The Shadow War
The Shadow War
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Inglourious Basterds meets Stranger Things in this dark and thrilling tale of power, shadow, and revenge set during World War II.World War II is raging, and five teens are looking to make a mark. Daniel and Rebeka seek revenge against the Nazis who slaughtered their family; Simone is determined to fight back against the oppressors who ruined her life and corrupted her girlfriend; Phillip aims to prove that he’s better than his worst mistakes; and Liam is searching for a way to control the portal to the shadow world he’s uncovered, and the monsters that live within it–before the Nazi regime can do the same. When the five meet, and begrudgingly team up, in the forests of Germany, none of them knows what their future might hold.
As they race against time, war, and enemies from both this world and another, Liam, Daniel, Rebeka, Phillip, and Simone know that all they can count on is their own determination and will to survive. With their world turned upside down, and the shadow realm looming ominously large–and threateningly close–the course of history and the very fate of humanity rest in their hands. Still, the most important question remains: Will they be able to save it?
Praise for The Shadow War:“Nonstop action, consistent worldbuilding, and a large cast of sympathetic characters, all of them marginalized in some way, create an engaging story.” —Kirkus Reviews“An action-packed historical novel with a science fiction twist, Smith has crafted a novel where Stranger Things meets Nazi hunting. A solid purchase for YA shelves and any reader who wants to fight Nazis.” —School Library Journal Praise for The Shadow War:“Nonstop action, consistent worldbuilding, and a large cast of sympathetic characters, all of them marginalized in some way, create an engaging story.” —Kirkus Reviews Lindsay Smith (lindsaysmith.net) is the author of Sekret and other novels for young adults. She writes for Serial Box’s Marvel’s Black Widow, Orphan Black: The Next Chapter, and The Witch Who Came in from the Cold. Her comics and short stories have appeared on Tor.com and in the anthologies Shout Out! an LGBTQ YA Anthology, A Tyranny of Petticoats, Toil & Trouble, and That Way Madness Lies. She lives in Washington, DC, with her husband and dog, where she works in cybersecurity. You can follow Lindsay Smith on Twitter and Instagram @LindsaySmithDC. Chapter OneLiamLiam staggered through the storybook village with a fistful of shadows and a mouthful of lies. The whitewashed cottages glowed in the dark-ness, weak lamplight seeping around the boarded-up windows, and tire tracks carved the dirt road like scars. Trucks rumbled in the distance, but no one came here on purpose unless they were on their way to somewhere better. Or unless they were like him: more monsters in his head than sense.
The shadows buzzed as he stepped onto the tavern’s porch. His palm still stung, blood drying; he should be better at this by now. It had seemed so easy in Princeton’s labs five thousand miles away, once he’d figured out the key. The right frequency to dip into the shadows, draw out what he needed, and retreat, the rift closing behind him. He’d balanced every equation in his plan, rehearsed his approach a dozen times—he hadn’t gotten where he was by doing anything halfway. But in most of his experiments, he’d controlled every variable, calculated every possible result. This time felt more like crossing himself, amen, getting ready to jump.
Now or never. Liam let the shadowy energy rush through him and steeled his nerves as he recited his cover story one last time. No sense facing these monsters unarmed.
“We’re closed,” the barkeep called in German from behind the dark oak counter as Liam entered. “Private party.”
Liam smiled, his dimples popping, and raked dirty fingers through his crew cut. His face was perfect for this mission—honey-blond hair, light skin, eyes that shifted from gray to blue, depending on the time of day. He was more than a little rumpled from his journey, but it only added to his ruse.
“Oh. Sorry about that.” Liam didn’t even try to hide his American accent as he answered in German. “It’s just—I’ve been on the road for a while and need some food.”
A clutch of senior Schutzstaffel officers looked up from their drinks and turned his way.
Liam worried his tongue over his teeth as he surveyed the cramped dining room. Five officers. One bartender, almost certainly hiding a shotgun or hunting rifle beneath the bar. Two SS guards were posted against the back wall. The tavern barely fit three tables; the rest of the squat Bavarian building must have belonged to the inn. Only one of the electric lights was turned on, unevenly painting the peeling brocade wallpaper and heavy wood paneling with a greasy glow.
“You are American?” one of the officers asked, his English sharp as glass.
Liam’s blood froze. SS-Sturmbannführer Junker. His puckered expression and needlelike stare were even more severe in person. But Hans Friedrich Junker and his friends were why Liam had come here, why he was thousands of miles from Graduate Celestial Mechanics and Chancellor Green’s stacks and New York’s endless spread of noise, that blanket he wanted to wrap himself in every night.
The buzzing shadows in his head became a steady pulse under Liam’s skin, goading him as he lowered his gaze obediently. “Ja, mein Herr.”
“You are quite far from home.” Junker tipped his head toward an empty chair at his table, waving off the bartender’s protests. “I should very much like to know why.”
Before, Liam never would have called himself a thrill seeker. He’d spent most of his eighteen years buried in one textbook or another, or scrawling equations across onionskin paper like a boy possessed. But the past few years had revealed in him a desperate hunger. Control, his mother called it, back when she could, before he learned just how little power he really held. You want to be in control of things. Dangerous things. You think it’ll keep you safe. He hadn’t been in control then. He would be now.
Liam settled into the empty chair beside Junker and hoisted his bookbag into his lap. Nothing important was in it. If they searched it, all they’d find was a change of clothes, a water canteen, a German-English dictionary, and a journal with asinine entries he’d forged. All he really needed for this mission was tucked safely away inside his head.
He suspected, though, that Junker was more interested in playing with his food.
“Liam.” He stuck his hand out. “Liam Doyle. Originally from Manhattan, though I live in Frankfurt now.”
“You live here? And your accent is still so atrocious?” Junker laughed loudly, quickly echoed by the other officers. Alcohol and cigarette smoke whetted the sound as it sliced through the dim tavern fug. Junker didn’t so much as glance at Liam’s outstretched palm, or the red grooves pressed into it from his nails. He just shoved the communal tray of greasy schnitzel and soft pretzels his way.
Liam dropped his hand. It had been a risk, naming a city he’d never visited, but he always did his homework. “Everyone wants to practice their English on me.”
Junker eased back, picking up his glass of brandy and watching Liam over its lip as he drank. The other officers, though, were still on guard. Most were at least twice Liam’s age—late thirties, early forties—and wore the ravages of battle in their scowls and flinty eyes. One held a cigarette like a pointer, the tip turning to ash. Another clasped his hands before him like Liam was a curious specimen he couldn’t wait to dissect.
“And what is it you are doing in Frankfurt, Mr. Doyle?”
He shrugged genially. “I’m a student.”
“Your President Roosevelt recalled all the American students from our country,” Junker countered.
“Well, maybe I wasn’t ready to leave.”
Junker considered him, eyes steely. Even if Junker believed him, Liam still had a long way to go—but it would be something. All he needed was an opening. If Junker didn’t, though—
Well. Liam flexed one hand beneath the table and let the shadows thicken around it. He had other options, even if they’d make a bigger mess.
“It is dangerous for you to be traveling alone,” Junker finally said. He motioned to the bartender. “Someone might think you’re a spy.”
Liam smiled, watched the bartender scurry over to refill the Sturmbannführer’s brandy. “Sorry to disappoint.”
Junker shared another laugh with his officers, this one tinged with malice. The lightning-bolt patches on their collars flashed silver in the grimy light. As Junker tipped his glass toward Liam in a toast, Liam let the darkness stored inside him thread through his thoughts. Might as well let it feed on his terror, keep it awake and ready. It could savor its host for now, but he was always in control of it.
“We are playing a card game.” Junker gestured to the strange mix of cards, drinks, and betting chips on the table. They were using everything from bottle caps and Reichsmarks to spent bullet casings and Death’s Head rings to wager. Junker’s ring, though, stayed firmly fixed on his right hand. “Doppelkopf. Do you know it?”
“I think my classmates tried to teach me.” Liam rubbed his chin, the lie flowing easily. “We’d been drinking a lot, though.”
Junker collected the cards from the other officers, shuffled them once, then handed the deck to Liam. “Let’s see what you remember.”
Liam smiled back at him, letting his dimples shine. He’d always been a master at scraping by.
“I think I deal . . . twelve cards each, right?” He shuffled again, then started passing out cards to all of the officers, three at a time. “And then the point value . . .”
Liam let his mouth go on autopilot. Inside his head, the darkness was throbbing, leaching into the air around him, warping and twisting emotions, feelings, fears. It was intoxicating. He couldn’t blame Pitr for craving it. The shadows’ promises were sweeter than the milkshakes at Lexington’s soda counter—the power to right so many wrongs. All they needed was a suitable conduit.
Einstein’s general theory of relativity spoke of gravity, folding time and space, gliding across them uninterrupted. That was how Liam first made sense of it—he hadn’t graduated from high school at fifteen by believing in magic. He was a man of science. But now he recognized this force as something far more primitive: harnessing untamed energies, clutching them tight, feeling them shiver as they awaited his command. The whispers turned sharp, pricking him like barbed wire, but he fed the pain right back into them. A positive feedback loop growing into something even greater.
“Not bad,” Junker said. “Shall we begin?”
Liam smiled as the darkness inside him sat up straight.
Junker gestured to the piles of betting chips beside each officer. “Now, you must understand, we ‘play for keeps,’” he said in English. “Isn’t that how you Americans say? You are going to bet with us, yes?”
Liam motioned to his bookbag. “I’m afraid I don’t have much.”
“That’s all right. Perhaps we can barter something else.”
“Maybe we can bet with secrets,” one of the men offered, revealing a nicotine-stained grin.
Junker nodded at him, but it was strained, like he resented him for jumping ahead in Junker’s game. “A promising idea.”
“I don’t know what secrets I have you could possibly want to know,” Liam said.
Junker picked up his cards and began to organize them. “I’m sure you’ll think of something.”
First round. They placed their bets. Liam bet one secret; the bartender brought fresh drinks while they played their hands. Liam’s came in lowest by far, his Ober card badly outranked, but he could barely feel the prickle of fear over the roar inside his skull, the adrenaline pumping through him full-throttle now. The longer he held on to the shadows, the more they weighed on him, sinking sharp teeth into his thoughts and tinging his sight with red. Just a little longer. He had to hold on.
“First secret, then. You are far from Frankfurt, Mr. Doyle.” Junker drummed his fingers on his holstered Walther P38. Liam didn’t miss the warning. “What brings you to Westphalia? It is very curious, after all”—here he looked around at his fellow officers—“that we should find you so close to France’s border.”
So they were concerned about the French Resistance at least as much as American infiltrators—Liam filed that bit away for later use. “I’m a historical researcher,” he replied coolly. “I’ve heard there are many interesting archives out here. Besides—” Liam smiled in turn. “Isn’t France part of Germany now?”
One of the officers snorted. “Hardly seems like a good time for sightseeing.”
“Well, the autumn trees are lovely. Or don’t you think your Führer has this war under control?”
One of the officers balked, but Junker held up one hand. “Now, now. For a secret like that, you’ll have to win the next round.”
While they made their bets and played their hands, Liam’s gaze roved the tavern. So much more cramped than he would have liked, and there was little chance he would get Junker alone. Even if things went so sour that Junker decided to shoot him, he seemed like the kind of bastard who would do it right here, in front of everyone.
Liam forced himself to breathe steadily. He couldn’t worry about being found out. He was getting by on his wits alone so far, but he needed a backup plan. This was too important to let his only chance slip away—he needed to set things right, he needed to stay in control.
He studied the two guards behind Junker, who were doing their best to blend in with the ugly brocade walls. One, his dark eyes gleaming, caught Liam staring and stared right back.
Liam’s throat tightened. He suddenly felt very exposed, as if this man—boy, really, probably his same age—could see exactly what he was playing at, the shadows pooling around him and the darkness consuming his thoughts. Liam shrank back, not wanting to look away first.
Then the guard shifted his weight, and Liam caught it: the rip and stain on the guard’s jacket beneath his right arm, though he held it stiffly at his side to cover it.
The whispers in his head turned into a warning roar.
“Mr. Doyle?” Junker asked. “Your hand?”
Shit. Liam swallowed, a new terror prickling at his scalp. He hurriedly spread his cards out as his mind whirred. His cards weren’t the highest or lowest this time. The rotten-mouthed officer, Stauffen, asked one of the other men for a secret about a secretary at headquarters. But Liam wasn’t listening. He was trying to catch another glimpse of the guard’s jacket from the corner of his eye, trying to add up numbers that refused to sum.
He saw more clearly now: the way it pulled too tight at the guard’s broad shoulders. The cuffs that didn’t reach his wrists, his long, slender fingers.
The knife tear.
The hasty bleach stain turning the fabric pale green around it.
Stauffen started dealing their hands for round three. The guard was watching Liam, eyes narrowed in warning. Dark eyes, darker hair, a single curl draping down his forehead. Liam gripped his cards to anchor himself—the shadows were getting impatient along with him, anxious to be unleashed.
“Congratulations, Mr. Doyle.” Junker held his hands up in defeat. “What secret would you like to claim?”
He couldn’t waste another round buttering the Sturmbannführer up. Not with the guard watching him, the guard who might be something else entirely. He had to cut right to the chase before it was too late and the manuscript was out of his grasp again.
“Your base at Siegen.” Liam tapped the rim of his refilled glass. “I’ve heard your commander, Himmler, has a tremendous collection of artifacts there—old manuscripts and historical records.”
“And you would like to see these treasures,” Junker said in a singsong tone. “For completely innocent purposes, I am certain, Amerikaner.”
The other officers erupted with laughter. Liam stewed, darkness throbbing behind his eyes. What was so damned funny? He was finally so close—and they were taking him for a joke.
He’d let himself get sloppy because of that damned guard—who probably wasn’t even a threat, just some poor sap who got stuck with a dead man’s uniform. And that stare, that wayward curl—
Liam made a fist underneath the table and let the shadows build further. Coalescing. Festering.
“I don’t see what’s so funny.” Liam cocked his head at Junker. Just a few more seconds.
“Oh, Mr. Doyle. Whoever you really are.” Junker wiped a tear from the corner of his eye. “If you honestly think we would let an American spy onto our military base—”
The gunshot silenced him. A fine mist of brain and skull splashed Liam’s face as Junker slumped forward, eyes wide.
Liam leapt back, cards and brandy and bottle caps flying as the table tilted and dumped the Sturmbannführer onto the floor.
“Hands in the air, Amerikaner! Hands in the air!”
All around him, the officers jumped to their feet, fumbling drunkenly for their sidearms. Liam raised his hands, keeping one fist closed, as what sounded like thousands of pistols were cocked.
But they were all turning on the young guard who now stood behind Junker’s chair, his sidearm still spewing smoke.
“For my family,” he snarled, chest heaving as he glared at Junker’s corpse.
Liam and the guard locked eyes, and the guard’s mouth twisted with unrepentant hatred, his eyes coal black.
“You bastard,” Liam said.Then he opened his hand, spilling darkness all around them. Thick as tar, hungry as acid. As the officers screamed, Liam lunged forward, humming the right frequency, and dragged the guard—the assassin—with him into the roaring black. US
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