Welcome back to District City, a place haunted by a tragic past, ravaged by monsters, and divided into rival factions by mysterious aura Colors.
In the aftermath of the events at the Blue Embassy, murderous Calen plots revenge and uses his dark power to further his influence. New trials bring Alan and Kazuki closer together as they continue their quest to unlock the secrets of the city.
Mysterious newcomer, Tanith might have all the answers, if they can figure out how to get rid of the voices in their head.
As relationships are torn apart, sacrifices must be made to gain power over others to survive. In this city, the dead don’t stay dead, and dreams reveal fragments of truth. The world may have ended once, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen again.
Danielle K. Roux’s exciting sequel to This Will Kill That, SHADES OF THE CITY, is out Tuesday, December first! Preorder your copy today:
The One Where Valen Hears a Very Old Story (10 years ago)
The first city was built by a murderer,” she began, “or so the story goes. Though many believe this story is true.”
“Um, those people are idiots,” Calen chimed in, smirking gleefully as he nudged the child beside him.
“Or they must really want to believe in something,” Tanith countered, pulling the blanket draped over them closer as a chilled wind drove through the clearing: The fire danced, small finger flames twisting upwards, grasping the air.
“May I continue?” their mother asked, her arms folded across her chest. Her form was filtered through smoke and flame, making her eyes glow brighter and her hair shimmer with sparks of crimson and amber. Her warm smile betrayed her softness towards Tanith and Calen. The fierce defender of the Red rebels loved her young children more than anything.
“Yes, Mother,” the pair chirped in unison.
“Once upon a time, there were two brothers. One killed the other.”
“Why?” Calen interjected.
“The narrator doesn’t tell why.” She gestured with her hands, conjuring shadows that played out the story on the other side of the flame: The silhouettes of two young men walking, side by side, one slightly taller with broad shoul ders, and a confident stride; the other slighter with a slower gait.
“Maybe they were fighting over something,” Tanith offered, voice barely above a whisper.
The scene shifted, and the two shadow boys stopped walking abruptly. They seemed to be shouting, gesticu lating wildly. The larger one drew a sword; the smaller one followed, but he was too late. A slash landed across his middle, and he vanished into nothing.
“What would they be fighting over?” Calen rolled his eyes. “There weren’t any cities yet, so there wasn’t anything interesting to do or to see or to fight over.”
“There were things to fight over,” Tanith argued. “There’s always something to fight over: food, shelter, pretty river rocks...”
“Blankets,” Calen grinned, tugging the blanket away from Tanith to demonstrate.
“Hey!” Tanith glared, yanking it back over them both. “Knock it off.”
“It may have been an accident,” their mother said, stifling a laugh at their bickering, as the dead shadow boy reappeared. He began to play-fight with his brother, the pair of them wrestling, throwing their heads back in laughter—unaware that beside them, the ground dropped off… down… down… down… into a pit of jagged rocks. The smaller one rolled too far, and he fell, vanishing after he hit the bottom. The larger shadow boy stood still and watched, unable to save him.
“That seems more likely,” Tanith whispered, their eyes wide and still.
“Regardless, one brother died, and the other was found guilty of his murder and banished.” Mother made a walking motion with her fingers, and the lone shadow boy started walking. His pace was slow, less confident than before.
“Banished?” Calen wondered out loud. The word had such a ring of finality to it. “For how long?”
“As long as he lived. He was meant to wander aimlessly across the world. For as long as he had breath.” “That’s not fair,” Tanith declared. “If it was just an accident...”
“What if it wasn’t?” Calen shivered. “Does that make it fair?”
Tanith didn’t answer him, they just kept watching the scene.
The shadow boy walked onward; his hair and beard grew longer, and he became taller. His stride was steady and confident once again. Then he stopped.
“After wandering for a time, he settled down and built the first city.”
Standing still, people flocked to the shadow man as small buildings took shape around him. More people appeared—crowds of shadows now. The buildings grew taller. He stood at the center, unmoving as though he was already a statue in a square.
“Okay, wait. Why did he build a city?” Calen frowned. “And how? If he had to wander, how would he be able to just stop wandering? That makes no sense.”
“There is quite a lot of wandering one can do in a city.” Their mother smiled, letting the shadow man walk again, this time through streets teeming with market stalls, through twisting alleys, and through doorways into small hidden gardens. Up staircases to the tops of roofs to look out on the landscape of peaks and valleys. To spires and towers. To squat one-room houses and temples that reached for the heavens.
“What happened to him after he built the city?” Tanith asked, their voice a quiet whisper.
“He lived a long life. Had many children and grand children and great-grandchildren. He founded a line of great kings. A dynasty.”
The shadow man sat on a throne at the top of a temple. Below him, each level was lined in thrones and filled with shadow people; all his descendants.
“Not bad for a murderer,” Calen said and smirked as the shadows faded away.
Tanith shushed him under their breath, but Calen shrugged, staring at the empty flames. He may have only been alive for ten years, yet he knew that he was already as doomed as both of the brothers in the story. His whole family was doomed. They’d been cursed since before they were born, and they hadn’t even done anything wrong. “Thanks for the story, Mother.”
“Now, get some sleep, my little ravens.” She kissed them both on the forehead and hugged them tightly. “We have another big day of wandering tomorrow.”
The One Where Raith Does Some Spooky Stuff (Saturday, 5AM)
Dying hadn’t hurt nearly as much as he’d wanted it to.
The blow had been so swift, he’d barely had time to register the meaning of what was happening. He felt the cut, a sharp sting, followed by numbness. He saw his body fall, but he got back up again, ready to continue the fight. Yet he had felt lighter—like he was suspended in water. And Rin was still standing there, her sword, her dress, and her hair sprayed with his blood. She’d dropped her sword.
Not by accident, or out of fear. She released her grip on the hilt and let it crash to the floor as a gesture of finality.
It was then that he’d noticed his body was still lying on
the floor, face down... Or rather, chest down. His body was missing the head, so his face remained with that part, which had rolled some distance away: He remembered reading about people who had been beheaded, mostly deposed nobles from the distant past. With a sharp enough blade or a skilled enough wielder, it was said to be a quick and painless death. So painless, he’d not even noticed.
He wished it had hurt more than that.
He had always wanted to die a slow and agonizing death after losing some great campaign against an enemy. This one was fine, though. At least he died fighting—not from eating poorly cooked fish. But it would have been more dramatic if he’d been able to slip away gradually as he bled out in the center of the room. And he wished he’d had more time to speak some profound last words or confess some deep secret.
Most of all, he wished he’d been made to suffer. He deserved it, after all, and it would have felt so satisfying for everyone involved. Rin could have taken her time and done him in little by little. Slicing and dicing until there was nothing left of him, then pain and death would be a sweet relief.
Oh well. Rin did what she wanted—she always did— killing him with a clean blow to the neck. His life extin guished with one effortless slash of her blade.
Rin had always been a better fighter. Rin was faster and could predict his movements, sometimes even before he decided what to do. The only thing he had on her was being larger, taller, and more muscular: size could be intimidating psychologically. But Rin was immensely strong for her size, like one of those insects that could carry a fucking tree branch into its den.
She was also strong mentally. She didn’t fall for any of those regular tricks that most people did. She wasn’t afraid of him. At least not enough to prevent her from beating the crap out of him during their past skirmishes, and getting the crap beaten out of her in turn. She wasn’t afraid of pain, either, she fought through it. The more he hit her, the tougher she grew; not like she enjoyed it, but like she didn’t care.
He could cut her, punch her, slam her into the wall— her body might eventually not be able to take any more. It might even shut down. She might die. But she refused to be killed. Somehow, the force of her would remain, shining bright and fierce through the tattered remains of her flesh.
This tenacity was strange to him. If you win, you win. If you lose, you lose. The losers are punished, the winners rewarded. She’d never seemed to believe that. Instead, she just wanted to fight. As if this wasn’t a game of winning or losing. As if the fighting itself was something more than a means to an end.
In the past, their fights had ended in a draw. One of their parents would demand they stop and move on to some other task as it would’ve been inconvenient if one of them were to kill the other. Not, at least, until they were able to kill a whole bunch of other people first.
So, when Rin left the room, he followed her. He wasn’t going to be left alone in the Blue Embassy with his own corpse and the other dead man in the bathtub. That felt like the saddest thing he could imagine. Plus, he wanted to see what would happen next.
“Now what, Rin? I’m dead,” he said as though she— anyone—could hear him. “Lord Verity’s dead. Now what are you going to do?”
He followed her as she walked through the empty streets in the city. Watched as she was briefly harassed by a young man on a motorbike, so she cut his throat and stole his bike. The cut wasn’t fatal, unfortunately. Raith had hoped it was, as the young man was rather attractive, and he could use some company on this side.
He followed her as she raced down the road on the motorbike, out of the city. About an hour into the forests, she ran out of gas and dumped the bike along the road. The roads here were nearly consumed by overgrowth and difficult to navigate except on foot anyway.
Finally, she collapsed near a tree and tried to light a cigarette.
The lighter wasn’t working, it kept sparking, and soon it slipped out of her hands. He wondered if he could move the lighter. He wondered if he could make his form visible to her. He had heard she was able to talk to ghosts. That’s what he was now, right?
He lifted the lighter up, the gesture took more of his strength than he thought it would. He struck it once, and held it to her cigarette. The look of fear on Rin’s face made the gesture worth every bit of strength it had taken to move it with his energy.
Setting the lighter down, he felt weakened. He willed the lines of his body to form, re-drawing an outline of his former self. He was blurry and transparent, but it would have to do.
“Oh shit, it’s you.”
The look on her face was priceless. Her pupils dilated in recognition, until only a thin line of grey ringed the blackness at the center. Her hand shook as she held the cigarette in between her fingers and blew a stream of smoke towards him, through him.
He wasn’t sure how to respond. Words seemed so useless to convey information or feelings. Words were just bits of sound collected together with a socially agreed upon meaning. What if, instead, he just passed through her, into her, and made her understand what he wanted her to know? Or was that rude to do without asking first?
“What a way to make an entrance.” She put the cigarette back to her lips. Strands of her unruly hair fell in her eyes, brown-black with dark red undertones. The color of a city burning to the ground. The color of a dying star.
Wait. Why was he waxing poetic over Rin’s hair? Did dying cause him to become romantic? Gross. “So… like… what do you want?”
“I don’t want anything,” he said. His voice was the same as it had been when he was alive. That was startling. It felt almost like nothing had changed for a moment. But everything had changed.
“Okay.” She blew a stream of smoke again, this time away from him so it wouldn’t pass through his form, which was considerate.
“What about you? What do you want?”
Stupid question. Obviously, what she wanted was irrel evant. He was the one who reached out to her, contacted her, from beyond the grave. Surely he wanted something, had some purpose. Otherwise what was he doing talking to her?
“Oh, I don’t know…” The corners of her mouth pulled upwards. “I kind of expected you to be headless still. Like the ghost in that legend—The Headless Horseman. Maybe you would have been riding around at night in search of your head. Oh, or you could have been like one of the ladies haunting a castle, cradling their head in their arms, looking all vengeful. Way creepy.”
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
“It’s cool.” She chuckled, darkly.
“I’m not here for revenge.”
“Okay.” She stubbed out the cigarette on a tree, leaned back against the trunk, and closed her eyes. Her pale neck was exposed farther, like she was trying to tempt him to separate her head from her body as payback. “Fine. Suit yourself.”
“What’s done is done.”
“What’s done…” She stopped herself, had almost said it like a question, her voice rising. She opened her eyes wide, staring up at him with more curiosity than anything else. “So, why’d you follow me? Figured, if you were a ghost… you’d be… roaming the halls and angrily wailing. Or possessing a cute guy somewhere and making him do naughty things. You know, spooky stuff.”
“You’re incorrigible,” he chuckled, darkly. Had she always used humor to deflect her discomfort like this? He couldn’t remember.
“You followed me because I’m incorrigible?? Or is that a response to the thing I said about the spooky stuff?” “I just wanted to know… what you were going to do now. After you won the fight and killed me. After you killed Lord Verity-”
“After you changed me to Yellow,” she interrupted, her voice fraying with irritation. “Oh, and I still stand by the fact that I did not kill Verity. That was someone else. Although, I’m wondering if that guy even exists. Maybe he’s just a figment of my imagination. Or like… a projec tion of my inner demons. He was gorgeous, though. For a hallucination.”
“Are you referring to Calen?” Raith asked, recalling the events leading up to his demise more clearly now. “He was the one who called me over to the Blue Embassy, which seemed suspicious. He killed Verity?”
“You remember Calen?” Rin’s face went sickly pale, as though he’d run her through with a spear.
“How could I forget a man I was sharing a bed with for nearly a year?”
“You remember Calen.” Rin repeated, combing her fingers through her hair, causing it to form even more curious angles.
“Obviously. I know you think I’m an egomaniac who treats my partners like trash, but I did not forget the person I woke up with this morning,” Raith snarled, feeling a flare of rage at the suggestion. How dare she? He leaned in closer, fists clenched.
“You kept denying you knew him.”
“I did?” Raith was taken aback. What game was Rin playing now?
“Not just that you knew him but… that he was a person who existed.”
“That’s… odd.” The indignation he’d felt moments ago melted into numbness. He backed off, turning away from her to consider what this information about Calen meant. The young man had been a courtesan with no special abil ities, beyond those of someone in his trade. Or had he been playing with Raith that whole time? To what end?
“Tell me about it.”
“So… Calen killed Lord Verity?” Raith tried to picture the scenario: Calen was lithe, medium height with some muscle tone in his arms and chest. His legs… like a dancer. He had a quiet power that radiated from his eyes. Like embers glowing in a hearth, long after the flames had died down. Maybe he could kill someone. But why would he?
“He did this insane move that… ripped Verity’s soul out of his body. It was pretty cool, but, like, terrifying.” “Why would he do that?” Raith still couldn’t make sense of it.
“I didn’t think to ask him at the time.” She shrugged. “Why did Calen ask me to go to the Blue Embassy?” If Raith still had blood, it would be draining from his face. He tried to remember the phone call he’d gotten.
“I need your help, Raith,” Calen had said. “I’m at the Blue Embassy.”
“What? Why are you there?” he responded. Calen’s request caught him off guard. Raith had been waiting by the phone, impatient to hear from Rin about her mission to the Blue Embassy. He had not expected to hear from Calen at all; when he stayed out after dark, it usually meant he was working at the Playhouse. This wasn’t part of the plan—getting Calen involved. Raith curled his fingers around the glass of whiskey, taking a drink to fortify himself against whatever was about to happen.