The Gates of Guinee (The Casquette Girls #4) by Alys Arden




Part I





The Gates





Legend does not contradict history. It preserves the fundamental matter but magnifies and embellishes it.

—Adrien Rouquette





CHAPTER 1





Traitor





April 30th



The metallic aftertaste of her blood still tugged at my senses.

The girl lay unconscious against the attic wall in Raúl’s chains, her wet auburn hair even more vibrant now against her pallid skin. Dark circles had formed beneath her anemic eyelids, and her clothes were charred in spots, muddy in others, but the base notes of jasmine from her Dior eau de parfum still drenched her collar.

I set a glass of water on the floor next to her, offering none to Carina or Josif, and stretched out my arm, flexing and straightening my wrist, the newly formed skin taut. It had been at least a century since I’d needed to heal so completely, and despite the pain, or perhaps because of the pain, it was reinvigorating. Or perhaps it was the anxious words Adele had said to me on the Moonwalk: “He knows about the grimoire.”

Callisto Salazar knows about our book of shadows.

Which also meant he must have figured out Adele’s connection to León. What other concern would he still have with her? In my human years, I might have felt panicked by this news—my family’s gravest enemy, a witch now imbued with unprecedented power, going after my ancestral rites—but I wasn’t panicked.

I wasn’t human.

My teeth sank into my bottom lip, pricking blood. I’d spent the last four hundred years looking for that book, but this was the first time I’d felt on the precipice of discovering it. I’d shed my skin under the Flower Moon, and I was ready to devour every last Ghost Drinker if need be.

I tapped Callisto’s ring against the floor, imagining it on Jakome Salazar’s finger, imagining his coven slipping into the darkness, attacking us in our slumber all those years ago. I had been only a child but still remembered the distress echoing through the silent stone walls of the palazzo. How my mother had stashed the four of us in a hidden chamber. How Gabriel and Emilio had refused to stay hidden. How tightly Giovanna had wrapped her arms around me whilst we waited in the cold. It was a lifetime ago. Several. But now, mayhem gave monsters the freedom to stretch, and I was going to rip Callisto Salazar limb from limb.

I didn’t know for certain if I could ever truly get my magic back, but I knew in my blood that if there was a chance, it lay in that book. In that spell, l’elisir di vita. If it could give León, a mortal witch, eternal life, who knew what it could do for a vampire?

I was ready to shed this skin a final time.

The witchling stirred, awakening. She might have borne the name of the Salazar coven, but a true Animarum Praedator she was not. She’d shown her Spektral magic to me twice now, and it had nothing to do with drinking spirits. Her sculpted brows, perfectly trimmed cuticles, and designer blouse revealed her privilege, and I wondered which of her insecurities Salazar had exploited so she’d do his bidding. Had her father not given her enough affection when she was a child, or had she been rebelling against her mother’s fine Southern pedigree when she rode on the back of Callisto’s bike, wind blowing her hair?

Being a witch hadn’t been enough for her, and surely he’d promised her the magical universe.

Traditionally, vampires healed the wounds we inflicted so our victims could slip back into society none the wiser, our dark secrets remaining hidden in the obsidian of night, but the gashes in her neck were still raw. She won’t be slipping back with anyone.

I grazed her silky blouse with my knuckle and then ripped the sleeve with a quick, loud tear.

Her eyes popped open. She looked away from my fangs as she discovered the morose nightmare she’d been having was reality.

“Don’t fret. I’m not going to rip any more of your clothes away.”

She returned her gaze and made a valiant attempt to spit in my face. I grabbed her jaws, pinching, and a sound gnarred from the back of her throat, the snarl of a wild little beast.

“But he might rip off your head,” Carina jeered from her shadowy corner. Moonlight from the window spilled ghoulishly over her cheeks. She was still pale and gaunt from Lisette’s feeding early in the evening. Such a loss of blood would have been life-threatening for anyone but a Ghost Drinker.

Josif grunted from the adjacent corner, but my attention didn’t waver. As I’d suspected, beneath the torn silk, the girl bore a circular Maleficium. The mark of an Aether.