It’s been months since I last had the dream.
Months since I was trapped in its unyielding grip.
And though I try to resist, try to force my way back to the safety of consciousness, I continue to slip.
I’m aware, but not lucid.
The dream is not mine to control.
Like always, it begins in the forest. A forest that exists in the Lowerworld—that unseen dimension yawning beneath this world, the Middleworld, with the Upperworld sprawling above.
It’s a place I’ve visited many times, in both waking and dream states. A place that consists primarily of compassion, love, and light.
But not entirely.
Or at least not tonight.
It’s Raven who leads me. Soaring above an unchanging landscape of crisp cool air and wide verdant lawns with lush bouncy blades that spring underfoot. His purple eyes glimmer, rushing me past a tall grove of trees cloaked with leaves so thick, only the faintest trace of light filters in.
Raven’s driven by purpose. I’m driven by need.
Along with an irrepressible longing to reunite with the boy who awaits me.
A boy who is no longer a stranger. No longer faceless and nameless.
Now that we’ve watched each other die, now that we’ve been intimate, there are no secrets between us.
In the dream, Dace bears the same glossy dark hair and gleaming brown skin he does in real life. The same astonishing icy-blue eyes banded by gold that reflect my image thousands of times.
He’s my fated one, as surely as I am his.
And yet, with so many answers secured, the question remains: In this particular dream—which one of us will die?
Raven lures me through a valley of boulders—past a swiftly moving stream teeming with vivid, blue fish—only to vanish the moment we’ve reached the clearing. Leaving me to stand on my own, running an anxious hand over the front of my dress. A dress that once seemed inexplicable, but that I now recognize as the one I wore on my return from the Upperworld.
Finally, the pieces of this strange, surreal puzzle begin to fall into place.
Though how this will end is anyone’s guess. “Daire.”
He speaks my name from a place just behind me, and for one sweet moment, I shutter my eyes and inhale his deep, earthy scent. Stretching time for as long as I can, knowing all too well how brief this moment will be.
He places a hand on my shoulder and turns me to face him. And despite having played this role countless times, there’s no suppressing the sharp intake of breath when my gaze meets the immaculate angles and curves of his face. The strong, smooth brow that can signal anger, amusement, or desire with only the slightest shift—the high, elegant cheekbones—the square chin and strong jaw—the sure, straight nose—the enticing, full lips. He stands before me in offering, his torso lean and bare. Displaying wide, strong shoulders, and finely drawn abs that narrow into slinky, trim hips where a pair of faded, old jeans dip precariously low.
He reaches toward me, lifts a hand to my face. Brushing his fingers around the curve of my jaw, he bestows me with a look that’s meant to assure that he’s in on it too. Wise to the potential for danger ahead, but determined to enjoy this scene until another one shifts into its place, we head for the other side of the forest and wade into the misty, swirling waters of the Enchanted Spring. Both of us all too aware this is where the dream takes a turn, yet, pawns that we are, we merge toward each other, unable to veer from the script.
Dace’s fingers glide over my flesh, leaving ripples of warmth in their path, as his lips press urgently against mine. His kiss so bewitching, it renders me breathless, drunk with his touch, yearning for more.
He works the slim straps of my dress, pushing the fabric down past my shoulders, my waist, until I stand bared before him. Then he dips his head low and brings his mouth to my breasts. The feel of his tongue teasing my flesh, causing my legs to grow weak, my spine to yield. The two of us caught in the grips of the sweet, glorious pleasure of being together, until he lifts his chin and says, “It is time.” His eyes are burning, deep, and fixed right on mine.
Quick to agree, I nod in reply. Sensing the truth behind the words, though I’ve no idea what they mean.
“There is no going back. You are meant to be mine.”
Why would I want to do that?
I was born to find him—of that I am sure.
I move past my thoughts and pull him back to me. My lips swelling, pressing, only to find Dace is no longer before me—someone else has taken his place.
Someone who bears the same strong, lean body—the same sculpted face. And while the eyes share the same color, flecked by brilliant bands of gold, the similarity ends there.
These eyes are cold. Cruel.
And instead of reflecting, they absorb like the void I sense them to be.
My sworn enemy. Dace’s identical twin.
The one I was born to kill. If he doesn’t get to me first.
I yank hard at my dress in a desperate bid to cover myself, as I shove a hand to his chest and struggle to push him away. But he’s unfeasibly strong and remains right in place.
“Where’d he go? What’d you do?” My gaze darts all around.
My question met with a tilt of his head, a quirk of his brow, and an absurdly muttered, “Who?”
“Dace! Where is he? What have you done?” The words ring high-pitched and shrieky, though they’re no match for the frantic pounding of blood rushing my ears, my heart pummeling my rib cage.
“I am Dace.” He smiles. “And Dace is me. We are one and the same. I thought you knew that by now?” He grins, and I watch in horror as his face morphs to resemble Dace’s before returning to his own sinister visage. Transmuting back and forth, over and over as I slam a fist against his shoulder, fight to break free.
This is not how the dream goes.
I don’t like this new ending.
“The light and the dark. The yin and the yang. The negative and the positive. We are connected, bound in mystical ways. One cannot exist without the other. As you already know.”
“You may be connected, but you’re not the same. Dace is nothing like you! You’re a demon—a trickster—a—” His face morphs back to Cade, and I finally break free. Desperate to find my way to dry land, only to discover the landscape has changed.
The Enchanted Spring has morphed into a steep, narrow mesa jutting out of the earth.
Before me lies an endless abyss. Behind me stands Cade.
Preferring to die on my own terms, my own way, I inch forward until my toes clear the edge.
“Daire, please. No more games. No more running away,” he pleads.
I gather my dress in my hands, only to find it changed too. No longer the white gown I wore in the Upperworld, this gown is a deep, sunset red, with swirling skirts, an open back, and a deeply plunging neckline.
Without hesitation, I lift my arms to either side and teeter precariously. Allowing the wind to catch me, render me floaty and weightless as I drift through the ether as light as a raven feather.
A glorious sensation I desperately try to prolong— though the effect is short-lived when Cade grasps the back of my gown and hauls me back to him.
Circling an arm at my waist, he clutches me tightly, and says, “Stop fighting me. Like it or not, this is your destiny. It’s time we finally do this.”
I try to respond, but my voice is on mute.
Try to shirk from his touch, but I’m frozen in place. Caught in the endless abyss of his gaze, I am helpless, his to command.
Watching as he lifts my hand before me and slides a brilliant blue tourmaline ring onto my finger.
I wake to the sound of screaming.
The sound of screaming and someone pounding hard on my chest.
I bolt upright, flip on the bedside lamp, and catch Daire by the wrist before she can wail on me again.
“Daire—” I whisper her name, fight to still her body, her breath. Ease her away from the darkness of nightmares and back to the light of consciousness again.
Her lids snap open, and when she sees me, she starts swinging with renewed ferocity.
“Daire—it’s me! Stop it—you’re safe—you’re okay.”
She rears back, yanks her hands from mine, and flicks on her lamp. Her breath hectic, pulse racing, she pulls her knees to her chin and watches me with a deep wary gaze.
I remain on my side. Try to give her some space. Time to wrestle her way out of whatever twisted dream has left her in such a scared state.
“How can I know for sure it’s you with your hair like that?” She glares, pulls a grim face, causing me to run a self-conscious hand through my newly shorn locks. “How can I be sure you’re not Cade?”
“You serious?” I flinch at her words. Scold myself not to feel hurt. It’s a mistake a lot of people have made since I got my new look. Still, I never expected that from her. Right from the start, she was able to determine what only few could see—it’s the eyes that define the real difference between Cade and me.
I inch toward her slowly, taking great pains not to alarm her, I angle my face toward the light so she can better see my face, my eyes. Allowing a few beats to pass before she heaves a deep sigh and relaxes her stance.
“Care to talk about it?” I risk a quick glance at the clock and stifle a yawn. Noting the small hand on the two, the big on the five. No wonder it’s still dark out.
“No.” She slips down the mattress, props her head on a pillow, and sprawls her bare legs before her. “I mean, maybe. Yeah.” She sneaks a look at me. “You sure you’re not too tired?”
I shake my head, rub a hand over my chin in place of the white lie I choose not to verbalize.
“Well, in a nutshell, I had the dream.” Her shoulders sink when she says it, as though releasing a very great burden.
I nod, having figured as much. No stranger to the dream, I know firsthand how disturbing it is to watch my brother kill Daire while I helplessly look on. That dreadful image has a way of lingering well into the waking state— haunting me for days.
Only in Daire’s dream, she watches me die at Cade’s hand.
Though from everything she’s told me, the effect is the same.
Either way, there’s no denying the overall message screams loud and clear: Daire and I maybe fated—but we’re fated to end. Still, no matter how insistent, I refuse to believe it. Refuse to give it any real weight.
Whether it’s some kind of prophecy—or Cade’s twisted machinations invading our sleep—I can’t say for sure.
What I do know is that the things we most fiercely believe in have a way of coming true.
And so I choose to believe in us.
Believe in a future that is ours for the making.
After losing my soul, and nearly losing Daire as well, just six months earlier, I know how empty my world is without her. Never again will I allow myself to doubt the rightness of the two of us together.
I will do anything to be with this girl.
I rest a hand on her shoulder, gather a lock of her soft, silky hair between two of my fingers. Quick to remind her that we already lived the dream last Christmas Eve when we watched it play out in real time. Cade killed her, and having discovered that Cade and I are connected—that if he goes, I go—if he lives, I live—I slammed the athame into my gut in an attempt to set things right once again.
Only, it didn’t quite go as planned . . .
“But this dream had a new ending.” She averts her gaze, pulls her shoulders in, causing my hand to drop to my side as I brace for what’s next. “He . . .” She makes a face, licks her lips, and starts again. “His face switched between yours and his, and then, when it settled on his, he forced a ring onto my finger.”
I flinch, unsure what to say. So I stare at the peeling, bubbled paint on the far wall and opt for silence instead.
But when she huffs under her breath, when her gaze bores into my cheek, I know she’s waiting for me to respond. To say something reassuring. Convince her it’s not as bad as she thinks.
Being a guy who works better with details and facts, I blurt the first thing that springs into my head. “Are you saying he proposed? Like—down on his knees asking for your hand?” Instantly aware that I said the wrong thing when I see the look that she shoots me.
Her jaw set, arms crossed in defiance over her chest, she tilts her chin and says, “No knees. Just a ring. A big, shiny, blue tourmaline practically the size of a boulder.” She lifts her hand, glares hard at her ring finger, as though half-expecting to find it still there.
“So he wanted to marry you, or claim your soul?
“Where Cade’s concerned, I’m sure it’s one and the same.”
I nod. Allowing a few beats to pass before I say, “Okay, so where do I fit in?”
She slews her gaze toward me.
“Well, from the way you’ve pretty much staked your claim on your side of the bed, I’m guessing the dream version of me did something bad. And, well, whatever it was, I apologize. Had I actually been there, I would’ve reacted differently, I assure you.”
She shakes her head, pushes her hair from her eyes. “It’s just—well, first you and I were kissing, you know, like the dream goes . . . but then, the next thing I knew, Cade had taken your place, and—”
“Sounds like the usual script to me,” I cut in, but again, I’ve said the wrong thing.
“Hardly.” She mumbles a few unintelligible words under her breath. And while she doesn’t quite roll her eyes, by the way her cheeks tense, I know that she wants to. “Anyway—” She sighs, forces herself to move on. “When I asked what happened to you—he said you were one and the same. That there was no distinction, no difference, no divide. That you are bound—couldn’t exist apart from each other—”
I lean against the pillows, go back to staring at the ugly far wall. Trying to keep the edge from my voice, but coming nowhere close to succeeding. “And since no one’s seen Cade since the Rabbit Hole blew up six months ago on New Year’s Eve—and since not long after that climactic event I decided to chop off my hair, which is still much longer than his, but hey, a minor detail we shouldn’t get caught up in, you actually think I might be Cade pretending to be me.” I shake my head, but like Daire, stop short of rolling my eyes.
My brother is despicable. Evil.
My brother is solely responsible for killing her grandmother.
And yet, she’s confusing me with him?
“You honestly think I got some crazy, mirrored contact lenses so my eyes would reflect in the way you’ve come to expect? You honestly can’t tell that when I say I love you I am speaking from the very deepest part of me? You honestly can’t tell by the way I touch you, look at you, that you are absolutely everything to me?”
“Dace—” She rolls toward me, places her hand over mine, and looks at me with those astonishing emerald- green eyes. “I’m sorry I said it. Truly, I am. It was stupid, and paranoid, and completely nonsensical, and pretty much the opposite of how a good, responsible Seeker is supposed to react in times of great stress. It’s just that . . .” She swallows, lifts her shoulders, and goes on to add, “Sometimes, I can’t help but think that I’m missing something. Some terribly obvious clue that’s staring right at me. And then, when I had the dream and I woke up next to you . . . well, for that split second I thought—”
“You thought I might be the clue. You thought you were sleeping with the enemy.” The moment I take in her face, the fight seeps right out of me. She’s scared. Uncertain. Her burdens are great. And ever since Paloma passed she’s felt alone in the world. It’s my job to love and support her. It’s my job to provide strength when she needs it. I wrap my arms around her, encouraging her to inch closer as she closes her eyes and buries her face in my chest. “You haven’t missed anything,” I whisper the words into her soft silky hair. Drop a long string of kisses along the top of her head.
She pulls away ever so slightly and gazes at me with eyes that betray the depths of her anxiety. “But I have.” She nods fervently. “I’m absolutely sure of it. No way can things truly be as peaceful as they might seem on the surface.”
“Don’t we deserve a little peace?” I pull her back to me, deluding myself into thinking that if I can just hug her enough, love her enough, I can vanquish her fears.
“This is Enchantment.” The sound that follows is the closest thing to a laugh that I’ve heard from her in a while. “Since when does anyone get what they deserve?” She mumbles that last part into my chest, peering up at me to see how I react.
I crack a smile, hoping she’ll crack one too. But the moment is lost, and in the span of a breath she’s off and running again.
“I’ve gone over it countless times.” She pushes into a sitting position. “And I’ve absolutely no doubt Cade killed Paloma via that cursed tourmaline I unwittingly gave her. I’ve researched it a good bit, and it’s not nearly as whacked as it seems. Crystals and gems emit energy. Everything, at its very essence, is comprised of energy. And, while energy never dies, it can be altered, transformed, and in the wrong hands a gem can be cursed with a hook that connects the recipient to the giver. Allowing them to either control the receiver’s soul, claim the receiver’s soul, or end the receiver’s soul—depending on the intention.”
The words leave me as cold as they did the first time I heard them. Though I’m not sure why she sees fit to repeat them, unless she’s in search of reassurance, which I’m more than happy to provide. “I don’t doubt you, Daire. Heck, Leftfoot, Chepi, and Chay have already confirmed it.”
She lowers her gaze to her legs and flexes her calves, causing the long, taut muscles lining the front of her thighs, the result of daily six-mile runs, to lift and swell in a way so enticing I’m forced to steer my gaze elsewhere.
“Thing is—if the elders are right, then how come everyone who attended the Rabbit Hole New Year’s Eve party left with a swag bag containing a tourmaline, and yet, not one of them is showing even the slightest sign of any ill effects?” She lifts her gaze to me, draws the sheet to her waist. “People are living like they’ve always lived. If anything, they’re living a little better. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Enchantment doesn’t seem quite as depressed and gray as it once did. The citizens aren’t as downcast. They step lighter, laugh more often and easily—”
“Maybe they’re just happy to live in a Richter-free town?
Maybe they’re thrilled that for the last six months, there hasn’t been a single sighting of Cade, Leandro, or Gabe? Don’t forget, you and I both watched Cade run into that smoldering building—maybe El Coyote is finally dead? Maybe Phyre and her crazy, snake-wrangling, doomsayer dad, Suriel, did us a favor?”
Though I wasn’t entirely convinced of what I just said, Daire is even quicker to dismiss it. “They’re not dead. Not even close.” She gives a firm shake of her head. “Don’t forget, Cade was in human form when he ran into that burning building. He was unable to shift into his demon self. Which means if he went, you’d be gone too.”
“But I’m still here, and I cut my hair, and now you’re suspicious.” I drop my chin to my chest, hardly able to believe I brought it full circle again. Still, now that it’s out there, we may as well clear this thing up so we’ll never have to revisit.
It never once occurred to me that a haircut could cause such a fuss. Had I known, had I even the slightest inkling of the kind of upset it would cause, I would’ve left it alone. Truth is, I’m not even sure what compelled me. I guess, ever since last New Year’s Eve, when I found myself overcome by a strange, all-consuming force that never quite made itself known (but that’s definitely responsible for saving my life), I’ve felt changed.
Altered at the deepest part of my core.
Like I was on my way to becoming someone else. Something else.
And ever since, the old me no longer rests quite as easily in my skin.
Since most transformations begin with the physical, I decided to start with my hair.
Hoping to surprise Daire, I went to Lita for help. And by the way she reacted, jumping up and down while squealing and clapping her hands, you would’ve thought I’d given her the winning lottery ticket. Turns out, the girl loves a makeover.
I’d barely broached the idea before she was dragging me into her car and racing toward her salon.
“We’re gonna lop off this crazy mop!” she announced, dragging me inside by the shirtsleeve and pushing me in front of her stylist, but not before adding, “Finally!”
Soon after they threw a robe on me, plunked me down in a chair for a wash and condition, and then into another chair for the cut. With Lita hovering nearby the whole time, shouting a list of detailed directions, as though she’d been planning this moment since the first day we met.
“You’ll need to cut at least five inches off the back,” she told the stylist. “Maybe even six.” She scrunched her nose at my offending looks, clucking her tongue against the inside of her cheek, and shaking her head in disgust. “Then add some layers around the face. And make sure you keep them long and soft and kind of messy-looking, so it appears like it’s meant to look tousled and natural since we both know he probably won’t ever brush it.” She chased that last part with a little laugh to soften the blow, leaving me to wonder once again what my former spirit guide, Axel, could possibly see in this girl.
“Oh—but not too short!” Lita squealed the second the stylist lifted her shears. “Whatever you do—do not make him look like his twin!”
I’m guessing the stylist was used to Lita’s demands, because she just smiled and nodded and went about the business of cutting my hair. And by the time she set down her scissors and I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t do anything but stare, as the stylist smiled, and Lita clapped her hands and cried, “Well, congratulations, Dace Whitefeather— you just took your first step toward cool.”
Though, unfortunately, Daire’s reaction wasn’t quite as appreciative. And while she didn’t quite mistake me for Cade (or at least not back then anyway), it took her some time to come around. Though from the way this is going, I guess she’s still not entirely on board.
“Dace—” Daire squirms toward me again and cups her palm to either side of my face. “I’m sorry. Truly. I didn’t mean it like that. Or, maybe I did—I don’t know. I just—I feel so off kilter. I can’t shake this sense of foreboding. This deep certainty that things aren’t quite what they seem. I’m convinced El Coyote is still out there, and Leandro and Cade are just biding their time, licking a few minor wounds, and laying low in an attempt to lure me into a state of complacency . . .”
“Only they’ll never succeed.” I place my hands over hers, and fold them between us. “Because you’re way ahead of them, Santos. Your guard is up, you’re alert to the signs, and if it turns out you’re right, when they come out swinging, you’ll be ready.”
“Will I?” She tilts her head, studying me with eyes gone red and glittery, while her bottom lip displays the tiniest hint of a quiver.
“Of course you will.” I pull her into my arms. Holding her tightly until her body begins to slacken and yield, and my breath rises and falls in tandem with hers.
With her daily runs and punishing workouts, her strict healthy diet that allows no room for even the smallest indulgence—with her incessant focus on learning Paloma’s craft and becoming the very best Seeker she can—I sometimes forget just how vulnerable she really is. But here, in my arms, with her skin so soft, and her heart beating gently next to mine, I’m awash in shame over what a fool I’ve just been.
None of this was ever about me. This entire discussion may have been triggered by the dream, and the certainly hideous memory of my brother forcing a ring onto her finger, but it was never about my hair.
Never about her mistaking me for Cade.
That was all just a smoke screen for what’s really bothering her.
She misses her grandmother.
She’s wracked with a mountain of grief she insists on keeping tightly in check.
And until she’s able to confront it head-on—it’s my job to provide comfort, along with a safe place to land in the middle of chaos.
I pull her closer until the matching gold keys we wear at our necks as a symbol of our love clink lightly together, as I whisper soft words in her ear. Reminding her that she’s not alone—we’re in this together. I will never, ever leave her.
“If Paloma was here she could help me see what I’m missing. She was tuned in to everything, never missed a sign. If my abuela was here, she would . . .” Daire chokes back a sob, shuts her eyes tightly against the deluge of tears she refuses to shed.
I bring my palms to her face and press my lips against hers. Whispering, “Hey there, green eyes, it’s going to be okay. Really, I’m here. I’ll always be here. We’ll get through this together. I promise . . .” Hushing her fears with my kiss, I go about distracting her the best way I can.
Excerpted from Horizon by Alyson Noel. Copyright © 2013 by Alyson Noel.
First published 2013 by Macmillan Children’s Books, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. Pan Macmillan, 20 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RR, Basingstoke and Oxford. Associated companies throughout the world: http://www.panmacmillan.com
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