I can’t stop staring at it, there, on the ground, dead.


How did I do that?

Bradford Smythe smooths his walrus mustache. “It is troubling. Shancoom has always had natural mystical protections. It’s part of why we picked this location.”

“No mystical protection left.” Ruth Zabuto retreats further into her cocoon of scarves and shawls. “Can’t you feel it? Everything is gone. Only evil is left.”

“What are you all doing?” Artemis demands, hurrying up to us. She takes in the hellhound and, before we can explain, throws herself between me and the dead demon. Her first instinct is always to protect me. “Lockdown! Everyone into the castle. Go!”

Rhys startles, and the older Watchers—three-fourths of what’s left of the once illustrious and powerful Council—have the sense to look scared. If there’s one threat, there might be more. They should have known that. Artemis didn’t have to think about it. Rhys grabs Cillian and pulls him along.

Cillian frowns. “The castle’s off-limits to me, innit? What was that thing?”

“Go!” Artemis jogs backward, scanning the trees for more threats. Sticking close to me. She’s the one with training. The one who can handle this sort of thing.

Crack went its neck.

I hurry along the path to the castle doors. I should be terrified that there are more of those things out there, but it doesn’t feel like there are. Which worries me. How would I know that?

Once we’re inside, Artemis bars the door, barking out orders. “Jade and Imogen will guard the Littles in the dorm wing. Bradford, go tell them. Rhys, take Cillian and Nina. Barricade yourselves in the library. There’s a secret room behind the far shelf with a window for escape if we lose the castle.”

“There’s a secret room?” I ask, at the same time Rhys says, with genuine hurt, “There are more books I didn’t know about?”

Cillian steps toward the door. “Barricade? Losing the castle? Bloody hell, what is this?”

Artemis holds up an arm to block his way out. It’s not lost on me that Rhys was assigned to protect Cillian, the innocent civilian, and me. She has no idea I killed the hellhound myself, and I don’t know how to tell her. It feels like it happened to someone else. I’m . . . embarrassed. And terrified. Because if it felt like something else took over, that means all the weirdness in my body I’ve been ignoring the last couple months is definitely, super, for-sure real.

Artemis opens a dusty old chest beside the door and passes out weapons. Wanda Wyndam-Pryce recoils from a large crossbow. Artemis glares up at her. “Would you prefer a wooden switch?”

“Watch your tone,” Wanda snaps. I don’t understand the exchange, but Wanda takes the crossbow and hurries away. Rhys gets a sword. Bradford Smythe takes another crossbow. Ancient Ruth Zabuto pulls a wicked-looking knife from a sheath on her thigh beneath her swirling, layered skirts.

“What about—” I start.

“Library!” Artemis barks. “Now!”

Bradford Smythe shoots me a heavy, mournful look. He seems like he has something to say. I half expect him to pull a hard candy out of his suit pocket and give it to me with a pat on the head. That’s about the extent of our interactions over the last several years. There’s never any reason for the Council to talk to me. After all, my mom is on the Council, and she never needs me. Why should any of the rest of them?

Rhys grabs Cillian’s hand to tug him along, and I run after them to the library. Jade is gone, hopefully back to her room, where Bradford Smythe can find her easily. Rhys locates a lever on the far shelf and it swings open to reveal a cramped, dusty room. We shut ourselves in.

“Explanations,” Cillian says, panting. “What was that thing? And why are we locked inside the castle? And am I finally allowed to ask how the hell you lot moved a castle here in the first place? Because I have been working mightily to pretend otherwise, but I’ve lived in Shancoom my entire life, and I’m certain if we had always had a castle in the forest, I would have known about it. And, Nina, what—what—how did you do that out there?”

His gaze on me is searching and incredulous. We’ve been friends since before he and Rhys started dating. He’s more freaked out about what I did to the hellhound than the fact that there was a hellhound. I stare at the well-worn floor planks, polished by generations of my people walking here, learning here, planning here. Resting here.

The castle was never our main headquarters. It used to be a retreat for Watchers. But two years ago, way before the Seed of Wonder fiasco, the old Council and nearly every member of the Watcher society got blown up by fanatic followers of an ancient entity known as the First Evil. And it all happened because Buffy threw the balance of good and evil so out of whack that it left an opening for the First to wriggle through.

The First sent out its acolytes to murder everyone who could fight it. That meant all the potential future Slayers it could find—girls who were born with the possibility to someday take up the mantle of Slayer when the previous one died. It also meant all the Watchers. Even after Buffy rejected us, the First knew we were a threat. Buffy ended up defeating it and saving the world.

But she didn’t save a single Watcher.

Those of us who survived were either out on assignment in deep cover—only Bradford Smythe and Wanda Wyndam-Pryce’s daughter, Honora—or here on a field trip. Rhys Zabuto, Jade Weatherby, Artemis, Imogen Post, the Littles, and myself. My mother, Ruth Zabuto, and Wanda Wyndam-Pryce brought us to see what we could look forward to someday, to get some fresh air, and to undergo a few ritual cleansings to prepare for magical training.

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