SNEAK PEEK: To Fly the Raven (Dead Dreamer, #4) by Sarah Lampkin
For fans of THE OCTOBER DAY SERIES by Seannan McGuire and Ilona Andrews’ THE HIDDEN LEGACY SERIES:
The final installment to the Dead Dreamer series.
Bridget and Ashley are dead.
The Gatekeepers are in shambles.
No one is safe as the soul controls the body.
Trapped inside herself, Brenna must face her past while watching Maura lay waste to all those in her path. But even Maura cannot ignore a deal once it's been struck. Both Brenna and Maura will need to come to terms with what is to come and prepare for the final battle.
The fate of the Fade will be decided
All questions will be answered
The dead will save the living
And a contract must be fulfilled
Take a journey through the world of magic, monsters, mayhem, and more in TO FLY THE RAVEN—available for preorder at all of your favorite online retailers:
Prologue - Maura
For years I was trapped inside this body, hidden away in the background, forgotten. Our parents, like everyone else, only knew of the one who was awake and in control…never aware of my existence. Now it was finally my time; I could finally set things right.
I stared down at the busy street of downtown Nephesburg. Those blissfully ignorant to the dealings with the other side, never looking up as they walked, fearing the rain as it began to pour. Pulling my hood up, I stood at the edge of the Arts building, the tallest building in the city, watching the people beneath beginning to scatter, trying to avoid getting wet.
Our second death should have been our time to leave this decrepit vessel. Originally one entity, it was the right time. To this day, I remembered Elizabeth reaching for us with a kind expression on her face. She was beautiful, the sunlight gleaming around her face like a halo. Our hand had reached for hers, ready to accept fate. But as her expression changed to confusion, I realized something was pulling us back. She reached out, taking hold of whatever it was to yank us back.
That was when I felt us separate. Brenna never noticed; she was too oblivious and self-centered to realize the desecration she had done to me. The electrical currents that shot through our chest, forcing our heart to beat—it never should have worked. Had a normal human been hit by that car, they would have died instantly. But we didn’t.
Our left arm twitched, and our head jerked sideways. Several voices scratched angrily against me, interrupting me from my walk down memory lane. It felt like spiders crawling underneath the skin as they searched for Brenna’s spirit.
Our hand clenched into a fist, forcing them to calm once again. The action reminded me of how whatever it was pulled us back. She held on to that entity, allowing it to pull her forward while leaving me in the shadows, only allowed to stay due to the fact the body would have died without me, the soul. No matter how much I screamed and fought, no one ever heard me. No one felt my pain. Even Brenna did not know of my existence. They kept me bound and silent.
“The Reapers,” I growled.
No one noticed the thing that grabbed us. Those nearest to us, Elizabeth and Sonja, were unable to stop it as their Reapers had already taken them. The moment those chains were placed on me in the darkness was when I realized what did this to us. That damned Reaper.
It’s the only way.
“The only way,” I scoffed at her words; the only words she ever spoke to me.
Her excuse was unfair and a lie. Having been touched directly, I felt the memories of the one she had taken energy from to complete this forsaken ritual. It gave me glimpses of the past, revealing how this was a moment in history on constant repeat. Humanity, never understanding, always manipulating things to their benefit, constantly disrupting the flow of energy in this world.
Each time humanity had taken it too far, It was forced to intervene, using the Reapers to find a Dead Dreamer who could be used to restore things to the way they were. Humans who have gone through the change could naturally absorb energy, enough to create a ricochet effect, reversing what those like the Gatekeepers had done.
Yet none in the past had been separated as we were. None were tainted far beyond saving. We were the only one, and I was the experiment. They protected Brenna while leaving me bound to be nothing but an energy source.
Those bindings were tight and unrelenting. Not once could I step forward into the light of day. I was cursed only to watch as the world moved around us, as Brenna lived our life, completely oblivious to my existence. For the first few years, I wasn’t fully aware of my situation. I could see through Brenna’s eyes, hear her thoughts as if they were my own, taste the food she ate, even felt pain when she injured herself—everyone believing we were fine, that we were still one.
Our fist tightened.
“You have something that’s ours,” a voice from behind called.
I didn’t even turn. I knew what stood behind us, and I despised it. “I owe you nothing.”
The rain poured, the sound drowning out all noise except the Reaper’s venomous lecture. “Do you think we haven’t been watching? Every hospital, every morgue, we’ve followed and watched as you’ve taken the souls from those who weren’t touched. I expected you to release them to us, yet you have found ways to avoid it.”
Turning on our heels, I stared down at the Reaper who challenged me. The one from our third death stood before me, Catori’s sister. She stood tall in her deerskin skirt and leggings, dressed as though she could feel the chill from the spring rain. Her long black hair lay over her shoulders next to the beads that hung from her neck, both undisturbed by the worsening weather around us.
“Don’t worry. I don’t plan on keeping them forever,” I reassured her sarcastically.
Her dark brown eyes twitched, watching me carefully as I took a step back. Her lips pursed together. “What do you hope to gain?”
“My freedom,” I said without hesitation.
She shook her head in disappointment. “Maura. You are a unique creature, created for a purpose. After all this time, why must you fight it?”
Hesitating, our heels tilted backward on the edge of the building. I glanced back to notice the sidewalk was now empty, with the headlights of cars slowly disappearing. Turning back to her, I answered, “You chose to leave me behind while giving her that purpose. I have none. You should have let me go that day.”
“A human body cannot live without a soul,” she explained.
Our lips twitched, a dark grin lifting. “Exactly.”
I took my final step back, and she vanished from my sight.
Chapter One - Damon
“Police urge residents of Nephesburg to stay out of the woods as the investigation proceeds into the possible suicide of Nephesburg College student, Ashley Bristol. Her body was discovered about six miles from the campus with a gunshot wound to the head and a gun still in her hand. Her family and friends are currently arguing with police, demanding a thorough investigation as they believe she never would have committed suicide. We will provide updates as we receive them,” the reporter said as she stumbled through her script on Channel 13 news.
“Turn it off,” Aeria snapped from the kitchen.
Gwen reached for the remote from the couch and clicked the power button, shutting the television off. She looked at me with a questioning glance. My lips pursed before I sighed heavily, standing to walk to Aeria.
“Did you talk to her sister today?” I asked.
Aeria shook her head. “Sam stopped trying to reach me when she heard from her.”
When Maura stole Brenna away two or three weeks ago, I wondered how we would let her family know what happened—or at least the fabricated version, which included summer school. But Maura was smart. She didn’t want to be found, which meant she didn’t want people looking for her. Only a week after that day, she let her family know she’d be attending summer classes to earn enough credits to graduate early.
“I don’t understand what she’s thinking,” Gwen grumbled.
She was still in shock from that night. Of all the things that could have happened the moment when Brenna rushed out of the apartment, that wasn’t even on the radar.
Gwen was waiting for us in the apartment’s living room when we left the hospital that dreary night. She was wide-eyed and staring out the window, yelling about the tremors that shook her awake and hyped up her adrenaline. Her eyes were beaming with excitement. “Where have you been? Did you feel that earthquake?”
It took her a few moments before she finally noticed our expressions and the heavy air we carried. Her grin dropped as her eyes widened, realizing something was wrong.
The smell of hospital oozed from us, and it didn’t help that I was returning in a brace for my broken ribs. Gwen immediately shifted into a panic, her face contorting to a pronounced frown as the realization hit. She rushed over, nearly knocking me down, demanding to know what happened. “What happened? Are you okay?”
I held my hand up and shook my head. “I’m fine. I just need to take it easy for a while.”
Gwen’s eyes met Aeria’s with a worried expression. Her brows fell even lower when she realized Aeria had been crying. “Where’s Brenna?”
I flinched at the name. The image of Bridget pointing the gun and firing a bullet into Brenna’s head burned across my mind, permanently etching itself into my memories forever. Aeria must have been shown the same because, in an instant, she started hyperventilating, crying at the horror-ridden images in her mind.
Gwen caught her as she collapsed to the ground. I hovered over them, unable to bend down easily to help comfort her.
Tightening her grip on Aeria, Gwen jerked up to look at me with panic-ridden eyes. “You’re freaking me out! Tell me what the hell happened!”
Aeria gasped a few times, an attempt to give Gwen an answer. But each time she tried to create words, her voice came out in nothing but sobs. For all we had seen in the last three years, her best friend’s sudden death was something she couldn’t handle.
My face was unnaturally still, and my voice was hard as stone when I answered, “They’re all dead. Ashley, Bridget –,” I hesitated before saying the worst of it, “Brenna too. And now she’s gone missing.”
Gwen’s body shivered as she sharply drew in her chin in confusion, trying to understand what I was saying. Before speaking again, however, she pulled her lips back and inhaled deeply, calming herself. “How can she be dead andmissing?”
Beads of sweat were beginning to form on my forehead and back, feeling the stress of the night starting to weigh down on me. Not to mention the painkillers were wearing off. Taking a few steps backward, I pulled out one of the kitchen chairs and carefully sat down, trying not to pull at my broken ribs.
Aeria’s sobs began to slow, and her voice cracked when she said, “Maura.”
Gwen glanced down in surprise, only to look back at me for confirmation. I nodded and explained, “She’s missing because Maura is the one in control now.”
Shaking her head, she lifted one hand and spoke calmly, “Start from the beginning. Tell me exactly what happened.”
My mouth felt dry from the pain and stress, but despite the exhaustion, I began the story that no one would believe, but the nightmare I couldn’t forget. “Do you remember when the three of us left the apartment earlier today?”
She nodded. “Yeah. I knew something was up since Brenna looked like she was determined, and the two of you rarely leave her alone when she’s like that.”
“You’re right,” I scoffed. “It didn’t do much good this time.”
Aeria flinched at my words, and Gwen’s grip tightened. She was still in a ball on the floor, her arms wrapped around her knees. Gwen looked back and me, nodding to encourage me to continue.
“She, uh,” I cleared my throat. “She got a call from Erica yelling that Ashley was in trouble. Ashely had basically walked right into a trap.” I paused for a second, my eyes glazing over as I thought back. Again, I scoffed at how stupid we were, “Turns out it was a trap for Brenna, not Ashley.”
Gwen nodded. “Considering the outcome, I’d say so. But why did she physically go? Couldn’t she have gone the other way?”
I shook my head. “Not during the daytime. From what she said, the sun practically erases her if it’s out.”
Trying to lighten the mood a bit, Gwen joked, “She sounds like a vampire.”
I smiled grimly in response, but only for a moment. “We ran all the way to the chamber underneath the church where they usually hold their meetings. My mom was down there waiting for us.”
“Your what?” Gwen exclaimed.
Aeria huffed angrily. She wasn’t thrilled with my mother, even now, despite the two of them coming to a truce at the hospital.
“What did she say?”
I felt my eyes narrow as I thought back, trying to process everything that was said. “According to my mom, Krysta only wanted to help Brenna. And when Krysta started talking, she didn’t make much sense.”
Before Gwen could ask, Aeria leaned her head back. Her face was still stained with tears, and her face burned red from exhaustion. Her voice was low as she spoke, “She told Brenna that she belonged to them and that they had tried to kill her when their experiment with her went wrong.”
“But…how—I don’t understand,” Gwen admitted.
I leaned back in the chair, wincing at the pain. Aeria heard and pulled herself from Gwen’s arms to walk into the kitchen. She opened one of the cabinets to grab one of the glass cups and filled it with water from the sink. Walking slowly back to me, she handed me the water.
I took a few sips, quenching the thirst that was scratching at my throat. Clearing my throat, I spoke again, “Krysta said that Brenna was turned into a Dead Dreamer at birth.”
“Brenna said she didn’t become one until she was sixteen,” Gwen asserted, trying to rationalize everything.
“Either they’re lying,” Aeria began, her voice slowly returning to normal. “Or maybe Brenna doesn’t remember.”
Gwen stood up and moved to stand next to me. “I feel like dying every single night is something you just don’t forget.”
“Unless the accident messed with her memories,” Aeria stated.
My eyebrow rose as I considered it. “With Maura in the mix, that’s very possible. That would explain their interest in her.”
Gwen held up her hands. “Wait, that aside, you haven’t told me what happened to the other two? Or even Brenna, for that matter.”
Aeria bit her lips. I sighed, reluctantly continuing the story. “Everyone started yelling and arguing over her. They offered her two choices: to go back to England with them or to be killed then and there.”
“I can only guess what Brenna’s reply to that was,” Gwen said as she sneered, though her eyes were dark with understanding.
Sighing, I continued. “As they were arguing, we were starting to back out so we could leave. But Bridget literallycame out from nowhere carrying a gun.”
“A gun?” Gwen’s shock was more prominent this time as her voice raised and eyes trembled.
“She shot her,” Aeria spat. “That crazy bitch shot Brenna in the head.”
I nodded as Gwen looked between the two of us. “She shot Ashley in the head too.”
Gwen fell into the chair next to me, her eyes wide. “I can’t believe it.”
Aeria turned her back to us, facing the sink. She stood silently. I watched as every few seconds her shoulders would shake as she tried to hold back another breakdown.
“The earthquake you were feeling earlier tonight, that started right when Brenna was shot. I think it was an aftershock from her power when Maura started to take over her body,” I explained.
Gwen placed her hands on both sides of her face and simply shook her head, trying to take it all in. “Just how powerful is Brenna to cause that kind of effect?”
I wondered the same thing. Something told me, had Bridget been shot, the outcome would have been like Ashley, not Brenna. “When Maura started taking control, the bullet fell out of her head, and the wound healed. But we didn’t know it was her until it was too late. She lashed out, throwing me into the wall and decapitating Bridget.”
Gwen started to rub her eyes. “Oh my god.”
“Bitch deserved it,” Aeria snapped.
“Aeria,” I said calmly.
She jerked around, tears on the verge of falling again. “You know it, Damon! She was insane! Who knows how many more people she would have killed if Maura hadn’t chopped her head off?”
I winced at the memory. My vision suddenly blurred the moment the memory was brought to the surface. Quickly standing from the chair, I ran to the sink to throw up. I cried out at the stress being pressed on my broken ribs.
Aeria’s hand warmly rubbed my back as she tried to comfort me.
At some point, Gwen moved to stand behind me. “You guys need to get some rest. We can talk about the rest of this later.”
I stood up and agreed. “Thanks.”
Aeria wrapped her arm around my waist to guide me back to her room. “If Brenna—Maura shows up here, run.”
By the next day, Gwen was ready to stay and get involved. She wasn’t comfortable leaving for the summer, knowing the homicidal version of Brenna was running around town. When I mentioned adding her to the list of “students” for my mother’s fictional class, mom was tight-lipped on what was going on with the Gatekeepers and Guardians.
Erica decided to stay as well. When she finally got ahold of someone, it was my mother. Learning her best friend had been killed and being forced to keep it a secret took its toll on her. But surprisingly, she agreed that Brenna wasn’t at fault, despite Marie’s protests.
Though tight-lipped, my mother did tell me those staying behind this summer would be the four of us, the Gatekeepers, and Will. Only Aiden and Orrick from the Guardians were staying. The rest of them decided to leave and report back to their headquarters and bring reinforcements. Aeria and I decided that we needed to find Maura before that happened. If they interfered before we found her, it would be a blood bath.
“Have you thought any more about my idea?” Gwen asked, breaking me out of an internal nightmare.
Aeria dropped the pan of chicken nuggets loudly onto the stovetop. “Absolutely not.”
Gwen rolled her eyes at Aeria’s reaction. “It’s our best bet. You said Aiden was different. If we can talk him into helping us, maybe we can find her faster. We need another Dead Dreamer to track her down. And I don’t see any volunteers. Literally, every other option is dead.”
Pulling out the paper plates from the cabinet, I tried to reason with Aeria. “She has a point. I’ve seen him around campus a few times at night. Even in town. He’s been looking for her just as hard as we’ve been.”
Aeria turned and pointed a fork at my face. “I don’t trust him. Sure, he was nice to Brenna, and who knows, he could be a good guy. But he’s a Guardian. A powerful one at that. One that those psychos trust.”
“We’re already working with them anyway. We might as well put them to good use now, and once we find her, figure out what to do after that. Maura is insane, but she’d prefer our company to theirs,” I explained.
The fork in my face suddenly wavered. Aeria’s gaze went elsewhere as she thought. Though Maura had thrown me across the room, it was only because I was trying to stop her. What was interesting was when Aeria tried to do the same, Maura had simply walked past her. She made no effort to hurt her. Aeria was Brenna’s best friend, so it was possible Maura felt the same, at least to some degree.
“Can’t we try Rae first?” Aeria asked, coming back to reality.
Grabbing one of the paper plates, I handed one to Aeria and the other to Gwen. “Rae is doing all she can at the moment. She can’t just leave, considering she’s busy raising her baby. She’s already told the spirits in Brenna’s house what’s going on, so they’re doing what they can. But Rae already told us their help is limited since they can’t stay away from the area too long.”
“Reapers, then,” Aeria said, clearly grasping at straws.
Using another fork, I put a group of chicken nuggets onto my plate. “Now you’re desperate. What makes you think I can find a Reaper? They’re completely out of our grasp. The only way we can even use that option—if it’s even an option—is to get Aiden’s help.”
Aeria stood over the pot of macaroni, just staring at the large spoon she held. “I hate this. I feel so helpless.”
Gwen bit into a chicken nugget. “We’re in the same boat with that one. Damon’s right. We have resources. Let’s use them. And once we find her, we ditch them.”
“That’s if we find her,” I mumbled.
“We will,” Aeria snapped.
Sitting down next to her, I placed my hand on her neck and gently squeezed. I felt her muscles relax a bit under the pressure of my light grip. Her nerves were still shot from that night, causing her to get sick almost every night since it happened. When she slept, she’d toss and turn, sweat until her clothes were soaked, and wake up with dark circles under her eyes. The stress was taking its toll.
Gwen pointed her fork full of macaroni at me. “Do you want to call him, or should I?”
“I’ll text him,” I answered.
Not two minutes had passed since I pressed the send button on my short text message before Aiden was standing in our living room. I stood from the table, threw my almost empty plate away, and tossed my fork into the sink. “Give me a few minutes. I’ll be right back.”
Aeria eyed me with suspicion before turning to glance into the living room. “He’s here, isn’t he?”
Holding my hand up as I passed, I urged her, “Just give me a few minutes. I’ll be right back.”
Feeling Aiden’s energy behind me, I made my way to the back of their apartment into Aeria’s room. I shut the door behind me. “That was fast.”
“I was hoping to hear from you soon,” he admitted in his Irish-laced accent.
I pulled out her computer chair and sat down. Leaning forward, I rested my chin on my clasped fists, thinking of how to begin. We needed his help, that was clear. But how?
“I had a lead on her,” Aiden suddenly said.
My body froze. “When?”
He moved to lean against the wall. “Using the local newspaper. Knowing Maura, she’s got a thirst for power and energy. She’ll do whatever she can to get it, despite knowing what it does. Recently, there have been multiple break-ins at the local morgue and hospital. The article didn’t say what the person did, only that bodies were disturbed.”
I leaned back, baffled. “That’s what I don’t get. We all know the more energy Maura consumes, the more difficult it’ll be for her to die. And Maura wants to be killed. So why go around collecting souls?”
“Because she is a soul,” Aiden explained. “Maura is unique, as is Brenna. They’re two separate entities of the same person that was created by accident. While Brenna is the spirit attached to the human side, her consciousness, Maura, is different. Maura is the raw energy used to keep the spirit in the body and keep the body going. She’s nothing but pure energy with consciousness. She craves energy because she is energy.”
Considering Aiden’s explanation, I came to only one conclusion. “What you mean is that Maura is only going to go more insane from her drive for energy and her desire to die.”
With a grave expression, he nodded. “Yes.”
“With Bridget using her blood seals, she’s created swirling chaos in this town. Fairies have gone mad, killing humans at their time of death. The humans aren’t dying as they were meant to. They’re being mauled to death at the precise time. And Maura is going around claiming the souls they leave behind,” Aiden continued.
My eyebrows dropped in concern. “You don’t think she’ll start killing on her own just to claim the energy? Do you?”
Aiden sighed with a shrug. “Maura is a unique creature. Even the Reapers don’t know what to do with her. They’re under strict orders not to intervene. They can’t even take the souls from her if they wanted to. Brenna willingly gave them back. Maura is hoarding them.”
I stood with my arms crossed. “Who controls the Reapers?”
It was a far-fetched idea, but if possible, maybe we could reason with whoever it was to get their help to stop Maura. Maybe even make some kind of deal to get Brenna back.
He shook his head. “That’s not an option.”
“Why not?” I demanded.
Aiden’s lips thinned as he straightened up. He looked almost afraid to even talk about it. “It’s just not. The Reapers can’t interfere,” he said, suddenly changing his tone. “But we might be able to persuade them to at least tell us where she is. She’s a huge energy source. They can find her immediately. I’m certain even Maura’s seen them on her tail since she has what they want.”
I mulled over his suggestion. The fact that he refused to talk about whoever was in charge of the Reapers made me wonder if I was stepping into some dangerous waters. But at the same time, it was a risk I was willing to make. First, I needed a Reaper.
“I think that could work. How can we talk to one of them?” I asked.
Aiden stood straight. “I’ll have to go into the Veil and search. They usually actively avoid us. But maybe with Maura out there, they might be willing to change their tune. Give me a few days and let me see what I can find. I’ll be back once I have something.”
In the blink of an eye, he was gone. Knowing Aeria and Gwen were still in the kitchen waiting with anticipation, I quickly left the bedroom.
“What did he say?” Aeria asked over the sound of the water running. She was washing the pot the macaroni had been in.
“I heard the word Reaper,” Gwen admitted shamelessly.
Rolling my eyes, I walked beside Aeria and grabbed one of the dishtowels to dry the now clean dishes. “Aiden is going to try and find a Reaper who might know how to find Brenna.”
“Why would they know?” Gwen asked from the kitchen table.
For a moment, I thought about not mentioning it, but I knew if I didn’t, Aeria would be furious. “Maura has been breaking into morgues to steal souls, apparently. And she’s not returning them to the Reapers like Brenna was.”
Aeria’s hands froze, and her head turned so her eyes could meet mine. “I’m sorry…she’s doing what?”
“Maura wants more souls. So, she’s actively collecting them,” I said again.
Gwen scoffed, “This just keeps getting worse.”
I nodded. “If we don’t find her and soon, things could get even worse than this. If she’s suddenly boosting her energy and power, the last thing we need is for one of them to find her before us.”
Aeria murmured to herself, almost in disgust, “And we were shocked when one head rolled.”