About the Author:
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
When librarians finally granted Kelley Armstrong an adult card, she made straight for the epic fantasy and horror shelves. She spent the rest of her childhood and teen years happily roaming fantastical and terrible worlds, and vowed that someday she'd write a story combining swords, sorcery, and the ravenous undead. That story began with the New York Times bestselling Sea of Shadows and continues with Empire of Night.
Armstrong's first works for teens were the New York Times bestselling Darkest Powers and Darkness Rising trilogies. She lives in rural Ontario with her husband, three children, and far too many pets.
SERENA STOOD ON THE rock ledge twenty feet above the lake, singing in a voice known to bring tears to the eyes of everyone who heard it. Everyone except me. “For God’s sake, Seri,” I said, “just dive already.” Serena stuck out her tongue and shifted closer to the edge, toes wrapping around it. She bounced there, blond ponytail bobbing, cheeks puffing. Then she dove. It was, as usual, an effort worthy of the Olympics, and she sliced into the water so smoothly that barely a ripple pinged across the glassy surface.
She popped back up, sleek as a seal. “Your turn, Maya!” I flipped her the finger. She laughed and dove again. Serena was the swimmer—captain of the school team. It’s not my thing, really. This was the part I liked, just sitting on the rock ledge, bare feet dangling. I basked in the morning sun, drinking in the rich, late-summer air and the perfect view of the crystal-clear lake, the distant snow-capped mountains, the endless evergreens.
As Serena swam to the middle of the lake, I squinted over at the path, looking for a familiar blond head. Daniel was supposed to join us.
Daniel and I had been friends since I’d moved to Salmon Creek when I was five. Then, last year, there’d been a school dance where the girls were supposed to invite the guys, and Serena thought we should draw straws to see who asked Daniel. I liked him, but not the way Serena did, so I’d fixed the game so she’d win. They’d been together ever since.
As Serena swam back toward me, I stripped to my bra and panties, dropping my clothes into the bushes below.
“Ooh la la,” she called. “Check out the new undies. Did some amazing friend finally take pity and buy you grown-up stuff?”
“Yes, and she’d better be right about them not going seethrough when they get wet. Otherwise her boyfriend is going to see a lot more of me than she’d like.”
Serena laughed. “They’ll be fine. White’s your color. Shows off your tan.”
I shook my head at her and plaited my long black hair. I don’t have a tan. I’m Native. Navajo, maybe. I’d been adopted as a baby and my mother hadn’t been around to fill in any background forms.
I climbed farther up the rocks and stopped at one overhanging the lake.
As I balanced there, Serena called, “Hey, those low riders show off your birthmark. Did you ask your parents about getting that tattoo?”
My fingers dropped to the mark on my hip. It looked like a faded paw print, and I wanted to get it tattooed so it would show up better.
“Mom says maybe when I’m sixteen. Dad says when I’m sixty.”
“He’ll come around.” She flipped onto her back and floated. “He always does. You should do it for your sixteenth birthday next year. We’ll get your mom to take us over to Vancouver, make a weekend of it. I’ll get one, too. I want a nightingale, right over my boob, so when I get up on stage in my sexy dress, cut down to—”
She flailed suddenly. “Maya!”
She went under. Disappeared completely, like a hook had dragged her down.
I jumped into the water, and I hit it wrong. Pain smacked me so hard I gasped. Water filled my mouth and my nose. I swam out in a frantic dog paddle. I could see the rings where Serena had gone under. They seemed to get farther away with every clumsy stroke I took.
I treaded water, looking around. “Serena?”
“If this is a prank to get me in the lake, it worked,” I said, my voice quavering.
When she didn’t reply, I dove. As I went under, panic hit, like it always did—my gut telling me this was wrong, dangerous, get above the surface or I’d drown.
The normally clear lake was brown, churned up dirt swirling through it, and I couldn’t see.
I shot up from the water.
“Help!” I shouted. “Someone! Please!”
I dove again, blind and flailing, praying my hand or foot would brush Serena.
She’s been under too long.
No, she hadn’t. Serena could hold her breath forever. Last year, we’d timed her at a swim meet and she’d stayed under for five minutes before the coach ran over and made her stop. I couldn’t hold my breath even for a minute. I bobbed up again, gasping.
I followed the shout to the shore. The sun glinted off the wet rocks and I blinked. Then I glimpsed blond wavy hair and a flash of tanned skin as Daniel yanked off his shirt.
“It’s Serena,” I shouted. “She went und—”
My kicking leg caught on something. I tried to pull, but it tightened around my ankle. I went under, screaming. Water filled my mouth as it closed over my head.
I fought, kicking and twisting, trying to grab at whatever had me. My fingers brushed something soft, and my brain screamed “Serena!” I tried to grab her, but I was dragged deeper and deeper until my feet hit the bottom. Then, whatever was wrapped around my ankle fell away.
I pushed up through the murky water. But as soon as my feet left the lake bottom, I couldn’t tell where the surface was anymore. Everything was dark. My lungs burned. My head throbbed. I kept fighting my way up. Oh God, let it be up. Finally I broke through. I felt the sunlight and the slap of cool air, only to go back down again. I pushed up, but couldn’t stay afloat, couldn’t seem to remember how to tread water. My whole body ached. Staying above was such a struggle, it was almost a relief when the water closed over my head again, peaceful silence enveloping me.
I had to struggle not to give in, had to force my arms and legs to keep churning, get my head back above—
Arms grabbed me. They seemed to be pulling me under and I struggled against them.
“Maya!” Daniel shouted. “It’s me.”
I didn’t care. I needed him to let go of me, leave me be, let me breathe. He gripped me tighter, wrapping one strong arm around me as he swam.
I told Daniel to let me go, that I could make it to shore, just find Serena, please find Serena. He thought I was still panicking and kept hauling me along until, finally, he heaved me onto the rocks.
“Serena,” I gasped. “Get Serena.”
He hoisted himself up and scanned the shore and I realized he hadn’t understood. Oh God, he hadn’t heard me.
“Serena!” I yelled. “She went under. I was trying to find her.”
His eyes widened. He twisted and plunged into the lake. I huddled there on a rock, coughing, as he swam out. I watched him dive and come back up. Dive and come back up. Dive and come back up . . .
They dragged the lake that afternoon and found Serena’s body. Her death was ruled an accidental drowning. A healthy teenage girl, captain of the swim team, had drowned. No one knew how it happened. An undertow. A cramp. A freak panic attack. There were plenty of guesses but no answers.
Soon all that was left of Serena was a monument in the school yard. The town moved on. I didn’t. Something had happened in that lake, something I couldn’t explain. But I would. One day, I would.
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