The Soulless War Trilogy #1
The Dark Queen
by Dana Gricken
For centuries, war has been brewing below the surface of New York. People known as the soulless—immortal humans with strange powers—have threatened life on the surface. The Dark Queen seeks revenge for a crime long forgotten and wants to rule the world.
Eighteen-year-old Riley Stark—a new recruit in the Sentinels, a military group that protects Earth from the Underworld—thinks she’s joining for the right reason. As a child, she narrowly escaped an assassination attempt on her life, and has wanted justice ever since.
After Riley goes snooping through her records, she finds the terrible truth—her ancestor was Mira Stark who killed the famous Dark King, and the soulless have wanted her family’s blood spilled. When Riley falls in love with a soulless boy she’s been taught to hate, she realizes that she can’t trust anyone—soulless or otherwise.
BUY THE BOOK
The class of 2030 threw their graduation caps into the air with a cheer. High school was over and thank God for that. No more homework, mean girl cliques, or awkward school dances for me. Besides the Underworld, it was the worst place on Earth.
I looked around at my hopeful classmates. They were young, naïve, and helpless. I wanted to be their protector. No child deserved to wake up in the middle of the night to find the soulless at their door.
It was a perfect day in New York City—bright blue skies, birds chirping above us, and the sunlight kissing my skin. After living here for so long, you eventually learn to block out the constant honking and busy roads. But other than that, this city was a paradise.
It was so different from that night ten years ago.
Spencer, my best friend of twelve years, nudged my shoulder. His blue eyes twinkled with delight, his blond hair sticking up carelessly. “Can you believe we’re finally finished?”
I shook my head. “It feels like we’ve been stuck here forever.”
“And I just traded in four years of high school for another four years of college. I got accepted into the journalism program at NYU.”
I smiled, although it was half-hearted. “Good for you, Spence. You worked hard for it.”
He nodded. “So… What about you? Did you hear back from any of those schools you applied to?”
Should I tell him the truth? That I hadn’t applied to any colleges like everyone else? That I wasn’t going to have a normal life?
I sighed. “No, not yet.”
“Well, don’t sweat it. You’re smart. I mean, you’re smarter than me and I was accepted. I’m sure someone will take you.”
I shook my head before leaning in closer. “Spence, I need to tell you something.”
Before I could tell him my secret, my mother, Spencer’s sister Elaina, and her fiancée, Violet, walked over to us on the lawn. Elaina was beautiful—luscious blond hair, blue eyes, and the perfect makeup—while Violet was more of a tomboy, with brown hair and matching eyes, freckles, and the same doctor’s coat she wore every day.
A flash of light blinded me and I knew exactly who it belonged to.
I rolled my eyes. “Really, Mom? Another photo?”
My mother wiped away tears from her hazel eyes. “I’m sorry. I can’t help it. My baby is graduating!”
I shook my head, turning towards Spencer and the girls. “Do you see what I have to put up with?”
Elaina laughed. “Oh, I think it’s sweet. I still remember my graduation day. Class of 2020. It was such a happy time.”
Violet smiled and wrapped her arms around Elaina. “I can’t forget it either. It’s where we fell in love. Weren’t you dating the high school jock at the time? I was just some science geek back then. You barely even noticed me.”
“I’m just glad I came to my senses,” Elaina replied, pecking her cheek.
Spencer gagged. “Can we save the lovey-dovey stuff for private? You’re going to make me sick.”
“You can make fun of your big sister all you’d like, Spencer, but one day soon, this will be you.”
I looked around the school courtyard. “Where’s Dad?”
Mom shrugged. “He was around a minute ago before he disappeared. Who knows what goes through his head?”
Mom looked worried. Dad hadn’t been the same since his promotion to detective—and the stress was getting to him.
“Actually, I thought I saw him talking to Mayor McClain. It looked serious,” Elaina added.
“The mayor is here?” Spencer asked, wide-eyed. “Why? What could he want from us?”
Violet watched me out of the corner of her eye. It was like she knew my deepest, darkest secret.
“Why don’t you go find Mr. Stark? Riley and I will wait for you here.”
Mom nodded. “Good idea. Jeffrey should be over here with his daughter on her graduation day, not interrogating the guests.”
“I should go, too. There’s an old gym teacher I want to have a few words with. Now that I’ve graduated, I can tell him how I really feel about all of those laps he made us run,” Spencer said, before gesturing towards Elaina. “Come on. I don’t want to do it alone. The guy is a little intimidating.”
The three of them scurried away, and it was just Violet and me left behind. She stared at me for a few moments, before looking over her shoulder to make sure everyone had left. The look on her face was enough to make me nervous.
“I’m glad they’re gone. I need to speak to you in private.”
I gulped. “Am I in trouble?”
She laughed. “No, but it’s important. Let’s find a better spot.”
We walked through the crowded schoolyard, looking for a place to talk. We finally found a spot in the shade, where the heat of summer couldn’t catch us. After a while, she finally broke the silence.
“Now that high school is over, you have a bright future ahead of you,” she began. “Have you given a thought to what you’ll do now?”
“Of course. It’s all Mom’s been talking about this year.”
“And? Did anything catch your eye?”
I shrugged. “I’ve looked at all of the colleges here. They don’t interest me. I want to do something exciting—something important—with my life.”
“I know that you applied to become a Sentinel,” she whispered. “Are you sure about this, Riley? Have you really thought it over?”
“I’m eighteen, Violet. I can make my own decisions,” I said before I scoffed. “It’s none of your business.”
She sighed. “You remind me of myself, you know. After graduation, I wanted to make a difference. I swore I could change the world.”
“And did you?”
She was silent for a moment. “Yes. The Sentinels have helped me do great work.”
I gasped. “You’re with the Sentinels? Does Elaina know?”
She shook her head. “Elaina thinks I’m just a doctor. With all of the news reports about the soulless, I didn’t want to worry her. I work for the Surgical Ward at the Sentinel Headquarters. I’ve seen so many young people—just like you—killed. The surgery is risky. You could die before you even step foot in the Underworld.”
“If you work for the Sentinels, then you understand why I have to do this,” I replied. “Do you remember what happened to me when I was a little girl? I haven’t forgotten. Dad was able to save me, but what about all of the other kids in trouble? I can’t let them suffer. I have to do something.”
“I just want you to think about it. It’s a big commitment. Everything you know will change. You’d be putting your family in danger.”
I shrugged. “I’ve already decided. You can’t change my mind.”
“Your mother won’t like it. She’ll be worried about you every day. Your father is a detective. What if he gets a call that you’ve been killed in the Underworld? Can you imagine him finding your body? And what about Spencer? He cares about you more than you’d think.”
“Just stop it!” I yelled, and a few bystanders looked over at my outburst. “What’s done is done. I’m going to be a Sentinel—so let it go.”
Spencer and Elaina walked over a few seconds later. They both looked at the two of us with a suspicious glare.
“Ry, you look tense. What did I miss?” Spencer asked.
Elaina placed a hand on Violet’s arm. “Are you okay, sweetie?”
“It was nothing. A bee wouldn’t leave us alone and it freaked me out,” I muttered, looking away.
Violet nodded. “Yes…a bee.”
“Well, we’d hate to interrupt that, but I heard the mayor’s getting ready to give a speech. Judging by all of the news reporters that showed up, it seems pretty important.”
It was like a madhouse. There must’ve been at least a hundred news reporters at our school. We pushed our way through the crowd, which was beginning to swarm around the mayor. He was a short and chubby man, with balding hair and a suit that looked more expensive than my car. The mayor stood at a podium, with many cameras and microphones shoved in his face. He looked somber and defeated.
“God, those journalists are so annoying,” Spencer muttered.
“And you’re going to school to become one of those annoying journalists,” I joked.
He shuddered. “Don’t remind me.”
Just then, Dad walked out of the school and stood beside the mayor, Harvey McClain. Mom waited nearby, watching with the same serious look on her face. A cluster of police officers patrolled the school grounds, sealing it off with yellow crime scene tape. Something was seriously wrong.
“Okay, now I’m getting worried,” I whispered. “Why is Dad up there?”
“Don’t worry. Everything’s probably fine,” Elaina replied. “Maybe the mayor gives a speech at every graduating class?”
“On national television? I’m not so sure,” Violet said before the crowd quieted down.
The mayor cleared his throat and rearranged his papers at the podium. “Thank you for your patience. It’s come to my attention that early this morning, a graduating student at John F. Kennedy High School by the name of Christopher Todd disappeared. We want the public to know that we’re doing everything in our power to find this promising young man.”
“Amelia Rayne, lead reporter for the New York Daily,” a red-headed woman said as she pushed through the crowd with a microphone in her hand. “Are the citizens of New York City in any danger?”
“I don’t believe so,” the mayor replied, nervously adjusting his tie. “I’m sure this is an isolated incident.”
“Is it really? What about the other missing people? Do you think it’s connected somehow?” Amelia asked. “The people of New York deserve to know, Mayor McClain. Are the soulless involved?”
The mayor shook his head, dabbing a line of sweat on his forehead with his handkerchief. “I’m afraid I can’t comment on an ongoing investigation. I’m confident we’ll find Mr. Todd very soon. I have one of the best detectives on the case. If he’d like to say a few words…”
Dad stepped forward, begrudgingly. He hated public speaking. He was still wearing the suit he’d loaned for my graduation, but he had attached his badge and gun. He ran a hand through his black hair, nervously.
“Thank you, Mr. Mayor. My name is Jeffrey Stark, lead detective on the missing person’s case. If I learn anything new, I’ll share it with the city as soon as possible. In the meantime, I’d like the public to remain vigilant and watch out for anything suspicious or unusual. Thank you.”
As Dad walked away, the mayor stepped up to the podium again as the journalists began shouting questions. Both of my parents started to make their way over to us.
“A missing student on graduation day? Maybe he just took off as soon as he was free from this place? I have to say, I’ve thought about it myself,” Spencer joked.
“Spencer Holland!” Elaina said. “This is no time for jokes! I hope they find him. His parents must be worried sick.”
“Is it true?” I asked, as soon as my parents caught up with us.
Dad nodded. “I’m afraid so, kiddo. I’ve questioned a few students and teachers, but no one has seen Mr. Todd for a while. It’s a little odd that someone could disappear at their own graduation without a witness, isn’t it?”
“I remember the kid. I think I had him in my remedial math class. He was a little weird, to be honest. He was shy and kept to himself. I don’t think he had any friends,” Spencer replied.
“It’s been an awfully long day. I think we should go home and try to forget about this. It’s a time for celebration, after all. I made some of my special cake. Everyone’s invited,” Mom said.
“Oh, you know I can’t resist your cake, Claudia,” Elaina exclaimed. “Violet always asks me when you’re going to make it again.”
Violet laughed. “Maybe one of these days you’ll share the recipe with us?”
Mom nodded. “It’s all yours. How about I give it to you as a wedding gift?”
In the distance, I saw a hooded figure lingering around the school. Whoever it was looked young, but I couldn’t see any of their features with the dark jacket they had on. They were out of place, and the sinking feeling in my stomach told me something was amiss. No one else seemed to notice.
“Are you coming?” Spencer asked. I hadn’t realized they’d all begun walking towards the car.
When I looked back, the mysterious figure was gone. It was like they had vanished into thin air.
“In a second,” I replied. “I just have to do something first.”
I raced over to the side of the building where I’d last seen the unusual visitor, but no one was there. If it had been any cloudier, I wouldn’t have noticed it: sunlight reflecting off a metal surface, drawing my eyes to the ground.
I bent down and realized there was a black ring in the dirt. Maybe that person I saw dropped it. As I examined it, I saw an inscribed symbol of a crown. In bold red letters, it read: CALEB, THE DARK SON.
I knew then exactly what had happened to Christopher Todd. He was never coming back.