Guardian of the Gate – Extract

Guardian of the Gate – Extract

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Today is the official pub. date of Guardian of the Gate (nothing like a bit of rhyming to get you going in the morning)! So to celebrate, we've got a sneaky preview of chapter one to whet your appetite before you trot off to get yourself of this gorgeous hardback…

 

CHAPTER ONE

Sitting at the desk in my chamber, I do not need to read the words of the prophecy to recall them. They are embedded in my mind as clearly as the mark that brands my wrist.

Even still, there is something solid and reassuring about holding the cracked binding of the book my father hid in the library before his death. I open the aged cover, my eyes coming
to rest on the slip of paper inserted at the front.

In the eight months since Sonia and I have been in London, reading the words of the prophecy has become my bedtime ritual. It is in those quiet hours that Milthorpe Manor is at its most peaceful, the house and servants silent and Sonia fast asleep in her chamber down the hall. It is then that I continue my attempt to decipher the words of the prophecy translated by James’s careful hand — to find any new clue that might lead me to their missing pages. And the path to my freedom.

On this summer eve, the fire hisses softly from the firebox as I bend my head to the page, reading, once again, the words that bind me irrevocably to my sister, my twin — and to the
prophecy that divides us.

Through fire and harmony mankind endured
Until the sending of the Guards
Who took as wives and lovers the woman of man,
Engendering His wrath.
Two sisters, formed in the same swaying ocean,
One the Guardian, One the Gate.
One keeper of peace,
The other bartering sorcery for devotion.
Cast from the heavens, the Souls were Lost
As the Sisters continue the battle
Until the Gates summon forth their return,
Or the Angel brings the Keys to the Abyss.
The Army, marching forth through the Gates.
Samael, the Beast, through the Angel.
The Angel, guarded only by the gossamer veil of protection.
Four marks, Four keys, Circle of fi re
Birthed in the fi rst breath of Samhain
In the shadow of the Mystic Stone Serpent of Aubur.
Let the Angel’s Gate swing without the Keys
Followed by the Seven Plagues and No Return.
Death
Famine
Blood
Fire
Darkness
Drought
Ruin
Open your arms, Mistress of Chaos, that the havoc of the Beast will fl ow
like a river
For all is lost when the Seven Plagues begin.

 

There was a time when the words meant very little to me. When they were nothing more than a legend found in a dusty volume hidden in Father’s library before his death. But that was before I discovered the serpent blossoming on my wrist. Before I met Sonia and Luisa, two of the four keys, also marked, though not exactly like me.

Only I have the “C” at the center of my mark. Only I am the Angel of Chaos, the unwilling Gate to my sister’s Guardian, a consequence I blame not on nature, but on the confused nature of our birth. Nevertheless, only I can choose to banish Samael forever.

Or summon him forth and bring about the end of the world as we know it.

I close the book, forcing its words from my mind. It is too late an hour to think of the end of the world. Too late an hour to think of my part in stopping it. The sheer burden of it has made me desire the singular peace of sleep, and I rise from the desk and slip beneath the coverlet of the massive four-poster bed that is mine at Milthorpe Manor.

I turn out the lamp on my bedside table. The room is lit only by the glow of the fi re, but the simple darkness of a firelit room does not frighten me as it once did. Now it is the evil hidden in places beautiful and familiar that brings terror to my heart.

***

It has been a long while since I have confused my travels on the Plane with a simple dream, but this time, I cannot say for certain which one has claimed me in sleep.

I am in a forest that I know instinctively to be the one surrounding Birchwood Manor, the only home I had ever known before coming to London eight months ago. There are those who might say all trees look alike, that it is impossible to tell one wood from another, but this is the landscape of my childhood and I know it for what it is.

The sun filters through the leaves that rise on branches far above my head. It creates a vague sense of daylight so that it might be morning or evening or anytime in between. I am beginning to wonder why I am here, for even my dreams seem to have purpose now, when I hear my name called from somewhere behind me.

“Li-a . . . Come, Lia . . .”

Turning, it takes a moment to place the fi gure standing just beyond me in the trees. The girl is small and still as a statue. Her golden ringlets glimmer even in the dappled light of the forest. Though it has been nearly a year since I saw her in New York, I would know her anywhere.

“I have something to show you, Lia. Come quickly.” The girl’s voice is the same youthful singsong that it was when she first handed me the medallion that bears the same mark as my
wrist and is with me wherever I go.

I wait a moment, and she holds out a hand, waving me toward her with a smile too knowing to be pleasant.

“Hurry, Lia. You don’t want to miss her.” The little girl turns and runs ahead, curls bouncing as she disappears amid the trees.

I follow, stepping around the trees and mossy stones. My feet are bare, yet I feel no pain as I make my way deeper into the forest. The little girl is as graceful and quick as a butterfly. She flits in and out of the trees, her white pinafore drifting behind her like a ghost. Hurrying to keep up, my nightdress catches on twigs and branches. I swat at them as I go, trying not to lose the girl in the forest. But it is too late. Moments later, she is gone.

I stand in place, turning in a circle to scan the woods. It is disorienting, dizzying, and I fight a surge of panic as I realize I am utterly lost among the sameness of tree trunks and foliage. Even the sun is obscured from view.

A moment later, the girl’s voice returns, and I stand perfectly still, listening. It is unmistakable as the tune she once hummed as she skipped away from me in New York. I follow the humming, goose bumps rising on the skin of my arms even under the sleeves of my nightdress. The fine hairs lift at the nape of my neck, but I am unable to turn away. Winding around tree trunks large and small, I follow the voice until I hear the river.

That is where the girl is. I am certain of it, and when I step through the last cluster of trees, the water stretches before me, and the little girl comes into view once more. She is bent over the other side of the river, though I cannot imagine how she crossed such a current. Her humming is melodic but with an eerie undertone that makes my skin crawl, and I continue toward the bank on my side of the river.

She does not seem to see me. She simply continues with her strange song as she runs her palms over the water. I do not know what she sees in its pristine surface, but she stares with
singular concentration. Then she looks up and her eyes meet mine as if she is not at all surprised to see me standing before her, across the river.

I know her smile will haunt me even while she offers it. “Oh, good. I’m glad you’ve come.”

I shake my head. “Why have you come to me again?” My voice echoes through the quiet in the forest. “What more could you possibly have for me?”

She looks down, running her palms over the water as if she didn’t hear me.

“Pardon me.” I try to sound more forceful. “I would like to know why you called me into the forest.”

“It won’t be long now.” Her voice is flat. “You’ll see.”

She looks up, her blue eyes meeting mine. Her face wavers as she begins speaking again.

“Do you think that you are safe within the confines of your slumber, Lia?” The skin stretching over the small bones of her face shimmers, the pitch of her voice dropping a notch.

“Do you think yourself so powerful now that you cannot be touched?”

Her voice is all wrong, and when her face wavers yet again, I understand. She smiles, but this time, not as the girl from the woods. Not anymore. Now she is my sister, Alice. I cannot help but be afraid. I know well what that smile hides.

“Why do you look so surprised, Lia? You know that I will always fi nd you.”

I take a moment to calm my voice, not wanting her to see my fear. “What do you want, Alice? Have we not said everything there is to say?”

She tips her head, and as always, I believe she can see my soul laid bare. “I keep thinking you are going to become wiser, Lia. That you will realize the danger to which you subject not only yourself but your friends. And what remains of your family.”

I want to be furious at the mention of my family, our family, for wasn’t it Alice who pushed Henry into the river? Wasn’t it she who consigned him to death at the bottom of it? Yet her voice seems to soften, and I wonder if even she mourns our brother.

When I answer her, there is steel in my voice. “The danger we face now is the price we pay for the freedom we will have later.”

“Later?” she asks. “When will that be, Lia? You haven’t even found the remaining two keys, and with that aged investigator of Father’s, you may never fi nd them.”

Her criticism of Philip makes me flush with anger. Father trusted him to fi nd the keys, and even now, he works tirelessly on my behalf. Of course, the other two keys will do me little
good without the missing pages of the Book of Chaos, but I learned long ago that it does no good to think too far into the future. There is only here. Only now.

She speaks again as if hearing my thoughts. “And what of the pages? We both know you have yet to locate them.” She looks calmly down into the water, running a hand over it much like the little girl. “Given where you stand in the whole situation, I should think it would be wiser to place your faith in Samael. At least he can guarantee your safety and the safety of those you love.

“More than safety, he can guarantee your place in a new world order. One run by Him and the souls. One that will happen eventually, whether you aid us willingly or not.”

I did not think it possible for my heart to harden further against my sister, but it does. “More likely he will guarantee your place in that new world order, Alice. That is what this is really about, is it not? Why you worked in concert with the Souls even while we were children?”

She shrugs, meeting my eyes. “I’ve never pretended to be altruistic, Lia. I want simply to honor the role that should have been mine, rather than the one foisted upon me by the misguided workings of the prophecy.”

“If that is still your desire, then we have nothing more to discuss.”

She looks back into the water. “Perhaps I am not the best person to convince you, then.”

I think I am finished being shocked. Finished being frightened, at least for now. But then Alice looks up, her face wavering yet again. For a moment I see the shadow of the little girl before the vision settles back into Alice. It does not last. Her face ripples, settling on an oddly shaped head and a face that seems to change by the second. I am rooted to my spot on the river, unable to move even as terror overtakes me.

“You still deny me, Mistress?” The voice, once channeled through Sonia as she attempted to contact my dead father, is unmistakable. Terrifying. Unnatural . It does not belong in any world. “There is no place to hide. No shelter. No peace,” Samael says.

He rises from his sitting position by the river, unfolding himself to a height two times the size of any mortal man. His bulk is massive. I have the very real sense that if he wished it, he could leap across the river and be at my throat in seconds. Movement behind him demands my attention, and I catch a glimpse of the lush ebony wings folded against his back.

And now with my terror there is an unmistakable desire. A pull that makes me want to cross the river and wrap myself in those soft, feathery wings. The heartbeat starts softly and builds. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. I remember it from the last time I met Samael on the Plane and am horrifi ed once again to hear my own heart amplified and beating in time with his.

I take a step back. Everything in my being tells me to flee, but I don’t dare turn away. Instead, I walk backward a few steps, keeping my eye on the ever-changing mask that is his face. At times, he is as beautiful as the most handsome mortal man. And then he changes again and becomes what I know he is.

Samael. The Beast.

“Open the Gate, Mistress, as is your duty and your cause. Only suffering follows your refusal.” The guttural voice sounds not just from across the river but inside my mind as if his words are my very own.

I shake my head. It takes every ounce of strength I have to turn away. I do it, though. I turn and run, breaking through the tree line on the riverbank even as I have no idea where to go. His roar crashes through the trees as if alive. As if giving chase.

I try to block it out, smacking at the tree branches that scrape my face as I run, willing myself to wake from this dream, to escape from this travel. But I do not have time to develop a plan, for my foot hits a tree root and I fall, hitting the ground so hard and so fast that blackness clouds my vision. Pushing away from the ground with my hands, I try to get back on my feet. I think I will get away. That I will get up and keep running. But that is before I feel the hand grab at my shoulder.

Before I hear the voice that hisses, “Open the Gate.”

***

I sit up in bed, sweat dampening the hair at the back of my neck as I stifle a scream.

My breath comes in quick gasps, my heart thudding against my chest as if still in tandem with his. Even the light streaming in through a gap in the curtains cannot ease the terror left in the wake of my dream, and I wait for a few minutes, telling myself that it was only a dream. I tell myself this over and over until I believe it.

Until I see the blood on my pillow.

Raising my hand to my face, I touch my fingers to my cheek. When I pull them back, I know, of course, what it means. The red stain tells every truth.

I cross the room to the vanity that holds the many pots of cream, perfume, and face powder. I hardly recognize the girl in the looking glass. Her hair is wild, and her eyes speak of something dark and frightful.

The scratch across my cheek is not large, but it is unmistakable. As I stare at the blood staining my cheek, I remember the branches and twigs scraping my face as I ran from Samael.

I want to deny that I have traveled unwillingly and alone, for Sonia and I have agreed it would not be wise to do so, despite the increasing strength of my powers on the Plane. It does not matter that those powers now surpass Sonia’s own, because one thing is certain: my burgeoning ability is nothing compared to the will and might of the Souls — or of my sister.

 

Guardian of the Gate is Michelle Zink's sequel to Prophecy of the Sisters. Both books are available in shops now!

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