probably around seven or eight, but her eyes look way older, like those of the wizened elves Wisty and I used to read about in the Necklace King series—back when we got a kick out of fantasy books and didn't know we actually had magical powers.
"You can either come with me or let the red-haired girl die. It's no big thing for me," the little fountain of goodwill says, like death is something she's intimately familiar with, even bored by. "You should dump her and save yourself." She eyes Wisty and frowns. "That's what I'd do."CHAPTER 4
"PEARL MARIE NEEDERMAN," she huffs, making no effort to shake hands. "My place isn't far."
Against my better judgment, I follow the kid out behind the building and duck into an alley roped off with a sign that reads: QUARANTINE ZONE. Still, dragging my dying sister back through the N.O. squaddie-packed capital square doesn't exactly seem like a better option.
Pearl Marie is small but lightning quick, even though she's lugging a large bag. With Wisty in my arms, I have trouble keeping up as the little girl slips under fences and around street carts, Holiday antlers bobbing.
There are no people in the street except for Blood Plague sufferers, and more than one suspicious face slams a door and draws the blinds as we pass. Maybe I'd take it as an insult if I weren't still dripping with Wisty's vomit.
After less than half a mile the police are on our trail again, smashing their clubs through abandoned food stands and hurling insults at our backs. But the plague victims are constantly underfoot—and crave vengeance. I turn to see a herd of the sick descend on a couple of soldiers, the men's howls muffled as they're pulled down into a pit.
Pigeons scare up as fear-stricken shrieks echo down the alley, and soon we no longer hear the crush of boots on pavement. Many of the policemen are turning back.
Or are now infected.
The maze of turns is dizzying, and Wisty's getting heavier and heavier. But even with the cops off our tail for the moment, Pearl jets along, seemingly running in circles, like a greyhound that just can't stop chasing a rabbit.
Just as I'm about to protest and ditch this kid, she wheels around and says, "Here." What she's pointing at looks like a demolished pile of rubble.
"Um, I hate to break it to you, Pearl Marie, but it kind of looks like the New Order bomb strikes got to your home first."
The kid sighs like I've totally disappointed her. "You're not really a wizard, are you? It's over here, stupid."
I follow her and maneuver Wisty through the narrow side entrance into a one- room, dismal basement apartment. I have to duck to get through the doorway. There's almost no light, and it smells of mothballs and disinfectant.
Pearl Marie lowers her sack and motions to our surroundings. "You can just drop the witch anywhere, really," she says, like my sister is a coat or a pair of shoes.
"Where is ... everyone else?" I note the scraps of blankets and bedding covering the floor. It's clear that a lot of people have been living here for a while.
Pearl laughs ruefully. "Oh, they're all out doing things that are actually important. You know—scavenging for necessities, things to save our family, not whispering hocus-pocus or waving their fingers around like lightning is gonna zap out of 'em."
I narrow my eyes. I realize I'm not in top form at the moment, but who is this girl? "Look, we can leave right now—"
"No, stay." Her face softens. "Everyone will be home soon. And I have something to show you—what I've been collecting all day. They gave me the biggest job of anyone." She beams.
I'm expecting food or blankets or beans she might've lifted from the purse of some New Order drone to buy medi-salves or to bribe soldiers with. But Pearl opens the sack so reverently that for a second I think it must be something really important—even more than money, like a baby or a puppy or something. It's ...
Holiday decorations? Make that broken Holiday decorations.
Of course. Now the snow globe makes sense. And the antlers.
"Aren't they ... beautiful?" Pearl whispers in awe. I nod. I have to admit they kind of are beautiful, all shimmering shattered glass and colorful broken lights.
Still, I'm getting antsy. The decorations are nice and all, but this kid is a piece of work. My sister is dying here. Wisty's tossing on the floor, ripping at the blankets in anguish, and Pearl keeps staring intently at the broken lights as if they hold secret powers. Finally she notices my agitation and sets the sack aside carefully. Then she fishes out some moldy-looking rags and wets them from one of the buckets set up to catch ceiling leaks.
Pearl puts a compress on my sister's forehead. It's all I can do to keep it together when Wisty moans, "Mama. Just let me die. Please. Just let me die."
"Oh, you will," whispers Pearl Marie. "You will."
Excerpted from The Fire by James Patterson, Jill Dembowski. Copyright © 2013 James Patterson Jill Dembowski. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
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