Dawn of Plagues, an all-new must-read dystopian fantasy standalone novel from New York Times bestselling author Nicole Williams is available now!
Power ebbs and flows through the tides of history. Civilizations rise and fall in sync to society’s orbit. Humanity echoes the faults of its forebears, the future written by the past’s hand.
In the throes of man’s lust for domination, a young girl emerges from the cinders of war, forged in the fires of adversity, proved in the waters of fortitude. Surviving a plague conceived by nature and a genocide crafted by man, she will rise as both beacon to her persecuted people and blight to their oppressors. An army will assemble against her, while another breed of warrior will join her ranks.
She will inflict a reckoning on those who wielded war in the name of peace and spark redemption for those who suffered in the name of progress. She is one, representing all. She is all, occupying one.
She is plague, and her dawn is nigh.
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“You’re the little girl who’s been causing all kinds of mayhem both sides of the Palisade.” The Obsidian’s head tipped, an inverted triangle slanting at me from the hood’s angular shape.
Adrenaline pumped faster, flooding deeper. “Little boys wearing costumes should be careful of the stones they throw.”
A dark sound flooded through the filter of his mask—a laugh, I estimated. “Legionnaires are not revered for their mastery of caution.”
I pointed the end of my bane at the Obsidian. “Neither are Plagues.”
“Plagues.” The word grated into the still air, echoing around me. “Confused females who shave their heads, detach their wombs, pick up a weapon, and expect the world to suddenly view them as a force instead of a greenhouse for offspring.” Another laugh, oil smooth and razor sharp. “Stupid girl. You voluntarily sacrificed the single purpose that gave your life value.”
Fire burned in my veins. Disbelief heeded to anger, which then caved to wrath. Emotions were powerful, but I was stronger without them. Brandished as an accusation or justification, emotions were a handicap in battle.
Repressing the tangle of hindrances, I focused on nothing but the fight.
“Come a little closer.” Three digits extending, I curled them at the Obsidian, welcoming him. “Let me demonstrate what this stupid girl with a weapon is capable of.”
The Obsidian whisked nearer, robes lashing the floor. “Drop your weapon, and you’ll be shown leniency.”
My eyes narrowed. “Make you a deal. You manage to kill me? I’ll drop my weapon.”
“Don’t kill it,” the Obsidian commanded, indicating at the Grays. “The Sovereign wants this one taken alive.”
Before I could wonder what that meant, the swarm of Grays erupted into motion. All aimed my way.
I saw their strikes play in my mind, countered by mine, an instant before my bane made contact with the first Gray.
Two, eight, ten, four.
Jab, sweep, kick, strike.
The Grays carried a heft Ghostlings did not. My staff sounded as though it was striking tree trunks instead of flesh, my palms connecting with rock instead of wasting human flesh. They fought well—there was obvious skill and strength behind their attack—but they’d been trained to beat an inferior opponent, whereas Teacher had prepared us to defeat a superior one.
After I landed a downward strike that sent the tall Gray staggering back, my eyes cut to the Obsidian watching the fight as though it was a form of entertainment.
My leg whipped back, foot planting into the chest of a Gray, the butt of my staff jabbing the chest of the one charging straight ahead. An open-palm strike connected with the side of another’s mask, leaving a dent in the pliant metal surface. Winding my bane around, I executed an upward arching hit to the fourth Gray, then I took a half second to regain my footing and coiled for the next sequence of attacks.
The Grays’ chests were straining beneath their heavy robes, and the tall one was limping while the shoulder of the other was sagging more than when we started, thanks to my targeted strikes.
That was the reason one should never expose a weakness to one’s opponent; they would always use it against you. Whether that be a weakness in skill, body, or relationship, it wasn’t the strongest who left a battle the victor. It was whoever entered with the fewest weaknesses.
The short Gray collected himself first, flying at me in a way that suggested he was flustered, his grip on control unraveling. I drove my staff into his left shoulder, then wound it around and swept his feet out from beneath him. He collided with the floor in a flurry of fabric and thrashing.
As I turned to confront the Gray coming at me from behind, I sensed movement—too late.
My staff wound up locked around my throat when the Obsidian snapped me to him as ore to magnet. When I struggled, he drew the staff deeper into my throat. His hands were gloved, stationed on either side of mine gripping the bane, and were as massive as bear paws.
“You’ve played make believe long enough.” His voice was strained through his mask.
I replied by stomping his foot, but the soft leather sole of my boot was no match for the armor-mailed ones worn by the Legionnaires. I tried driving my heel through his kneecap next, but his leg swept wide before I could connect.
“Stop struggling and know when you are beat.”
The staff pressed deeper until I was choking, gasping for air that would not be received. My head swam from lack of oxygen. Pushing against my bane in an attempt to ease its pressure at my neck, I called on every reserve of strength until my eyes and arteries felt ready to burst from the effort. The bane shifted enough I could suck in a lungful of air, but my mind and body were spent from exertion and oxygen deprivation. My muscles felt like pools of silt and debris, my mind foggy.
“This is what happens when little girls aspire to big things.” The Obsidian was smiling; I heard it in his muffled voice. “It ends like this.”
Nicole Williams is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and young adult romance. Her books have been published by HarperTeen and Simon & Schuster in both domestic and foreign markets.
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