Incarnate

Incarnate

by Anton Strout

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Overview

HITTING ROCK BOTTOM

When Alexandra Belarus discovered her family’s secret ability to breathe life into stone, she uncovered an entire world of magic hidden within New York City—a world she has accidentally thrown into chaos. A spell gone awry has set thousands of gargoyles loose upon Manhattan, and it’s up to Lexi and her faithful protector, Stanis, to put things right.

But the stress of saving the city is casting a pall over Lexi and Stanis’s relationship, driving them to work separately to solve the problem. As Stanis struggles to unite the gargoyle population, Lexi forges unlikely alliances with witches, alchemists and New York’s Finest to quell an unsettling uprising led by an ancient and deadly foe long thought vanquished.

To save her city, Lexi must wield more power than ever before with the added hope of recovering a mysterious artifact that could change her world—and bring her closer to Stanis than she ever thought possible…

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425273555
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/30/2014
Series: A Spellmason Chronicle Series , #3
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,071,519
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Anton Strout is the author of the Spellmason Chronicles, including Stonecast and Alchemystic, and the Simon Canderous series including Dead WatersDead Matter, Deader Still, and Dead to Me. He was born in the Berkshire Hills mere miles from writing heavyweights Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville. He currently lives in historic Jackson Heights, New York (where nothing paranormal ever really happens, he assures you). In his scant spare time, he is an always writer, a sometimes actor, sometimes musician, occasional RPGer, and the world's most casual and controller-smashing video gamer. He currently works in the exciting world of publishing and yes, it is as glamorous as it sounds.

Read an Excerpt

Acknowledgments

One

“You know, online, the visitors’ guide said ‘Fort Tryon Park on Manhattan’s Upper West Side was a sight worth taking in,’” Aurora “Rory” Torres said as she trudged up the slippery slope of the dark, tree-covered hill, soaked to the bone from the rain. “I gotta say I’m not feeling it.”

Rory brushed her wet blue bangs off her forehead and back underneath the lip of her coat’s hood, revealing her hesitant eyes. Mercifully, Rory was sans glasses tonight, having wisely chosen to go with contacts instead. I didn’t need my backup stopping to wipe her specs clean every five seconds.

I searched ahead for any sign of movement as we worked our way up, making sure there was no activity before answering her.

“I doubt they were writing about gargoyle hunting at three a.m.,” I said, checking the time again on my phone. “Speaking of which, where the hell is our gargoyle? Stanis always monitors the police scanner. He would have caught the reports of gargoyle activity up here near the park.”

“How could he pass up a fun night like this!” Rory said, spinning around in the rain.

“Especially during one of the worst October weather fronts in years,” I added. “Still, a little bit of timeliness would be appreciated. He’s probably off flying around with her.”

Rory sighed. “Are we talking about Emily again?” she asked. “Really? I think it’s perfectly reasonable for Stanis to seek companionship among the gargoyle community he’s fighting to establish.”

“Still not happy with him no longer watching over the Belarus family exclusively,” I said, conceding the point despite my green-eyed misgivings over his time with Emily. “Less so when he’s late, when it’s already late.”

“And on top of that, it’s Monday,” Rory added. “Never a good workday, whether it’s my dance classes at the conservatory or hunting New York City for rogue monsters.”

I couldn’t argue with my oldest friend.

The wind and rain whipped though the creeptastic graveyard we found ourselves approaching at the top of the park. Even the weatherproofing on my Burberry trench was no match for the storm tonight, the rain coming into my hood sideways as the wind whipped at my face.

I wiped the rain away from my eyes, my fingers coming away smeared with mascara like a Rorschach image.

“Great,” I said, holding my hand out to show the only one brave enough to weather the weather with me tonight. “Tell me I don’t look like a panda.”

“You don’t look like a panda,” she said with zero conviction in her voice, then muttered, “Ling-Ling.”

There was something to be said about having a best friend since grade school. It meant I felt only a little bad about forcing her out on a night like tonight.

I rubbed the makeup off on the thigh of my already-soaked-through jeans. “Waterproof mascara, my ass.”

I shivered. The heat of summer had already gone with the passing of the Equinox weeks ago, but the chill in my bones had me once more longing for the dog days of summer. Hunting in this weather was miserable work at best. At worst it might be death by pneumonia for the two of us.

“You okay?” Rory asked, her voice full of concern.

I shook my head. “It’s been, what? Six months since we took down Stanis’s father and his stone cronies . . . ? If I’m not cleaning up the mess I made chasing down gargoyles, it’s the witches and warlocks of New York trying to take me down for making regular people aware of the existence of the arcane.”

Rory gave a weak smile. “On the plus side, no one’s tried to kill you in at least a week,” she said, ever the optimist. “That’s got to count for something.”

I wondered how long that would last, but I kept my mouth shut. Even I got sick of my misery these days. I centered myself, willing my body to stop shaking, and after a moment I was composed once more. “I’m fine,” I said. “Just wet, hungry, exhausted . . .”

Rory laid her hand on my shoulder, giving it a comforting squeeze. “So let’s call it a night, then.”

“No!” I growled, shrugging her hand off me so hard that I even surprised myself. “We can’t.”

Rory gave an exasperated sigh, drops of rain flying from her lips. “Yeah, Lexi, actually, we can. Go home, get some rest, have a hearty breakfast in the morning with milk and juice to make it complete . . . then we can pick this up tomorrow.”

“You go,” I said, snapping in my drowned-rat misery. “I’m staying. There’s one of them here. Police scanners said their helicopters spotted one earlier.”

Rory stood her ground, making no move to leave. After a long silence stretched between us, I turned from her, heading farther up the wooded path toward the lights of the Cloisters above. Sadly we weren’t on a mission to visit the abbey-turned-museum for its fine collection of art, tapestries, and artifacts. At best I might get to keep them from danger, and a skirmish might not prove the best time to try and take the sights in.

Even though Manhattan looked relatively flat, the burn in my legs climbing to the highest natural point in our fair city told a different story. As we approached the top of the hill, the tree line gave way to an open clearing where the main building of the Cloisters rose up in all its European medieval glory. This late in the evening, the parking lot off to the right of it was dead empty.

“Visiting hours are most definitely over,” Rory said, stopping at my side.

“Shh,” I hissed in a low whisper, even though I doubted anything could possibly hear us through the beating of this rain. “Nocturnal creatures don’t care about what passes for business hours. Besides, my guess is we’re tracking a Griever tonight.”

“Which kind is a Griever? Oh, should I look it up on Marshall’s cheat sheet?”

“Shh!” I said, grabbing Rory and dragging her back toward the safety of the shadowy tree line. “This one’s not rocket science. Look around; what do you see?”

Rory slipped her phone back into her pocket and stared off into the center of the clearing where the building stood. “I’m assuming the Cloisters.”

I rolled my eyes at her. “What else?”

She craned her head up to the one tall tower that rose above the rectangular abbey, but I pointed down.

“There’s a graveyard,” she said.

“Where people—or in this case a grotesque—might go to grieve,” I said. “Hence, Grievers. Trust me, that’s what we’re going to find here. I’ve spent more time than I care for in graveyards these past few months. Grievers can’t seem to get enough of their precious final human resting places.”

“Okay, fine,” she said, “but—”

I slapped my hand over her mouth to silence her, pointing to a dense cluster of tombstones along the side of the building. One of the shapes moved, and I followed it with the pointer of my free hand.

I studied the figure as close as I could from where we stood. What looked like one of the massive tombstones carved to resemble an angel was definitely moving. Its wings were spread to an impressive span, their finely detailed carving easily recognizable as the work of my great-great-grandfather, the last of the old-world Spellmasons, Alexander Belarus.

Rory dropped to her knees when she spied the figure, pulling off the art tube she always wore across her back. The three pieces of her glaive guisarme slid out of it, and Rory set about assembling the pieces, first connecting the two shafts and then attaching the bladed end piece of the pole arm.

By the time she stood and strapped the tube across her back again, I was advancing forward, pulling off my backpack to release the heavy stone book from within. Once free, I pressed my hand to the book’s carved cover and spoke the Slavic word for release, the book beneath my fingers transforming to one of ink and paper.

The bond between the arcane stone of the book and me was a strong one. Strong enough, apparently, that the stone angel felt it as well and rose up from the grave it stood before.

With its wings fluttering in agitation, the angel reached out to a nearby tombstone, tugged at it, and lifted it like it was made of papier-mâché.

“Incoming!” I shouted.

As it launched the grave marker in our direction, Rory dove to her right and I dropped right where I was to huddle protectively over my spell book.

The tombstone flew overhead and didn’t stop until I heard the snap of branches and tree trunks from somewhere off behind us.

“So much for immobilizing him first,” I said, scrambling to my feet.

“We’ve got a runner!” Rory shouted as she stood and the angel spread his wings, taking to the air. “I mean flyer!”

“Looks like we’re going with Plan B, then,” I said, picking up my backpack.

Rory just looked at me from under her wet, blue bangs. “We have a Plan B?!”

Ignoring her, I shoved my book back into my bag. “I’m sick of these things making a run for it,” I said, searching around until my fingers found what they were looking for. I pulled free a curved stone hook and a coil of rope with a steel-core cable running down the center of it, looping it through the eye of the hook before knotting it tight. I took the other end of the coil of rope and wrapped it around my waist twice before tying it securely.

“I might not have the lasso skills of a cowgirl,” I continued, forcing my arcane will into the stone of the hook, “but I can control masonry well enough.”

Rory’s eyes went wide as the realization of what I was about to do hit her. “Lexi, don’t!” she called out. “You’ll get yourself killed!”

“Better me than another innocent,” I said.

By then the gargoyle was rising up past the old abbey, gaining speed. Wrapping one hand around the stone hook and sliding the loose coil of rope into my other, I wound up like a pitcher and threw the hook with as much strength as I could.

I held my arcane will to that of the stone of the hook, all the while my eyes continuing to track the gargoyle. At the bending of my will, the hook corrected its course to catch up with the fleeing creature.

Thankfully, it seemed that since I had accidentally awakened this particular grotesque six months ago, it hadn’t spent much time practicing flight. The stone angel wobbled in the air unsteadily as it attempted to escape, allowing the speed of my hook to easily outpace it.

Still, I didn’t let my sense of pride in my mastery of it go to my head. Until I could actually ground the creature, the victory wasn’t mine.

I guided the stone hook past the angelic figure and then forced it into a sharp turn across the front of the creature’s legs, forming a midair trip wire. I snapped my wrist on the hand holding the rope, managing to loop the line securely around its legs. The thrill of pulling off what felt like such a genuine cowgirl move overcame me, and only then did I allow myself the tiniest amount of pride for the fanciness of rope skills.

Which, naturally, was my undoing.

The force of the fleeing creature—as bad a flyer as it was—was still substantial. The line in my hand tightened quick as a whip and before I could release it, my feet were already off the ground. Pain shot across my midsection as the rope encircling me went taut, and I flew into the air as Rory’s stunned face—and the ground—faded away below.

“Lexi!” Rory shouted, but already her voice was fading off far behind me.

My overall fatigue and this fresh series of aches filled me with the kind of wild fear that only an airborne magical creature dragging me across the night sky could. If it weren’t for the growing sensation that I was going to die, I almost would have enjoyed the perverse and deadly pleasure of the madcap carnival-quality ride.

Rain whipped across my face as I flew through the night sky, my vision clouding as its sting filled my eyes. My arms burned from my death-grip hold on the rope—falling wasn’t something I could afford to do with so many mistakes left to atone for.

I needed to gain control of this situation before this creature flew me out over the river or decided to smash me into the side of a building. The only thing going for me was my added weight throwing off the gargoyle’s flight, twisting the creature in a spiral as it adjusted to my being tethered to it.

Hoping to use that to my advantage, I swung myself like the world’s biggest pendulum, using my momentum to drive the creature away from the Hudson River and back toward the Cloisters itself.

My best bet was to aim for the high tower, driving the gargoyle toward it. I might be able to land myself on the lower roof of the surrounding abbey or drop down into its courtyard. If that didn’t work, my extended hope would be to land in one of the trees of the surrounding forest. At least then I could try to wrap the line around the trunk of a tree and use the leverage to ground the gargoyle.

The tower was coming up fast, and the creature noticed it and tried to steer away from the stone walls. It managed to spread its wings as far and wide as it could, which slowed its descent, allowing it time to readjust its course. Like an airplane doing a rollover, the gargoyle spun until it was on its side, one wing reaching straight to the heavens while the other one pointed down to the ground below.

What the hell was it doing? I wondered. The maneuver still put him on course to smash into the building . . . a panicked second of calculating its trajectory, and my heart sunk when I realized what was about to happen.

Three vertical stained glass windows were set into the side of the tower, coming up insanely fast. The creature smashed through the center panel first, the panes of glass exploding into the building, leaving plenty of jagged chunks that I was about to get dragged through as the rope pulled me after him.

I curled myself into a ball as small as I could and braced myself as I flew through the broken window, the jagged panes of glass catching my clothes. The snags and tears slowed my momentum some and I fell through the opening onto the interior of the tower’s floor, rolling until I was a tangled ball of flesh, blood, and rope, stopping only when I hit one of the transept walls of what looked like the nave of a church.

I wriggled myself out of the twist of rope and pushed myself up onto my hands and knees. The warm flow of fresh blood trickled harder down my left arm through one of the slashes in the sleeve of my coat. I poked at the spot, examining how serious the wound was while also, vainly, letting a moment of silence pass for my poor coat. I had loved my Burberry . . .

Before I could fully assess the damage to my body, the rope at my feet twitched to life and began to slip away from me. The now-grounded gargoyle writhed on the floor near the altar, the tangle of rope around him coming looser and looser with each thrash of his struggle to free himself.

When I tried to stand and chase after the rope, my knees buckled. I must have taken my landing harder than I realized. If I didn’t get the line back in my hands soon, this gargoyle was going to free himself. I’d be fighting this whirlwind of wings and stone in an enclosed space where the confinement was likely to put me in harm’s way, and that was the last thing I wanted.

The tinkling of glass behind me caught my attention and I turned. Rory stood in the frame of what had once been the stained glass window. Holding her bladed pole arm overhead, she dropped down into the room, the last remaining pieces of glass from the frame raining down behind her in a sparkling rainbow waterfall.

Back in front of me, the rope was quickly snaking farther away from me and I lunged for the line, barely catching the end of it with my left hand. The rope jerked with a burn across the skin on my fingers. I wrapped my legs around one of the columns within the old monastery, hoping to brace myself, but it was no use. They came free of the column and the line dragged me across the glass-covered stone of the floor toward the gargoyle, my body screaming with pain, but I refused to let go.

Luckily, not every spell I knew required free hands. I rushed out a power word for control toward the stone of the altar’s pulpit, managing to topple it over onto the creature with a press of my arcane will.

I finally ground to a halt on the floor of the nave, coming to rest with a final crunch of glass sounding beneath me. Rolling over with the rope still in my hand, I carefully placed my hands on clear sections of the floor and took my time as I righted my aching body. I stood up slowly, then took a deep breath before limping toward the altar.

Rory ran past me and pulled the rope free of my hand. She slammed one of her Doc Martens on the stones of what still remained of the pulpit and steadied herself as she leaned back to tug on the rope, throwing all her dancer’s strength into her flexed arms.

The slack in the line went taut. The gargoyle stirred, awakening, and a contest of strength began between the two of them. Rory held strong and advanced on the creature, securing the rope around him with several additional loops of it.

“Thanks,” I said, brushing glass and debris off of my bloody coat.

“My pleasure,” she said, handing me the rope before going back across the room to reclaim her pole arm. “He’s all yours.”

I walked to the gargoyle that lay on the floor, still struggling against the ropes.

I had to talk fast. Even restrained, it would take only a minute or two until the gargoyle would eventually figure out it could break its bonds using its preternatural strength.

“Easy, now,” I said, following it by the whisper of an arcane Slavic word that reached out to the stone of his angelic form. Now that he was actually grounded and captive, it was easier to make that influencing connection, and I felt my will wash over him. I pressed one of my boots down on his chest. At the same time, I reached out with my power and raised one of the heavy broken blocks of the pulpit, hovering it over the creature’s head.

“If you’ve got anything more than rocks in your brain, you’ll stay down,” I continued, finally taking in the damage to my torn and bloody coat. My face filled with a grim and manic smile. “You might look like an angel, but after what you’ve done to my jacket? You’re about to bring out the devil in me.”

Two

As I flew over the wooded land along this Manhattan section of the Hudson River, my ears filled with a gentle laughter that reminded me of the chimes humans often left outside to catch the wind.

“Have you never been to the Cloisters?” my female companion in flight said.

I arced up into the air as we approached the ancient abbey, ceasing my flight as I set my batlike wings into short, rapid strokes allowing me to hover in place.

“I have been here much longer than the structure below us, Emily,” I said.

My fellow grotesque attempted the same maneuver I had just completed, but instead turned too sharply and collided with me. The serpentine features of her face—half human and half snake, with yellow marble skin—were a stark contrast to the gray of my chiseled stone and demonic features. I held her until her own wings—far more dragonlike than mine—fell into the same rhythm as my bat ones before holding her out away from me at arm’s length.

“I’m sorry,” she said, her face full of embarrassment.

“I do have several centuries of practice on you,” I said with a smile. “For a grotesque with only six months’ practice, you have excellent prowess with it.”

Keeping her hands in mine, I began our descent. This seemed to release her from her embarrassment and she looked down to the building below.

“You’re older than this monastery?” she asked.

I nodded. “Yes,” I said, “but in truth, I do not believe it actually is a monastery.”

“Oh, no?”

“For the first century of my existence, the lush park you see surrounding the building went untouched. However, in my subsequent centuries of watching over Manhattan, I have come to learn that change is inevitable. The area I had come to know as Fort Tryon Park was not immune to this way of the city. Nearly a century ago I watched human workers laboring late into the night as five of the greatest cloistered abbeys of Europe were reconstructed here stone by stone. But I do not believe it was ever intended to be of monastic use, but to serve as a museum dedicated to medieval Europe.”

Emily smiled, her fangs showing. “For someone who spent centuries with very little human interaction, you are remarkably well versed in such matters,” she said.

“I am a good listener,” I said, “and have long had a fascination with the place as an architectural wonder of Manhattan. For years, I did not know why, but since discovering who I am and where I come from, I can see why. I missed my home.”

“But aren’t medieval times well before your time?” she asked.

“Not by much,” I said. “In my time, Europe was already old and the world slower to change. This building reminds me of my father’s Belarusian kingdom in Kobryn. It belonged to Lithuania back then, but despite the iron fist my father, Kejetan, ruled with—Kejetan the Accursed, they called him—despite that, I can still recall the architecture of my human boyhood with some fondness. There was still innocence in me, long before my father accidentally struck me down when he took the crude but immortal stone form he forced from Alexander Belarus in his mad quest for power . . .”

The pain of the day he broke my human form flooded my stone body and I fell silent. Emily squeezed my hand in hers.

“But you are here today,” she said. “With me, helping others . . .”

“I have Alexander Belarus to thank for that,” I said. “Teaching me had been his one true joy when my father forced him into servitude. It would have killed Alexander to see me die in such a way. His arcane knowledge set me to this stone form, and I am forever grateful for it, if only for the sake of being able to contend with the likes of my father and his kind. May they rest, but not in peace.”

Descending, the two of us passed down along the side of the tower, the figures of Alexandra Belarus and the blue-haired Aurora Torres catching my eye over by the entrance to the building. Behind them, ropes ran back through the doors leading in, the two of them straining with the effort of pulling something out of the building.

When Emily and I landed, we walked to them and I grabbed the ropes.

“Allow me,” I said, giving one hard pull. Alexandra and Aurora stumbled out of the way as the burden they had been dragging shot out the doors, a writhing winged figure coming to rest at my feet.

“An angel,” Emily said, leaning over to look at the figure.

The rope had pinned the figure’s wings to its back, but there was no mistaking the iconic look or art style of one of Alexander Belarus’s statues come to life.

“You couldn’t have gotten here a little faster?” Alexandra said, the sharpness of her tone catching me off guard as she looked first to me and then to Emily. “Good to have the gargoyle—sorry, grotesque—back up, though.”

Alexandra went out of her way in my presence to use the archaic French term I preferred when referring to my kind, but to hear her first use the vulgar form threw me. I stood there, unsure of how to respond for a moment. “Despite the police scanner you had Marshall install at Sanctuary, this island of Manhattan is a larger area to cover than you think,” I reminded her. “And it would be easier on me if you would perhaps be a little less . . . diligent in your pursuits.”

“I’m sorry,” Alexandra said. “Am I wearing you out?”

“We cannot be worn out, save by the transformative light of day,” I reminded her. “We do not require sleep.”

This answer did not seem to satisfy Alexandra, as she shook her head and smiled, but unsure as I was how to respond, I looked to Aurora for guidance.

“Hello, Stanis,” the blue-haired woman said. “Don’t mind her. Someone’s just a little overly ambitious, sleep deprived, and a wee bit sensitive.”

Alexandra did not respond with words, but the glare in her eyes at her oldest friend was enough to silence Aurora.

“Then forgive our lateness,” I said. “I will handle this creature.”

Alexandra and Aurora stepped out of the way, and I turned my attention to the prone figure at my feet. The angel looked more like a statue right now as it lay there unmoving. I tugged at the ropes to rouse it.

I waited for the creature’s snarl, the gnash of its teeth or an attempted swipe of its claws, but I was not prepared for the look of fear and confusion in its face.

“Do not hurt me,” a male voice cried out from the angel’s lips.

“Hurt you?” Alexandra said, laughing. “You’ve been the hostile one! You threw a gravestone at us, remember?”

The creature looked from her to Aurora, gesturing with the little movement he had in his bound hands toward the pole arm she held. “She showed up brandishing one of those . . . those . . . things.”

His wings twitched, an involuntary telltale sign of nerves that I spent much of my time trying to suppress in my own.

I allowed myself to relax, turning to my human friends. “This creature was not going to rip you apart,” I said, then turned back to the angel. “Neither my friends nor I are here to hurt you.”

“I don’t think you can hurt me,” he said. His words came out full of fury and confusion despite the angel being prone.

Emily cocked her head at him. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“Look at me,” he snarled, a sadness in his words. He pulled one of his arms free from the ropes and slammed his stone fist against his chest.

“Don’t be too sure about not being able to die,” Aurora said, sounding both offended and a bit prideful. She tapped the bladed end of her pole arm against the angel’s chest. “We’re pretty resourceful.”

The grotesque’s face seemed uncertain, but he turned his attention to me instead, some of the fight going out of him. “What are you? What am I?”

“We will get to that,” I said, kneeling down close to his face and lowering my voice, “but for now why do not you tell me who you are and what you remember.”

“I do not understand,” he said. “This . . . this isn’t right. I saw my own gravestone. I should be dead. I should be in Heaven, not here as some cruel mockery of a Heavenly creature!”

I looked up at Alexandra, raising my voice once more. “Have you not done as we agreed?” I asked her.

She shook her head.

“You scold me for the lateness of our arrival,” I said, “yet you have not taken care of your end of dealing with those you find of my kind who are in need of Sanctuary . . .”

“He threw a gravestone at us,” she growled back at me. “With that kind of behavior I didn’t think he was a likely candidate, okay? I chalked him up as one of the bad ones.”

“So it would appear,” I said, standing. “Do feel free to do your part now.”

Alexandra sighed, but knelt down next to the angelic form.

“Easy,” she said, laying her hand on his chest. “What’s your name?”

“Jonathan,” he said, calming a bit.

“Listen, Jonathan, I can appreciate your frustration here . . .”

“I doubt you can,” he said with some bitterness to his words. “You’re human still.”

“I can,” she insisted, trying to keep her composure. “I’m just dealing with a whole city full of your kind right now. It’s a bit much.”

“I don’t care about those others,” he said. “What I care about is how I’ve been forsaken after pledging myself to His service.”

“What were you in life?” I asked him.

“He came here to grieve,” Alexandra said. “And he threw what I think was his tombstone at us, so I’m guessing there’s a connection to the Cloisters.”

“Stanis,” Emily said. “I thought you said they moved several abbeys here. They moved the graves as well?”

“I can answer,” Alexandra said after I had been silent for a moment too long. “New York architecture is kinda my thing. Some of the spiritual ties to the abbeys used for this project were strong. It was a sign of reverence and respect for the deceased who were chosen to rest here.” She turned back to the angel. “Go ahead. Who were you?”

Off in the distance the sounds of sirens cried out into the night, growing louder with each passing moment.

“I served the Lord,” Jonathan said. “I was a man of God. A monk. I remember dying long ago. What a joke it is that I am now stuck in this form which so viciously reminds me that while I may look like an angel, I am no closer to His Kingdom than I was in life.”

Alexandra fell silent beside him, her head lowering and her eyes slowly falling shut. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m to blame for that.”

The angel looked up at her, confused. “What?”

“I’m to blame,” she repeated, with conviction and hatred in her words this time.

“How is that possible?” he asked. “Who are you?”

Alexandra took a deep breath. “I am Alexandra Belarus,” she said. “And I am your maker. I’m responsible for this. Thanks to the magic practiced by older generations of my family—Spellmasonry—I accidentally drew you and others like you into these forms. Now Manhattan’s got so much grotesque activity, it’s made the news every night since my spell went awry. All of this running around is me trying to clean up a situation that’s already gone way too public.”

The angel’s face filled with horror. “So you drew me out of Heaven and trapped me here?” he asked in shock.

“I do not believe so,” I answered. “After talking with many of our stone kind, I believe we are inhabited by disquieted spirits that have been unable for reasons I do not know to pass on to the afterlife.”

Red and blue lights flashed through the forest all around the Cloisters from the roads leading up to it.

Alexandra stood back up and looked to me.

“That’s the CliffsNotes version,” she said. “Satisfied? Now, Stanis, if you’ll do your part. Rory and I have to go. Like, now.”

“You’re hurt,” Emily said, pointing to the large amount of blood I had failed to notice along Alexandra’s left arm.

“I’m fine,” Alexandra said. “Not your problem.”

“We really should be going,” Aurora said, grabbing Alexandra by her good arm and starting for the forest.

I watched the two of them run for the tree line through intermittent flashes of red and blue light.

“We can discuss the alarming rate at which you are handing over these newly captured grotesques to me at a later date,” I called out after her. “Unlike your . . . CliffsNotes version, you called it? The way of the grotesque takes time when we bring an initiate to our ways.”

“Your ways?” the angel asked, looking up at me from the ground where he still lay.

“You will learn soon enough,” I said, “but trust me now when I say the time it takes is both for your protection and that of those around you.”

The bright white of headlights lit up the three of us as a male and female officer jumped free of the car, running toward us.

“Maron!” the female officer called out, her red hair pulled back and swaying wildly as she ran. “By the doors!”

“I see them, Rowland,” the man said, pulling a gun free from the jacket of his suit as he ran toward us.

“NYPD!” the woman shouted, pulling a gun of her own. “Freeze or we will open fire.”

The man slowed and raised his gun, waiting for the woman to join him. “Think guns will actually work?” he asked her, uncertain.

Emily and I did not want to be around to find out. I handed one of the ropes to Emily and secured the other in mine, leaping into the air. The added weight of the still-tied angel made it difficult to fly, but with Emily and I splitting the load, we still managed to shoot up past the tower and into the night sky before the two detectives could open fire.

“I do not understand,” I said to Emily once we were in full flight with our newly acquired grotesque in tow.

“What exactly?” she asked.

“That is not the Alexandra Belarus I know,” I said, troubled. “With my father and his men vanquished . . . with his threat eliminated, I would expect the Spellmason to be more at peace . . . yet to see her like this . . .”

“We all have our issues that lie beneath the surface of what others see,” Emily said. “I can only imagine hers run deep.”

Was it seeing me with Emily that had put Alexandra in such a mood? It was the only thing I could imagine, although Alexandra had no right to judge whom I chose as my companion. After all, the Spellmason had made her choice when she had chosen the alchemist Caleb Kennedy. Or rather, when I had stepped back to allow the like companionship that his human form offered her.

Tonight was full of questions, not all of them mine.

“Where are we going?” the angel asked, confusion thick in his voice as he dangled between the two of us high above the Manhattan streets.

“Sanctuary,” I said, and fell silent as I flew on and tried to make sense in my head of the woman I had once been sworn to protect and had watched over my whole life.

Three

While Rory and I had been playing the Winchester sisters all evening skulking after the gargoyle population of Manhattan, her roommate and my friend Marshall Blackmoore had been working, too, but as we approached his store, Roll for Initiative, it became clear who had fared better.

In the reflection of the store’s display windows, the two of us looked worse than the zombie action figures posed just on the other side of the glass. With her blue hair plastered to her head despite the hood she had been wearing, Rory looked like a drowned Cookie Monster. My eyes were sunk far enough into my head from exhaustion that I almost wished someone would shoot me in the head after mistaking me for the first sign of the zombie apocalypse.

Marshall, comparatively, just looked busy behind the cash desk at the front of his store. The worst thing he probably endured tonight was a paper cut from flipping through the pile of books he had spread out before him. Still, he had his hands full there. For this late at night there were a considerable number of customers wandering the store.

Not surprisingly, when we entered the store as wet as two drowned rats, we turned a few heads among Marshall’s nerd herd.

Marshall looked up and did a double take when he saw us staggering in.

“You two look like hell,” he said, nervously running his fingers through his mop of black hair. “You okay?” His eyes darted to the back of the store, then back to us.

“We’re okay,” I said. “Ish. Are you?”

His kind brown eyes came quickly back to us, and he nodded.

“We could have used you,” Rory said, reaching into her pocket and fishing out the crumple of notes from the evening.

Marshall turned his eyes back to his books on the counter. “There’s only so much time in my day,” he said, tapping the books in front of him. “I can’t stay up all night chasing grotesques down. Someone’s got to catalog them, and I’m lucky I have the time to do that, on top of running my store . . .”

“Well, you really should have come with tonight,” Rory said. “You know how hard it was for me to take notes by moonlight, in the rain, in the middle of Fort Tryon Park?”

“I appreciate the effort,” he said, “but I just couldn’t get away.”

I looked back through the store’s racks and shelves, further examining the crowd I had only given a cursory glance to upon entering. Each of them looked a bit like the types of people I saw dressed up on their way over to the Javits Center for the annual Comic Con.

“I’m sorry; are we keeping you from something?” I asked.

Rory took note of the crowd. “Is this one of your live action role-playing thingies?”

Marshall blushed, holding his hand out to Rory.

“Something like that,” he said. “I’m sure you two did fine without me. I’ve just got a lot going on with the store.”

“Who knew gaming could be such work?” Rory asked. She stepped up to the counter and threw down the notes she had been taking at the Cloisters earlier. “This should make your night. Tagged another Griever. Released it to Sanctuary.”

“Thanks,” he said absently as he pulled the notes over, already looking down at his books again. Marshall pulled open a large binder, flipped to a tabbed section labeled “Grotesques,” and began transcribing Rory’s notes onto a blank page there. A few lines in, he pulled his hand up to find a wet smear of ink on his hand and the page.

“Sorry about the pages . . .” Rory said. “It was raining.”

“And the blood, too,” I added. “I was . . . well, bleeding.”

“You okay?” he asked, for the first time looking at us as if he was genuinely concerned.

“I’ll be fine,” I said, even though as I finally took the time to assess myself, I felt far less than it.

“She could have died tonight,” Rory said. “You weren’t there for us and she could have bled out.”

“It’s no big deal,” I assured him even though I felt blood dripping off my left hand onto the floor of his store. “Just crashing through a stained glass window, is all.”

“Jesus, let me look at that,” Marshall said, shutting his book and coming around the counter.

I shrugged my jacket off my shoulder, a wad of notebook paper pressed against the wound still sticking in place. What had once been your typical white-lined paper was now a crimson brown.

Rory’s eyes went wide upon seeing the papers. “We need to get you to a hospital,” she said.

The sight of my own blood did make me feel queasy, but I shook my head. “No time,” I said. “If I can get back out there and hunt, I can at least bag another gargoyle tonight.”

Marshall pulled away the clump of blood-soaked notepaper. “Not if you look like one of Dracula’s victims,” he said. “This looks pretty bad, Lexi.”

“Listen to the man,” Rory said, nodding in agreement with him. “You’re no good to your cause if you don’t take care of yourself first. Let’s just hit Beth Israel’s emergency room and call it a night.”

“No,” I insisted, harsher this time. “I need to be out there in the streets. I need to find more of these grotesques.”

“Lexi—” Rory started, but Marshall cut her off.

“I can fix this,” he said, which caused both of us to turn to him.

“Oh, really, Doctor Blackmoore?” Rory asked. “Funny, I failed to notice any medical degrees hanging on the walls of our apartment. Do you keep them here, covered over by that Settlers of Catan poster, perhaps?”

I wrinkled up my face in uncertainty. “No offense,” I said, “but won’t your ‘help’ just end up putting me in the hospital with something worse?”

Marshall ignored both of us and hurried back to his counter, disappearing for a second as he dropped behind it.

“Keep it up, ladies,” he said. “If you prefer, I can just let you stand there until you lose enough blood and collapse . . . ?”

Curiosity—or maybe it was light-headedness—got the better of me.

“All right,” I said. “How?”

Marshall stood, but continued searching beneath the counter as he spoke. “Just because I’ve been busy with the store doesn’t mean I’ve stopped experimenting with the alchemy your boy toy Caleb got me started on,” he said. His hand came out from under the counter with a dark plastic vial in it, the only marking being a piece of duct tape down its side with the letters CLW on it. “Ah, here we go.”

“CLW?” I asked.

“Cure Light Wounds,” he said, coming back around to me once more.

Rory eyed him with skepticism as she finally pulled off the hood of her coat and fluffed out her wet blue hair. “This is one of your gaming things, isn’t it?”

Marshall looked down his nose at her. “When isn’t it? It’s from Dungeons and—”

“That’s more than I need to know, Marsh,” she said with a grin.

Marshall rolled his eyes, shrugged, and fished in his pocket, pulling out one of those thick Sharpie markers.

“Here,” he said, handing it to me. “Bite down on this.”

With some reluctance I took it from his hand. “For real?” I asked, unable to hide the hesitation in my voice.

He nodded.

“For real,” he repeated. “It’s bad enough you’re dripping blood all over the entrance to my store. I don’t need you biting off your tongue while I’m applying this and have it flap all over my floor.”

The imagery left me feeling even more light-headed, but I was determined to stay standing and caught myself before it had me staggering. Without another word I lifted the Sharpie to my lips and slid it across my mouth the same way a dog would a bone.

Marshall pulled the vial’s stopper free and lifted it to the bloody slash on my arm. A black, tarlike substance oozed from the vial, and the second it touched the wound, there was instantaneous pain. Intense, burning-like-Hellfire pain.

My lips snapped shut involuntarily around the marker, my teeth biting down hard on the cold plastic. The sounds I heard coming from my own lips reminded me of a wounded animal. It drew looks from the people at the back of the game store, but I was so busy trying to pull away from Marshall that I didn’t care who heard. I wanted to wipe the liquid away, but Rory’s fighter reflexes were quicker than mine. Her hands flashed out and gripped tight around my wrist, holding me in place.

My skin crawling back together to close the wound sent a shiver down my spine. When it was over and the pain subsided, the only signs that there had ever been a wound were a few flakes of dried blood and a faint pink line where the cut had been.

“How’s that feel?” Marshall asked, stoppering his vial.

I pulled the pen from my mouth, my teeth having left deep impressions in the plastic.

“Good,” I said, flexing my arm, then smiled. “Great, actually.”

Marshall raised his eyebrows. “Nothing that feels like your flesh might be being eaten from the inside out, right . . . ?”

“No,” I said, drawing the word out. “Why are you even asking that?”

“No reason, no reason,” he said as quick as he could, then turned his eyes away from me, hurrying back behind the counter. He held up the now-empty vial. “Let’s just say there’s a good reason I’ve started making sure that I label these well.”

Despite the wound being gone, I blanched at the idea of being a test subject of some kind. “I don’t want to be your guinea pig, Marsh,” I said.

“You’re not!” he insisted.

“Me, either,” Rory added with warning in her voice.

“Don’t worry,” he said to her. “You don’t get hurt nearly as much as Lexi does.” His eyes turned to me and his face went serious. “You’re getting reckless, Alexandra.”

I started to argue, but decided against it. There was no malice in what Marshall said, only the fact-based concern of a true friend. I gave him a genuine smile.

“Thank you,” I said. “You work miracles.”

He dropped the vial behind the counter and leaned forward on top of it. “Just promise Rory and me that you’re not going back out tonight.”

It was my turn to avert my eyes in avoidance, busying myself as I pulled my blood-covered Burberry jacket back on.

“I can’t make that promise,” I said. “I just . . . can’t. Too much to do . . .”

“You need rest,” Rory insisted.

“I can sleep during the day,” I countered, heading for the door, “when they’re inactive.”

Rory sighed behind me.

“Ten bucks says she doesn’t make it to the weekend without another injury,” Marshall said.

“Wait,” I said with a growing sense of doom. “What day of the week is it again . . . ?”

“Monday,” Rory said, shaking her head at me.

“Crap on a crap cracker!” I said with dawning realization.

“What’s the problem?” Marshall asked.

“You’ll both be happy to hear that I am going home,” I said.

“What’s the matter?” Rory asked. “Has getting knocked about enough finally beaten some sense into you?”

“Worse,” I said, spinning back around to the door and walking out into the night, thankful that at least the rain had subsided. “I’ve got to be social.”

Four

Entering the familiar comfort of my building on Saint Mark’s Place always calmed my soul and reminded me of my great-great-grandfather’s guildhall beneath all of its new construction. It reminded me of how far I had come as the only practicing Spellmason in the past year since discovering the location. The only thing that outdid my own transformation was Caleb Kennedy going from the alchemist who had attacked Rory and me there, to becoming actual dating material.

I wasn’t sure reformed alchemical freelancers were typically considered the best boyfriend stock, but given how little time I had for things like practicing my artistic endeavors or just a life right now, someone who shared my arcane interests was as good as it got as a distraction from all the crazy.

As I climbed the stairs up to my main living area and dining room, my heart raced a little in anticipation of what our planned date night might have in store for me. Much to my surprise, however, I found the dining room untouched.

“Awesome,” I said to the empty space. I pulled off my backpack and laid it on the table, disappointed. Only then did I notice the plain white note card sticking out from under it, and that was because a piece of string snaked off the table from it and ran across the room.

I pulled the note card free.

The presence of your company is required for an evening under the stars.

A small smile crept to my lips, and with curiosity getting the better of me, I followed the string across the room where it led out the doorway and continued up the stairs. It snaked around the banister the entire way, other cards dangling from it as I followed.

Closer.

Almost there.

Getting hungry yet?

Pushing open the rooftop access door, I stepped out into the familiar sight of Gramercy Park, recreated painstakingly on my rooftop. Much of the rain had dried up from earlier, and the string trailed off down one of the cobblestone paths. I turned and pushed the door shut behind me, watching it vanish as its false stone facade matched itself back into the column concealing it.

The string continued along the path next to the running brook, and the farther I moved into the park, the more sounds of activity within there were.

In the clearing at the center were two tables lit only by the minimal light of the moon and a few scattered candles. One of the tables was set with a dark red tablecloth, flowers, and place settings. On either side of the gold chargers were more forks and spoons than I was used to seeing. Caleb worked over a mix of food, test tubes, and vials at the other table, the moonlight catching in his muss of dirty blond hair.

The string led to one of the chairs and I went over to it, finally drawing Caleb’s notice.

“Sorry I’m late,” I said, as sheepishly as I could. “I . . . umm, almost forgot.”

“Forgot?” he said, looking up from the table he was working at. “Or were you working too hard?”

“Not you, too,” I said. “Did Rory and Marshall call you?”

“No,” he said. “Let’s just say I have mad pattern recognition skills.”

“It’s busy out there,” I said in my defense. “Halloween’s coming, and I’d like as many gargoyles off the street as possible before costume confusion sets in. I don’t want someone getting crushed because they mistook a grotesque for someone on their way to a Halloween party.”

“Relax,” he said, coming over to pull my chair out for me. “You’re home now.”

“Thanks,” I said, remaining standing. I leaned against the back of the chair.

Caleb held a small white spoon with a raw slice of beef in it. He pulled a vial from within his jacket of a thousand pockets and poured whatever mixture was in it over the spoon. The piece of meat sizzled, and I detected not only the aroma of the meat from the spoon but the hint of buttery potatoes, corn, and what smelled like apple pie.

“What is it?” I asked when he offered me the spoon, taking it with a bit of reluctance.

“Taste it,” he said. “It’s something new I’m trying. Alchemical cooking.”

I pulled the spoon away from my mouth. “I’m really not an experimental-alchemical-potions-imbibing kind of gal,” I said.

Caleb took my hand in his and eased it back to my lips. “Try it,” he said. “It’s safe. I promise. Alchemist’s honor.”

Given his checkered past, I wondered how honorable that actually was, but held my tongue. There was a comfort and trust in the way he asked, and I put the spoon in my mouth. An explosion of the flavors I thought I had smelled erupted in my mouth, so intense I couldn’t quite process all of them.

“What exactly am I tasting?”

“It’s your complete dinner,” he said. “All in one spoon. There’s steak and potatoes, creamed spinach and corn, topped off with both a blueberry and apple pie. But that’s just the beginning of dinner. That amuse-bouche is the essence of the arc of the meal I’ve prepared tonight for you.”

I sat there for a moment, moving it around in my mouth, letting the various flavors hit me. Hearing what Caleb was going for helped me to pin down each of them.

“Well . . . ?” he asked, his eyes desperately seeking approval.

I smiled. “The snozzberries taste like snozzberries, Wonka.”

His face lit up. He walked back to his prep table.

“So, honey,” he asked in a singsong voice. “How was your day?”

“Day?” I repeated. “During the day, I was asleep. My night, on the other hand . . .”

“Busy?”

“You might say that,” I said, pulling off my coat. I poked my finger through the gash in the upper part of the left sleeve of my shirt, the blood there now a dried brown stain.

Caleb’s eyes widened and he stepped back over to me, examining the jagged hole.

Under the moonlight the hint of a scar was barely visible. I reminded myself to get something fancy for Marshall from that ThinkGeek site he was always showing Rory and me.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m okay. Now, anyway.”

I wasn’t about to tell Caleb the full extent of my wounds from earlier. There had been enough lectures about it at the game store this evening. My late-night dinner date with Caleb might go easier if I kept quiet on the subject.

“You really should take it easy,” Caleb said.

I couldn’t hold back a sigh as I sat down in the chair.

“What?” he asked. “Is it so wrong that I don’t want you getting yourself killed, especially on date night?”

“Maybe if I had some help,” I shot back, half kidding but also half serious. “You are partially responsible for the recent resurgence in gargoyle activity, after all.”

“Through no fault of my own,” Caleb added with lightning speed. He walked back to his prep table and continued on with his cooking.

“No fault . . . ?!” I repeated, shocked. “You’re joking, right? My intended spell was meant to work on one statue, not all of Alexander’s across Manhattan.”

“You and I have different recollections of that evening, then,” he said, throwing me a sidelong smile.

“Do we, now?” I asked, slumping back in the chair, arms folded across my chest.

“Yes, we do,” he said, walking back over to the dining table and sliding a plate across it to me. “By my accounting of it, I was trying to save you and your friends.”

“You were trying to save yourself,” I said, pointing a finger at him.

He considered it for a moment. “Those are not mutually exclusive.”

“Fine,” I conceded. “Continue.”

“I had a plan,” he said, going back to his prep table. “Kejetan’s evil little gargoyles would have had to contend with the other gargoyles I created by way of amplifying your spell. Had my plan worked, I would have added, what? Maybe several dozen stoners out there, tops, not the whole city’s worth.” He pointed at me with a fork. “That’s on you and your friends for interfering with what I was trying to accomplish.”

Caleb finished filling his plate before dropping it across the table, joining me.

“And that doesn’t bother you?” I asked. “Knowing what you’ve brought down on this city?”

He sighed and looked up from his plate, his attitude blasé. “If I got upset with every arcane twist or turn that’s happened in my freelancing career as an alchemist, I’d be the most morose person out there. Magic is a pseudoscience on a good day, which means it’s at best often unpredictable.” He shrugged. “I roll with the eldritch punches.”

“I couldn’t do that,” I said. “Jesus, I can barely sleep for all the guilt I bear over my involvement in it.”

“Of course you can’t sleep,” he said, going back to eating. “You’re a product of arcane privilege.”

“Excuse me . . . ?” I asked. “What the hell is that?”

“Don’t be so offended,” he said. “You can’t help it. You were born into it. You’ve never had to hustle on the street to make a living selling spells or potions or taking odd alchemical jobs to make ends meet. That’s arcane privilege.”

“I work hard at what I do,” I protested.

“Sure you do,” he said. “But it’s not like it’s a job.”

“Not everyone is motivated by profit,” I said.

Caleb laughed at that, enjoying the good-natured ribbing and verbal jousting as much as I did, maybe more since just then I was actually a little offended by his accusation.

“Do you even hear yourself?” he said with a laugh. “Ever hear the maxim ‘Money makes the world go round’?”

“Some people do things because they have a love for it,” I said. “A talent for it. Maybe a family legacy to excel at it.”

He held his hands up. “Fine, fine,” he said. “Look. I didn’t come here for an argument. I came to celebrate.”

It was too late. I was riled now. “I’m out there every night trying to get control of this situation . . . a situation you and I created! Anything bad that happens while those stone creatures are out there is on us. With great power comes—”

Caleb shook his head at me. “Don’t give me that Spider-Man crap,” he said, then reached across the table to take my hand, squeezing it. “Lexi, I love your altruism, but I just don’t think the best solution is to try to personally hunt down every last one of these creatures.” He tapped his forehead. “You know, work smarter, not harder and all that.”

“Well, what are you actively doing to help the cause?” I asked. “Because right now it looks like you’re doing two things: jack and shit.”

He smiled at that.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Incarnate"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Anton Strout.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

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Praise for the Spellmason Chronicles

“Loved Alchemystic. Every girl needs her own Stanis!”—Jeanne C. Stein, national bestselling author of Blood Bond

“Like being strapped to a wrecking ball of urban fantasy fun. Hang on and enjoy the mayhem.”—Mario Acevedo, author of Werewolf Smackdown

“High stakes, high tension, stark contrasts, well-rounded cast and dialogue complete with quips and banter.”—Urban Fantasy Land

“Thrilling…Skillful characterization enriches a story that is filled with peril, loss, treachery and sacrifice. Great stuff!”—RT Book Reviews

“A fantastic sequel in this unique and exciting fantasy series. Full of suspense, intrigue, magic, and humor—gargoyles have never been this fun. The story ends with a climactic and satisfying conclusion…Don’t miss this fast-paced urban fantasy.”—SciFiChick.com

“Excellent character development. The ending leaves this whole world open in a great way…My favorite part of this is the use of magic…It feels organic and interesting.”—Nerdist

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Incarnate 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this series. I liked this third book the best. The characters grew into themselves.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MelanieMeadors More than 1 year ago
Incarnate is the third and final installment of the Spellmason Chronicles (preceded by Alchemystic and Stonecast). I always have a hard time reviewing third books because so much has happened before them and I don't want to spoil anything for potential readers. But let me just say this: with Incarnate, I think Strout definitely proves himself to be a strong player in the urban fantasy genre. When I read Stonecast, the second book in the trilogy, I thought it was a strong book and had commented that Strout had found his stride. So often, many authors kind of slip with the middle of their second series, but this story just took on a life of its own while I was reading it. There was so much action and I really loved the characters. With Incarnate, I found it to be all that and more. Alexandra, one of the two narrating characters, has such a strong voice and is so well developed it was easy to forget I was reading a book by a person outside of the story. Events in the book played out in my mind like a fast-paced movie, yet there was a lot of emotion at play here as well. I had to stop myself from laughing out loud several times so I wouldn't wake up the family while I read at night, yet the humor is very nicely balanced with suspense and mystery. Come for the geeky entertainment--there is PLENTY to go around, with nods to practically every corner of the geekiverse, from gaming, to TV shows I have fond memories of growing up, to books that should be loved by everyone. But stay for the emotional kick you'll get from watching the relationships between the characters grow and change. This is a story I found hard to finish--not because it was hard to read but because I truly did not want this to be the end. I didn't want to close it when I was done, and honestly, got a little teary at the thought of not being able to go on new adventures with Lexi, Stanis, Rory, Marshall, and Caleb. (I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)