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Authors: Hilary Wagner

The White Assassin

BOOK: The White Assassin
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The White Assassin



Nightshade City


The White Assassin


The White Assassin


Holiday House / New York

Text copyright © 2011 by Hilary Wagner
Illustrations copyright © 2011 by Omar Rayyan
All Rights Reserved
HOLIDAY HOUSE is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Wagner, Hilary.
The white assassin / Hilary Wagner.—1st ed.
p. cm.
Sequel to: Nightshade City
Summary: Snakes, bats, and rats join forces to save Nightshade from Billycan and
his horde of brutal swamp rats, aided by an antidote to the drug that made Billycan
the way he is, but the revelation of secrets proves an even more powerful weapon
in the fight for peace.
[1. Fantasy. 2. Rats—Fiction.] I. Title.

For Lenny Lee,
a very brave young writer
“Rats Rule!”



Chapter One
: A Gathering in a Chapel

Chapter Two
: The Horde

Chapter Three
: Dig Him Up

Chapter Four
: A Dead Boar

Chapter Five
: A Stealer of Family

Chapter Six
: A Dark Morning

Chapter Seven
: Billy

Chapter Eight
: A New Council

Chapter Nine
: A Secret

Chapter Ten: L

Chapter Eleven
: Violent Tendencies

Chapter Twelve
: Suspect

Chapter Thirteen
: Appalling Tea

Chapter Fourteen
: The Parchment

Chapter Fifteen
: A Well-Timed Visit

Chapter Sixteen
: Born on Hallowtide

Chapter Seventeen
: A Clutch of Crows

Chapter Eighteen
: Spirit of a Lion

Chapter Nineteen
: Of Fish and Family


The rats of Nightshade are family to me and would not exist without my own family. Many thanks to my husband, Eric, who gives me extraordinary ideas, inspiring me to lead my rats to places they never expected to go. My son, Vincent, gives me the outlook of a growing boy—what interests him, what makes him happy, and what drives him nuts—which is a lot! Thanks, V! My daughter, Nomi, inspires me to keep wondering about everything and keep learning about the world around me with wide-eyed amazement on all the things I still don’t know about. Thanks, Chip Chop!

Thanks to my agent, Marietta Zacker, who has the good grace to put up with me on a regular basis—and
keep talking to me! Heaps of thanks to my editor, Julie Amper. Once again, she worked tirelessly with me, making
The White Assassin
the very best it could possibly be. Billycan thanks you too and is glad you liked the brownies he made.

Last but not least, thank you to everyone who supported
Nightshade City.
I never thought so many people would read my books. Please don’t stop! The rats have a lot more to say!

A Gathering in a Chapel

that seemed to punch the night sky, eight members of the Mastiff County brown bat colony silently wheeled through the dark, each clutching a Nightshade rat in its claws. The rats, airborne for the first time, tightly gripped the legs of their bat escorts, staring nervously at the swamp below. Lofty white oaks and cypress trees, steeped in hanging moss, smothered the ground, curling under the rats’ feet like ancient beings too aged to stand erect, their spidery branches beckoning the newcomers into their secret world.

Vincent bristled as they swept over the plantation manor, a ghostly whitewash against the black, its broken windows like rotting teeth, flaunting a ghoulish grin. Fitting, he thought. Where else should the rat dwell—the White Assassin, as the creatures of the swamp had so aptly named him. He glanced over at Victor, who gazed wide-eyed at the vast swamplands, then over at Carn, who suddenly twisted in the bat’s grip, jolting as an owl screeched from the shadows.
Carn grunted as his escort squeezed him tighter, the bat warning him that it was not the time for such fidgeting, not unless Carn wished to be dropped into the bog and quickly consumed by whatever lurked below. Vincent knew well why Carn was so nervous, and it had little to do with their treacherous journey across the swamp. Carn faced a far more dangerous mission, one that would have even the toughest of rats quaking in fear.

Chief Elder Dresden soared down to the chapel at breakneck speed, his oversized wings unfurling as he prepared to land. Dangling precariously in Dresden’s grasp, Juniper examined the bats’ swampland home. It was a crumbling chapel, rotted by time and the elements to a deathly black. Its steeple leaned at an exaggerated angle, held upright only by the towering trees around it. All the windows and doors had long since disappeared. Fat, gnarled tree limbs and creepers grew through the openings, rambling endlessly across the chapel floor and up the crumbling walls.

One by one, the bats carried the rats into the chapel through a gaping hole in the steeple. Vincent’s skin prickled as he took in the bizarre scene. The walls were adorned with peculiar symbols and massive paintings of ferocious fanged snakes in luminescent colors being flung into fire and chopped to pieces by swords wielded by black-cloaked humans. A secret sect once lived in the chapel, Dresden had explained, using snakes as part of their religious sacrifice.

Swooping up a staircase, Dresden flew to a round oak podium overlooking the chapel’s pews. A lone torch stood on the podium, resting crookedly in its rusted iron stand, its flames illuminating the painted serpents. Dresden released Juniper as he landed on the podium. The rest of the bats followed, dropping off the other rats behind Juniper, and then flying to the ceiling in one smooth motion. While the rats were relieved to be back on land—or close to it—they
remained edgy, unsettled by the flickering images of hideous writhing snakes all around them.

Dresden gave a shrill cry. The rats covered their ears, the sound excruciating. Within seconds, tiny eyes popped out from the darkness. Wings opened from their cocoon-like closures, and bat after bat softly fell from the rafters, easily navigating the web of tangled branches, elegantly plunging to the pews below and landing one next to the other as if waiting for a Sunday sermon. Juniper was awed by the speed and precision of the colony. If only we Nightshade rats could organize so swiftly, he thought.

Dropping from the ceiling, Cotton and Telula, Dresden’s children, took position behind their father while the others continued to gather.

“They’re here,” whispered Cotton to his father. “Our borders are secure. As agreed, they have come alone.” Dresden nodded. He looked at the Council and motioned to the chapel’s entrance.

Two huge snakes entered, rolling down the center aisle, winding up and twisting down the trees and vines that grew through the floorboards, finally reaching the front row of pews. With an inquisitive gaze they eyed the bats and rats, then glided up the side of the pew where they abruptly stopped, staring intently at the freakish snake paintings on the wall—grim reminders of why no snake had dared venture into the chapel for generations. The pair exchanged glances, gliding from the railing onto the pew. Droppings fell from anxious young bats still up in the rafters, petrified by the slithering creatures their parents had always warned them about.

Juniper approached, cautious but undaunted. The mission was far too vital to give in to any dread a snake could inspire. “Greetings, new allies,” he said, “thank you for coming tonight. I’m aware this chapel is not a welcome sight for your kind, but there was no other
place for us to safely gather. I am Juniper, Chief Citizen of Nightshade City, and these others are all members of our esteemed Council. We have traveled to your swamp from the north based on information from our old friend Dresden.”

Dresden, whose feet weren’t meant to walk on land, came forward in an awkward spider-like crawl that made him the most vulnerable to the snakes. He stood between Juniper and Carn, the closest he had ever been to a snake, the bats’ sworn enemy. “Welcome, snake leaders. I am Dresden, Chief Elder of the Third Chapter of the Mastiff County brown bat colony.”

The banded snake spoke first, a large female, bigger than her companion. She was striped in wide segments of red, black, and yellow, her scales glistening like colored glass in the torchlight. She turned her head from side to side. “Thank you for your welcome, one and all,” she said in a raspy tenor. “I am Silt, leader of the scarlet king snakes.”

BOOK: The White Assassin
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