To be honest, we thought Ren’s story came to a definitive conclusion in The Lords of Night. And yet, despite her current condition, it seems as though Ren’s greatest trials are still to come.
Now if only she can find the nearest exit out of the underworld . . .
Ren had been to the underworld before, but never as a dead person.
And even though she was trapped in a blacker-than-black darkness, she guessed that’s where she had landed. First because that’s where the dearly departed go, and second because of the wretched smell—mold and vomit and rot all blended in a concoction of GROSS.
Ren felt like she’d just been put through a wood chipper, twice. But she wasn’t worried about the pain—she was fixated on the fact that she had just been stabbed with an arrow and was…dead.
As in adios, life.
No. She would never accept it. She was the queen of the Night Lords, a powerful shadow bruja. That had to mean something.
A small voice within her whispered, And what else?
Ren blinked into the darkness. The air was thick, hot, and near suffocating as she reached back to the moments before she keeled over. But there was nothing. Only fuzzy outlines of people, places, things. And her name: Renata Santiago.
She strained her memory hard—so hard she thought she might pop a blood vessel (if she still had any). A red light flared to life, and then it began to flash once, twice, three times, like a strobe. Ren’s eyes scanned the space that was no bigger than a small bedroom.
Whispers floated around her, a symphony of indecipherable voices. And then she saw shapes, shadows climbing the pitted walls.
She inched closer.
Webs. The walls were covered in them, thick and twisted, pulsating even though there wasn’t a single breeze in the little space.
Ren stepped back into the center of the room, wondering, hoping, praying that whatever giant spider had spun these webs was long gone.
Her worry was forgotten when broken images began to flicker across the web-covered walls, each flash a different memory filling her mind and heart. Voices, faces, fear, and denial—she saw and heard and felt it all as if she were experiencing each moment all over again.
She was a shadow bruja whose magic was descended from the Aztec Lords of Night. She was also a Maya godborn, the daughter of Pacific, the goddess of time. Ren’s heart twisted when she remembered Serena and the other four godborn teens who had plotted to overthrow the Maya gods, and the quest she had taken with her friend Marco to find and stop them. She saw how the journey had led them to her trusted amigo Ah-Puch, the Maya god of death. He had helped by introducing her to new allies like Montero, the Aztec hunter, and Edison, the demon boy who had been raised in the underworld. Together, they had discovered that the rogue godborns (aka the cinco) intended to wake the Aztec Lords of Night, all because Serena had believed she was prophesied to be queen.
Ren felt a dark stab in her chest.
I am the queen.
The cobwebs shuddered. New images played, and Ren saw herself as she was before. Before she knew the truth about the origins of her shadow magic, before she was crowned queen. She didn’t like that previous version of herself, the weak, pathetic version with an open and ready heart that had worn a giant sign saying SUCKER.
But then the lords chose Ren. She was consumed by their darkness; it had strengthened her and made her whole. Ren clenched her teeth. Even as powerful as I was, did it really matter? In the end, I was still struck down.
The red lights continued to flash as Ren searched for a way out, a way back to the lords.
Somewhere between her thoughts of power and death, she heard the hissing.
She wasn’t alone in here.
In the split second it took her to realize this dismal fact, a burning pain slashed across her forearm. And then another.
Ren cried out and reached for her shadows. They gathered, writhed, and churned all around her, but they felt cold and distant—outside of herself for the first time. She willed them to take the shape of a giant scorpion, a dragon, a sharp blade, but they didn’t respond.
Seething, she remembered that all this was the god of death’s fault. He was the one who’d given the command to release the arrow with enough magic to kill the most powerful godborn and shadow bruja on the planet. But why would someone who had been her friend want to kill her? That part was still fuzzy.
Ren cursed herself for not seeing Ah-Puch’s impending betrayal. But no matter. She would break free of whatever hellscape she was currently in and get her revenge on the god. And oh, how he would suffer.
Click, click, click.
Ren felt another painful slash, this time across her cheek, but whatever was ripping open her skin was too fast to see. Then, just as she threw up her hands in a protective stance, she remembered her time rope. It could destroy any monster in the universe! Ren grasped at her throat, where she wore the magic item as a necklace . . .
But it was gone!
She reached for it again and again, refusing to believe it wasn’t there.
“No!” she cried.
The rope had been a gift from Pacific; it could never be stolen, only given freely. And Ren would never ever give it away.
The razor-sharp cuts kept coming, from the left and right, from above and below. The red strobe kept pulsing, the webs kept vibrating. Ren ducked, bobbed, and weaved with tremendous agility, but that wasn’t enough to prevent her tormentor from slicing her arms, hands, and neck. And though she didn’t bleed, she still felt the agonizing pain of each laceration.
I officially hate being dead.
Want to see if Ren can rejoin the land of the living in time to stop the Night Lords once and for all? Be sure to pick up Dawn of the Jaguar: A Shadow Bruja Novel, from New York Times best-selling author J.C. Cervantes, on sale now!