Authors: Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
Also by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
DEN OF SHADOWS
In the Forests of the Night
Demon in My View
Persistence of Memory
Token of Darkness
All Just Glass
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2012 by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
Jacket art copyright © 2012 by Miranda Adria
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Poison tree / Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. —1st ed.
Summary: Alysia has quickly moved to a position of responsibility in SingleEarth, working among shapeshifters and witches who fight against vampires, but she is hiding secret alliances that could put her fellow mediators at risk.
eISBN: 978-0-375-98572-0 [1. Vampires—Fiction. 2. Shapeshifting—Fiction. 3. Supernatural—Fiction.] I. Title.
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is dedicated to my wife, Mandi. Her love and support helped me through many revision-related rants and breakdowns, while her feedback and insight helped me untangle several snarls in the story itself. As I write this, we have just celebrated our one-year anniversary. She hasn’t given up on me yet
As always, I owe profuse thanks to my writing group: Shauna, Bri, Zim, Ria, and last but far from least, Mason. Mason has been one of my strongest supporters—and greatest critics—throughout
editing process, constantly needling me to reexamine the characters and the story line
Like most of my books
, Poison Tree
required research into a bizarre variety of topics. Though this list is by no means complete, I would like to thank Karl for his weapons support, Bri for her archery instruction, and Devon for his technological expertise
Finally, I must go back to 2002 and thank the cast and crew of
especially Ollie, who instigated that project, and Sam Kruger, who prodded me to develop a story I might otherwise have given up on long ago. You all helped me see and hear these characters in a way I had never expected
I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,
And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.
—William Blake, “A Poison Tree”
HERE WAS BLOOD
on her hands, congealing slowly. The body in her arms was cold, its once-vibrant cheer forever vanished from the world.
The dead girl had a thick rope around her throat, attached to a chain hooked into the wall. Sisal bonds held her wrists behind her back. If she had been able to shapeshift, that rope would have burst or blended into her form, but the innocent eleven-year-old girl who had been bound, beaten, and murdered had been human, nothing more.
I failed you. I’m so sorry
The survivor looked up at the sound of a stifled gasp of pain; someone was moving across the room, through a pile of what she had thought were dead bodies. She couldn’t summon
fear, not with a corpse in her arms that had once been a little girl she had sworn to protect.
The vampire pushed himself to his hands and knees slowly, painfully. Though bones broke the bloodied surface of his skin, he still moved toward her and said, “We have to get out of here.”
She remembered this one now. He had spoken up against his leader and refused to help torture the human girl.
If he had been anything more fragile than a vampire, he wouldn’t have survived his leader’s response, but now his bones were knitting back together. She knew how that felt; as a pure-blooded shapeshifter, she healed almost as quickly. She could have survived everything they had done to Cori’s poor human body. But Cori … Cori was just dead.
“What’s your name?” the vampire asked as he crawled toward her.
“Sa-Sarik,” she stammered, a jolt of fear going through her at last. She was harder to kill than a human, but that didn’t mean she wanted anyone to try.
“I’m Jason,” he said. “Help me and I can help you. There’s another door, but I can’t get there on my own like this, and I don’t have time to heal before they get back.”
She looked around. Once this had been a wine cellar, but now it was just dry and cold, and reeked of blood, fear, and pain. How could she abandon her sister here?
“It’s too late to help her,” Jason said. “Come on. We need to go.”
There was blood on Alysia’s hands. Some of it was slick red—which meant it was probably hers—and some was swiftly drying, caking, and turning to dust, which meant it belonged to her prey.
Alysia didn’t know exactly who this nest of vampires had pissed off, but she did know that it was someone with enough money to offer a good price. Given what she had been told about this group’s behavior, Alysia might have done the job for pennies. Then again, she
have a reputation to maintain—and important toys to buy. There was no need to make a charity case out of some rich vengeance-seeker’s problem.
Sneaking up on a creature who could hear her human heartbeat and smell her blood would normally have been tricky, but this group had spilled a great deal of blood lately, sating their hunger and dulling their senses. They were also distracted by their own concerns and were whispering among themselves about their most recent assignment, which clearly had shaken up a few of them.
Alysia waited until one had walked away from the others, and then she stepped up behind him and drove a slender steel stake hardly larger than a pencil into his back, beneath his shoulder blade. The tip found his heart unerringly. When she twisted the implement and removed it swiftly, the barbs on the tip shredded the once-vital organ and the vampire dropped without a sound.
Three down. Five to go
, she thought. Eventually, they would realize she was there, but each one she took out before they did was one fewer face-to-face fight.
Five on one, not the best odds
, she thought, spinning toward the voice, only to discover that the vampire who had shouted was not talking to her.
, she thought indignantly. This was
job. What was worse, the jerk who had cut in was obviously an Onyx boy: brash, bold, with no concept of stealth. The black crossbow he had slung over his shoulder was an Onyx trademark; that guild tended to favor long-distance weapons and rarely jumped into an up-close fight when they could avoid it.
As one of the vampires noticed her and cut into her path, though, she decided she was magnanimous enough to share. Let this Onyx newcomer distract some of them while she picked the others off, one by one.
There was blood on the girl’s hands and face, but that didn’t seem to distract her as she crept up behind the vampire Christian had been fighting and, with one swift backstab, took the creature down.
“Thanks,” Christian said, the only word they exchanged as they instinctively moved back to back. They didn’t know each other, but they knew their common enemy.
The girl obviously favored stealth, but she held her own as the three last vampires surrounded them. Christian fought with a long dagger in his right hand; the girl he had stumbled across fought with two weapons: in her left hand, a stiletto, and in her right, a steel stake with rings near the end that served as brass knuckles. He and the girl each dispatched one target, then turned together toward the last.
The vampire put his back to the wall, trying to keep them both in sight, but he didn’t flee. He had to know running was his only chance of survival when faced with two Bruja mercenaries, but his fear of his employer apparently outweighed his instinct for self-preservation.
Behind his impromptu partner, Christian noticed a blood-slicked pair making their way quietly across the back of the room. The girl was letting the guy lean on her. She wasn’t his prisoner, and more importantly, they were both obviously too injured to fight even if they hadn’t been trying to sneak away.
Christian almost called out to them but then decided to let the battered and bruised runaways limp to freedom thinking they had never been spotted. If they spared a backward glance, it was only after he had returned his attention to his fight.
“Nice work,” he said as the girl he had been fighting with landed the final, killing blow.
She looked up at him, almost an eye-roll, as if unsure whether he was patronizing her. “You didn’t do too badly yourself, for an Onyx brat,” she answered, the words paired with a challenging grin.