Owen Wolfe is no mere mortal. He is also an intricate part of a Prophecy. One that claims he will be able to save the mortal and immortal realms from destruction.

But Owen's magic is not yet complete. The prophecy speaks of the One who is Three becoming Seven. Owen’s magic is growing stronger by the day.

However, his training is not yet done, his magic not yet complete. In order to defeat the darkness that threatens the world and those he loves the most, Owen will have to face the darkest parts of his heart…

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The Fates moved as one.

They regarded the man in front of them. Though calling him a man hardly seemed appropriate. He was no longer man, no longer whole. He was spirit and blood, but lacked a soul. He had moved beyond the requirements of a mortal body.

When the Fates moved, their shadows behind them moved differently, as if their shadow selves were out of sync with their bodies. He watched as the dark shapes moved along the stone walls that surrounded them, elongating and shortening as the Fates walked toward him.

When they spoke, their voices sounded like the air whistling in the trees, like the piercing cry of a small child, or like the sound of nails along glass. As Crushing watched, the shadows behind the Three Fates began to change, a kaleidoscope of shadow images.

Birth came to stand before him, her sisters flanking her. She had white skin, whiter than bright, clean snow, and a soft, round face. Dark blue eyes regarded Crushing with malice. Crushing watched as her shadow loomed large and tall along the walls of the stone cave. It took the shape of a black shadow hound. “I still don’t see how it is you think we can help you.”

Life, a tall, broad-shouldered Amazon of a woman, reached out and touched the skin of Crushing’s new body. Though he had no need for a mortal shell, the skin was comfortable. The soul within it had been delicious. Life glared at him with flashing black eyes as her shadow moved into the shape of a large tree that, even as she spoke, continued to grow and stretch along the cave wall.

“You have defiled our altar once with your sacrifices. You defy the Life we can Give. What can we possibly do that would aid you now? You have the power we have given you; your new form is strong and virile. What else could you want?” Though the voice was neutral, the eyes were hateful.

“The more important question to ask,” Death said, “is what you are willing to give us to get what you want.” Her shadow stretched until it formed the shape of a scythe; though it was made of shadow, Crushing could see it shining in the darkness. It stretched toward him like a poisonous spider.

“I can give you what you seek,” Crushing said. “I can give you the ultimate power from inside of the Realms.”

Death laughed, and the sound was like breaking glass. “You know as well as we do that the Realms have been denied to us since we started using our magic for our own ends. How do you propose to enter the Realms yourself, when you are nothing but shadow and blood inside a shell of skin?”

“There is a way,” Crushing said. “It requires a sacrifice.” Here, Crushing paused, knowing that their taste for blood would keep them attentive. “Kill the Witch,” he whispered.

“We have killed plenty of Witches in our time,” Birth said, almost kindly. Her voice wailed like the crying of a child, echoing off of the cavern walls. Though light, it was filled with worry. “What difference will one more make?”

“Not just a Witch,” Crushing said. “To gain entrance to the Realms, you need old magic, and old magic requires the strongest sacrifice.”

Crushing waited a moment and wished idly for a cigarette to sustain the suspense. His eyes narrowed in glee when he saw the Three Fates were hanging on his every word.

He snapped his fingers, and a cigarette materialized out of smoke. He put it to his lips and snapped his fingers, a tongue of fire flickering to life. He touched the end of his cigarette to the flame, let the fire lick the tip of his cigarette.

After taking a deep breath of smoke, Crushing let it out as he spoke, the smoke tendrils floating from his mouth like souls. When he spoke, his voice was a harsh whisper.

“To gain entrance to the Realms, we must not just kill a Witch.” He paused to take another drag of his cigarette and breathed out another cloud of fog. “We must kill their Queen.”

Chapter One

Owen tried to think past the pain.

Quelen stood to his right, her face filled with concern. Owen knew that if he looked at her right now, there would be pain in her eyes. Jace stood to his left, holding his one free hand. His other hand squeezed a stress ball as the needle ran along his flesh, piercing his skin. The buzz pierced his skin.

Kendrick stood in front of him, a look of concentration forming his features. Owen knew that he was muttering under his breath, trying to read the words that were being tattooed into Owen’s skin.

Bartley stood behind Owen and, though Owen couldn’t see his teacher, Owen knew that Bartley would be pressing his lips together and trying to block out the high-pitched hum and buzz of the tattoo gun.

Inside the circle that his lover and friends made around him, Owen tried to ignore William Willowby’s presence, even though he was the one that ran the needle along his skin, writing words along Owen’s skin with dark black ink.

Instead, Owen squeezed Jace’s hand harder and took a firmer grip on the stress ball. He gritted his teeth and took a breath when the needle was removed from his skin, when the buzz and hum stopped.

“You have to relax, Owen,” Willowby said softly. “The words will have no power otherwise.”

“Oh, yeah, easy to relax when you’ve tattooed half of my body and I’m sitting here in a pair of undies in front of all of you. I never thought so much pain could be fun,” Owen said sarcastically.

Willowby gave Owen a small, wan smile. “I know this is hard, but you have to relax, you have to welcome the pain that the words will bring.”

“But why?” The desperation was evident in Owen’s voice. Willowby had been tattooing his skin for what felt like days but Owen knew was only hours. He knew that Willowby had to complete the text on his skin within a twelve-hour period or the magic would not take.

It still didn’t make it any easier to handle, though.

Willowby put down the needle gun on a small table that stood beside him, taking care not to kink the rubber hose that pushed the ink into Owen’s skin. “Because magic, all magic, requires a balance. There is so much good in magic, but there is also the darker side of things.”

“Black magic?” Owen asked.

Willowby shook his head. “No, nothing of the kind. But there is always a price to be paid in some way for the balance to be maintained. In this case, there is pain. But you must work hard to find the pleasure inside of that pain, or all this will be for naught.”

Owen wiped a forearm across his brow. He was tattooed from his feet up to just below his chest. His arms and legs and torso were now covered in a scrawling script that he could not read from his present vantage point.

All he knew was that it fucking hurt. His left leg had gone numb, and his right one was throbbing like a son of a bitch. He closed his eyes and, when he did, he saw the face of a young girl with blond hair.

“They have taken him too.”

Owen turned to see who had spoken. It was the same girl he had seen before. She had less form than she’d had before, and now she seemed to be made only of smoke.

“Who is he?”

The girl shrugged. “I don’t know his name. But he is like me, or will be. They have taken his blood; now they will take what makes him whole.”

“His soul?” Owen asked.

The girl nodded. “They want it for their own, though it is not yet his time.” A pained look filled her features. “There is nothing we can do to save him.”

A chanting began to fill the air around them, its hum echoing off of the stones, filling the air around him with magic. He could feel it moving along his skin, slick and soft, so unlike his own magic, which felt raw and full of light.

Owen understood. “They’re taking his soul from his body?”

The girl nodded again. “They are the givers and takers of life, but they are dark. They are The Necropolis.”

Owen had heard this word before; it had been used to describe the tombs that resided underneath the Vatican. Owen mentioned this to the girl, and she shook her head.

“No, this is older than that, darker than that. This darkness comes from before.”

A cry ripped through the air, and Owen knew it came from the boy who lay on the altar. “What did they do with his blood?” Owen whispered.

“It was given to someone who needed it. Though it will bring him life and a body, it will be a half life. To kill an innocent is to curse yourself.”

Owen’s blood ran cold inside of him. “Who would do such a thing?”

“Can you think of no one?” the girl asked.

Owen opened his eyes to clear the vision. Though he had helped the girl cross over, a part of her remained within Owen. Bartley had explained that this was the girl’s memory; that spark of life that resided inside of her soul was now inside of him. She had left the last part of herself as a message for him.

It would be the same each time he helped a soul cross over to whatever lay beyond the Realms. Owen could feel the memory of the boy whose soul had been taken from him on the altar somewhere inside of his body, but he was still quiet. He hadn’t showed Owen anything yet.

Owen rubbed his eyes. In this way, Bartley had explained, Owen would carry the ghosts of others inside of him; for what were ghosts but bits of memory still stuck to the earth?

“You are more than mortal, but you are still mostly mortal,” Bartley had explained. “To be a carrier of souls, you must be Immortal; it will drive madness into your blood otherwise, and you could lose everything.” Bartley had looked at Owen with a grim stare. “To be Immortal, you will have to die.”

Looking at everyone around him now in the room, he tried to calm himself. The man he loved was here; his family was here. Owen knew that he was the one the prophecy spoke of. Everything within him said that this was so.

But that didn’t mean he had to like it. And he didn’t like it, not one bit. He let out a rough breath, his mouth shaped into a grimace.

Jace saw his frustration and took his other hand. “Come on.”

Willowby bristled coldly, giving Jace a dark stare. “You can’t break circle yet. We’re not done; the ritual isn’t finished.”

“It is for now.” Jace’s voice was a dark growl.

“What are you doing?”

“You want him to relax?” Jace hissed. “I’m taking him to relax.”

Jace pulled Owen up out of the chair and toward him and led him from the room. Everyone stared at the doorway in a shocked moment of silence.

“Well,” Willowby said quietly. “I guess the circle is broken.”

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