With tensions in Prague rising at the height of World War II, Isaac Wolf is forced to leave home with nothing more than a small backpack and a pendant in the shape of an eternity knot. His parents believe the pendant will keep him safeif he can discover what it really means.
This clue leads him to Rookskill Castle, home of the Special Alternative Intelligence Unit where gifted children can learn to harness their powers to support the Allies' cause. With the help of his new friends and an antique watch that allows him to travel through time, Isaac must unlock his own powers and uncover the true meaning of the eternity knot. The only way he can do that, though, is by hunting for a series of magical artifacts that are scattered throughout the past . . . and Isaac isn't the only artifact hunter. Soon he finds himself in a race against a threat just as deadly as the war itselfone that his parents had been trying to shield him from all along.
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Guardian and Hunter
At well past midnight, in the deep cold of winter, a man moved like a shadow through the snowy streets of Prague. He kept his head down and walked with a quick pace, finding his route over the slick cobbles of Josefov through old habit, trying not to stumble. Once, a cat startled him as it darted across the street—a black cat, of course, he noted with a brief, grim smile—and he paused for an instant.
Somewhere above him a window slid shut. Somewhere behind him his family slept.
His son slept, still oblivious.
The man passed the baroque facade of the church of Saint Nicholas, the stone statues of saints casting cold eyes downward. The great astronomical clock was silent at this hour, the apostles with their grave countenances hidden, the broad Old Town Square deserted. He crossed the space as quickly as he could, keeping to the edges, making for the House of the Stone Bell—a carved bell that was as silent as the saints and the clock—and the alley that ran between it and Our Lady Before Týn. He stopped only where he couldn’t be seen from any direction and then faced the wall that was crowned by the arch of a filled-in remnant door, the plaster just inches from his nose. On that wall was a faint painted symbol. It looked like a looping vine.
He had to tug open the top button of his overcoat—it was frigid and the sudden chill penetrated to his bones—to draw out what he required. He placed his hand against the plaster and the air shimmered, the wall fading behind a watery veil, until a door appeared, a great carved oak door with no handle or lock, which swung open into darkness. He was through the door and gone, fading, as always, to nothing.
The prowling cat and the saints, had they been looking an instant later, would have seen no door, only the great blank wall and the cobbles of the empty alley glistening with icy snow.
In the dark, silent, frigid city, a hunter is looking, but not, in this moment, toward the square. This hunter, an Unseelie fae, perches on the pinnacle of the Charles Bridge’s eastern tower, peering this way and that but missing what it wants by a breath. It can only sense the magic that whispers through the air, then vanishes.
If such a creature could feel disappointment, it would. Instead, it feels only anger and centuries-old resentment. It has been bidden by its master—Moloch, leader of a small band of miserable outcasts—to seek and find, and the hunter has missed its prey yet again.
The creature straightens with a barely audible snarl and stands for another moment before it lifts into the air on black wings that are each as big as a tall man, casting a chill shadow upon the city below.
The prowling cat, as it happens, crosses the Charles Bridge just as the great wings open. But even if the cat had lifted its head and looked all the way up to the top of the tower it would have seen nothing but a mist. Nothing but a dark, evanescent blot against the starless sky.
Oh, except. . .
Except, had the hunter turned and looked down, the cat might have seen two red eyes, eyes as red as coals, as red as blood, as red as rage.
Isaac Wolf lay on his stomach, propped on his elbows, book open before him. Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Yes, he read it because it helped him with his English, but this story about a scientist who found the secret of creation and made a monster, that’s what grabbed at Isaac’s heart. It gave him shivers but also made him wonder: Why did he feel sorry for the monster? Would Isaac have acted differently from Victor—treated the monster differently—and so maybe saved his friends? Reading this book plunged Isaac into a realm so darkly magical he was lost inside it, and coming out, wanted to dive right back in.
He rolled over and sat up, rubbing his eyes, returning to the real world. The world of war.
It was an afternoon of filmy gray light.
Last night he’d heard a noise and was up like a shot. He’d held his breath, straining to hear. The sound of a door closing? The distant, soft chime of a bell? But he heard no more in the deep and snowy silence, and he sank back into his bed, to his dreams of chasing strange creatures through shadowy forests.
A wolf should be a hero in a grand tale. That’s what Isaac wanted to be. Was sure he could be, one day. Maybe he could become a spy and that would be his spy name. He traced the name Wolf with his finger in the air.
But Prague had been made fearful since the Nazis had come. People were anxious, secretive, huddled into themselves as they hastened through near-empty streets. His school was closed. His teacher’s sister, Miss Rachel, sobbing, had shooed all the boys away, telling them to go, now, go straight home now, don’t stop. He’d gone and he’d stayed put, because he was afraid of the Nazis, too.
One by one, his friends and neighbors had"disappeared" Some had been “relocated.” Isaac had guessed what being relocated meant—it meant that the forces of darkness were washing over all the world.
He lay back on his bed, staring at his ceiling, and became thinly aware that his parents were talking in their bedroom down the hall.
Isaac sat up. They weren’t talking.
They were arguing.
His father’s voice was hard, his mother’s pleading. He heard his name: They were arguing about him. Loud enough to be heard through his closed door.
“. . . no time left”—he heard his father’s muffled voice—“tonight . . .”
“But . . . haven’t given him proper . . . should be trained . . .”
Isaac thought, Should be trained? He inched out of bed and opened his door, holding his breath.
“. . . too young. In another few months,” his father said, and Isaac could hear clearly now, “he’d be old enough. That’s when his training would have begun. But it’s too late, and for now, the less he knows, the safer he’ll be. As soon as it’s dark he must go.”
The word relocated floated back into Isaac’s brain.
“What about the others?”
A pause. His father said, “They’ve already gone into hiding. I haven’t heard from anyone else on the team for months.”
His mother, then, “Are you sure—”
“They know,” his father interrupted, almost shouting. “I’m sure. They know about me. They know where we are. If we stay, they’ll find us, and then they’ll find Isaac.”
They? Who? The Nazis?
Isaac crept down the hallway toward their bedroom. The door to his parents’ room was open a crack.
His father lowered his voice. “There’s something else. I’ve heard that a mission is being planned by the resistance. Against the Reichsprotektor. Even if that mission goes well, it could mean reprisals. Upheaval. We’d all be in even greater danger.”
“What if we all went together?” his mother asked.
“Impossible,” his father answered. “They know about me, so I would draw them. They’d find us all. If he goes alone, he has a better chance.”
“Perhaps I can fashion a disguise,” his mother said. Her voice had risen in pitch, and she spoke faster. “Protective cover. I can make a shapeshift.”
“That may well attract these hunters. But I do have an idea. One that might work.” His father paused. “I hope.”
Isaac found it hard to breathe.
His father went on, “In the archives, I’ve found—” and just then Isaac stepped on the hallway floorboard that creaked.
He froze, heart pounding in the silence that followed, and then his mother was standing in the doorframe, and she opened the door wide, the light from behind her shadowing her face.
“Isaac,” she said. “We didn’t mean to disturb you.”
He wanted to yell, Disturb me? What are you talking about?
But he couldn’t command the words to come. His tongue was as heavy as lead. He stuffed his clenched fists deep into his pockets and watched her, waiting for answers. She shifted her position, and Isaac could see that two spots of red colored her cheeks. Behind her, his father seemed to have aged a thousand years, his face thin and pale.
“We’ll be out in a moment,” his mother said. She closed the door with a soft click.
Isaac stayed in the hallway, but their voices were muffled and he couldn’t make out words, even with his ear pressed against the wood.
A few minutes ago he’d wanted to be a spy. And now?
He tried to decipher what his mother had meant. Oh, he knew the word shapeshift. He knew it from fairy tales and the other stories he loved, of monsters and myths. A shapeshifter could change form as if changing a suit of clothes. But he wasn’t at all sure he knew what she meant when she said she could make one.
Isaac didn’t understand. Shapeshift, she’d said. Training, his father had said.
This was not what he thought would help them hide from what the Nazis were doing to his people. None of this—shapeshifting, training—made any sense whatsoever.
It happened quickly after that.
Isaac was told to pick out only a few items to take. “Just what will fit in this pack,” his mother said, holding it up. “With your extra clothes.”
He stood in his room as if struck by lightning. His mother bustled in and out. “Hurry, Isaac,” she said, adding a sack full of sausage, bread, and cheese to his pack before leaving again.
Isaac chose two books from his shelf and stuffed them into the pack.
His father told Isaac that he was arranging to send him away with a total stranger, that they were smuggling him out of his homeland.
“But, wait,” he said to his father. “You’re not coming?” He couldn’t decide which he felt more, frightened or angry or plain confused, especially when his father left the apartment without answering.
As the door closed, Isaac turned to his mother and asked, “Where am I going, Mama?”
“To Scotland,” she said. “Away from the dangers of war. And other things.”
“Scotland?” he echoed.
In his room he pulled out a map. Scotland was far, far away. Over a long stretch of land and then sea.
And what other dangers were there other than war?
When his father came back, Isaac met him in the front room. “It’s set,” his father said.
“Papa, the Nazis don’t scare me,” Isaac lied. Then, “I can help you. With . . . whatever. I’m old enough.”
“I know you can,” his mother murmured, glancing at his father.
“You should come, too,” Isaac said, trying to sound convincing.
“Too many people traveling together raises suspicion,” his father said. “But we have a plan.”
“When you reach Scotland,” his mother said, “we’ll find you.”
They would find him in Scotland. Isaac bit his lip, reasoning, parsing it out. Maybe this is what had happened to his friends who’d been sent away. Maybe being relocated wasn’t the bad thing he feared. He looked from his mother to his father, their expressions mingling worry with love, their eyes bright. He had to believe in them, in what they were telling him. He had to trust them.
“I know this is hard for you, but it will be all right,” his mother said. “You’re strong, Isaac. Stronger than you know.”
“Try to stay low,” his father said with a fleeting smile. “So tall for your age. You’ve grown these last few months. I should have noticed. I didn’t see how much,” he said, placing his hand on his son’s shoulder, his eyes level with Isaac’s.
Isaac straightened, bracing his legs. Then the reality of his departure made him feel small again and he slumped and rounded his back, swallowing hard. So many shifting emotions.
“Look for this in Scotland. It’s a symbol. It will guide you,” his mother said, and she pressed a folded piece of paper into his hand. He started to unfold the paper but his mother stopped him, her hands tight around his. “Look for it. This is all the information you’ll need for now,” and she squeezed the fist that held the paper.
Then came the knock on the door, and his father moved fast. “Yes?” he said, opening the door a crack.
“It’s time,” came the response. A woman in a large overcoat stepped inside. “We must hurry. Only ten minutes between patrols. Do you have it?”
Isaac’s father placed a leather wallet in her hand. Money, Isaac thought.
His father tucked a similar wallet into Isaac’s inside jacket pocket, and his mother folded his pack into his arms. His skin felt hot, then cold. If it was too dangerous for him to stay, what about them? When would they leave, if not now, with him? He must stay with them, that was all there was to it. The shame of running away made his eyes burn.
“You’re stronger than you know,” his mother whispered as she held him tight.
“I—” he began, then stopped.
“Isaac,” his father said. “You have what you need inside you. When we see you again, you’ll begin to understand.”
With that, his spirits shifted. He would see them again. He would understand. His parents believed in him.
He could rise to this challenge. Like his hero's in the old stories, Isaac could steel himself to move toward the unknown, not simply stay safe. Maybe it came from his longing to change. Maybe it came from being a Wolf.
He would own his name. He had to try. For the sake of his parents and their belief in him, if nothing else.
His mother pushed him through the door. The stranger in the overcoat put her arm through his and pulled him into the darkened hallway, and the last he saw of his parents, his mother’s hand covered her mouth, his father’s hand on her shoulder.
Then the light from inside was extinguished.