Authors: Kalayna Price
Tags: #Urban Life, #Contemporary, #Epic, #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General
“What I see is true,” I whispered, wil ing with everything in me for reality to agree. To confirm that there was no beast.
Hol y screamed, and the street hung on her high-pitched note. Then the beast dissolved.
A cloud of pale mist exploded around me, and a smal disk fel from where the clump of magic in the beast’s center had been. It hit the sidewalk with a
, a sound quickly overwhelmed by dozens of yel ing voices. Shouts and screams that I’d zoned out when I’d been facing the construct.
Footsteps rang out over the sidewalk, people heading toward us from every direction. Doors banged open as more people poured onto the street. Hol y pushed herself up from the sidewalk, her hand gripping her savaged shoulder.
“Alex? Oh, my God. It’s just gone? Alex, how did you . . .
?” She threw her arms around me, dragging me down.
?” She threw her arms around me, dragging me down.
“Thank you,” she whispered. Her cheek was wet where it brushed my neck.
I stiffened under her touch, her skin hot enough that I winced, but I didn’t pul back. “It wasn’t real.”
Someone in faded jeans, the knees slightly worn, stepped nearer, and Death knelt behind Hol y. I stared at him over the top of her head.
“It’s going to be okay,” I whispered, the words as much to comfort her as to question Death.
He held my gaze, and then nodded, his dark hair brushing his chin with the movement. “She’l be fine,” he said, but he frowned.
He stared at the thin cloud of mist hanging in the air around us. If the cloud had been natural water vapor, the midday sun would have evaporated it in minutes, but this mist hadn’t dissipated. It hadn’t even thinned after I’d first disbelieved the beast.
Death reached out and twisted his hand as if he could wrap the mist around his fist. Then he gave a smal jerk.
The cloud vanished.
I gaped. The thing about soul col ectors was that they collected
But how could a glamour construct have a soul?
Was that thing alive?
I couldn’t ask. Not here. Not with people crowded around us. No one else could see Death.
Death brushed an escaped curl back behind my ear. “Be careful, Alex,” he said. Then he vanished as the first Good Samaritan reached us.
“Is she al right?” a man asked and someone else yel ed,
An overweight witch in a hat wider than her shoulders lowered her heft to the pavement beside me. “I’m a certified healer,” she said, reaching out to take Hol y’s shoulders.
“Let me see her.”
I let her strip Hol y’s arms off me, and as I felt the tingle of a healing charm being invoked, I slammed my shields back a healing charm being invoked, I slammed my shields back in place. My vision didn’t immediately revert to normal, and I squinted in the bright midday light, which I now perceived as dim and ful of shadows. In the dimness, I searched out my purse. I’d dropped it—I didn’t remember when.
Sometime between Hol y’s firebal and my disbelieving the construct.
I final y spotted the red bag a couple of feet away. As I stooped to grab it, I noticed a smal copper disk.
charm from the beast.
I pul ed a tissue from my purse, and, as inconspicuously as possible, plucked the disk from the sidewalk. Through the thin paper, the spel s charged in the disk hummed faintly, but whatever they had been, they were defunct now. The sound of sirens rang in the distance, and I backed away, carrying the disk with me.
Tamara pushed her way through the crowd. She leaned over Hol y for several minutes before straightening and glancing around. Her gaze landed on me, and she made her way over to me.
“You okay, Alex?”
I nodded, rubbing my hands over my chil ed arms. “She’s okay, right?”
Tamara might not have been a healer or a practicing doctor, but as a medical examiner, she knew injuries and she was definitely familiar with fatal wounds.
“She’s in shock, but her injuries aren’t serious. What the heck were you two doing? Why didn’t you get off the street?”
I didn’t answer. Both Tamara and Hol y knew I was on close personal terms with a soul col ector, but I wasn’t about to tel Tamara that Death had been here. When I blinked at her without answering, Tamara shook her head.
“You want to tel me what happened?” she asked, sounding more like a cop than an ME—if you hang around enough cops, it rubs off.
“The beast was a glamour. I disbelieved it.” Or at least, it was partial y glamour. The magic in the disk felt familiar was partial y glamour. The magic in the disk felt familiar and definitely witchy, not fae. And then there was that mist that Death vanished.
What was that creature?
Had that strange fae sent it? He’d warned me that I would regret revealing the feet.
“Yeah, you disbelieved a glamour out of existence.
Everyone on this street wil probably relate the same thing.
But how do you explain
?” Tamara pointed to where Hol y and I had faced the beast.
Two feet above the sidewalk was a fist-sized patch of darker air. Swirling colors escaped the dark patch, reaching out of it in amorphic tendrils.
I’d merged realities.
I shot Tamara a panicked glance. I couldn’t close the rift
—I didn’t know how.
We could cover it . . .
Maybe if we moved a table over it, no one would notice.
Yeah, like a direct hole into the Aetheric wouldn’t be noticed on a street ful of witches.
People were already looking up, their attention leaving Hol y. Several crept forward, reaching for the escaping tendrils of raw magic, their expressions a mix of suspicion and amazement. A tangle of green energy wrapped around a male witch’s extended finger, and he gasped. Then, his eyes ful of wonder, he looked up, his gaze fal ing on me.
I couldn’t explain the tear. I looked away, not even wil ing to try.
Tamara glanced down at the charm wrapped in tissue on my palm. “What’s that?”
“It fel out of the beast when it vanished.” I held it out for her inspection.
The front of the copper disk was engraved with runes. A couple of them looked familiar from a class I’d taken back in academy, but I was pretty sure they were the archaic forms. Several of the runes I’d never seen before, but despite the fact that the beast had been mostly glamour, the runes didn’t look like the twisting, hard-to-focus-on fae the runes didn’t look like the twisting, hard-to-focus-on fae glyphs I’d run into a month ago. Crimson wax sealed the back of the disk.
I was a sensitive, and a damn fair one. I could sense magic, could often tel the purpose and sometimes even recognize the caster. But the spel s on the disk were beyond my abilities. Luckily, Tamara was an even more skil ed sensitive—at least when it came to witch magic.
She studied the disk, biting her lip as she turned it over with the tissue. Leaning forward, she peered into the thick wax.
“This magic . . . There are spel s twisted on top of spel s,”
she whispered. “I can’t decipher a thing in this mess, but the signature of the magic . . . it’s familiar.” She looked up.
“Alex, whoever charmed this disk—I think they’re also responsible for the spel s on the feet.”
he panic caused by the construct’s attack paled in comparison to the utter chaos that overtook the street once the officials arrived. Every law enforcement entity in the city wanted to claim jurisdiction. The FIB showed because the glamour implicated the fae, the NCPD came because it was an attack on citizens on a city street, the MCIB—
Magical Crimes Investigation Bureau—arrived because of the nature of the crime, and the OMIH—Organization for Magical y Inclined Humans—came because witches were involved. Even a representative from the AFHR—
Ambassador of Fae and Human Relations—made an appearance.
With no one clearly in charge, I decided to side with the people who tended to bat a paycheck my way every now and then: the good old-fashioned police. I turned the charmed disk over to their anti–black magic unit. The ABMU officer dropped it into a magic-dampening evidence bag, and then, after making me repeat what happened on the street twice, turned me loose. I didn’t mention Tamara’s suspicions that the caster who’d charmed the disk had also been responsible for the feet in the floodplain. The ABMU
had the very best forensic spel crafters in the city; they would unravel the spel s on the disk.
“Did you see where it came from?” one woman asked another as I passed beyond the police barricade.
I hoped she was talking about the magical construct and not the tear into the Aetheric. After al , a beast rampaging through a major metropolitan area was
an everyday occurrence. Aside from the time a bear had escaped from occurrence. Aside from the time a bear had escaped from a Georgia zoo a couple of years back, I couldn’t remember hearing of any similar situation. But the beast was gone, and the tear was stil here. And it was drawing attention.
I’d merged planes of reality before, but last time—wel , actual y, the only other time—I had been in a private residence. A private residence that happened to belong to the governor of Nekros. He was a big mover and shaker in the Humans First Party, an anti-fae/anti-witch political group. The governor also happened to be my father, and ironical y, fae, but neither of those facts was common knowledge. He must have paid a considerable amount to keep the events surrounding the Blood Moon quiet, and neither my very short arrest nor the fact that an entire suite of rooms in his home now touched multiple realties had shown up in the papers.
I didn’t personal y have the required money or influence to hide a patch of merged reality in the center of the Quarter.
Especial y not with a street ful of witnesses, the media already arriving with cameras out and recording, and a whole slew of legal alphabet soup on the scene. So I did the only thing I could: I avoided questions about the tear.
Or at least I tried.
“Miss Craft, why am I not surprised to see you here?” a sharp female voice asked.
I cringed, and then tried to hide the reaction as I turned.
“Agent Nori,” I said to the FIB agent I’d had the displeasure of meeting the day before. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“Doubtful, but I need your statement. Tel me what happened here.”
“My friends and I were finishing dessert and talking about our day. Everything seemed normal enough. Then I noticed the fae who threatened me at the swamp. He was watching me. I pointed him out just before we heard the screaming.
We al looked in the direction of the sound, and that was when we saw the beast. It came from somewhere up the when we saw the beast. It came from somewhere up the street.” I pointed to where the cars were being cleared from the road. “I lost sight of the fae in the panic that ensued.
Several witches tried to conjure against the beast. My friend Hol y threw a firebal at it, and the beast charged her.
When I disbelieved in the construct, it vanished.”
“It takes a hel of a lot of conviction to destroy a ful y autonomous glamour.” She frowned at me, her dark eyes searching my face. When I didn’t say anything, she continued, “So, what can you tel me about that?” She pointed at the hole in reality.
I forced a casual shrug. “Maybe something to do with the beast?” It wasn’t a lie. It was a question.
Agent Nori’s frown etched deeper, the movement tugging on her high cheeks. “Do you make a habit of disbelieving glamour, Miss Craft?”
I’d have liked to say no, but there was photographic proof from a month ago that showed me walking through furniture and candles at a crime scene. In my defense, I hadn’t been able to see those glamoured objects, not even as hazy outlines like I’d seen with the beast. “I don’t go out of my way to do it, if that’s what you mean.”
“And do tears into the Aetheric appear anywhere you disbelieve glamour?”
“No.” At least I could answer that one definitively.
Agent Nori stared at me a long moment, as if trying to decide if I was lying. Or maybe she was trying to determine if I was
of lying. Fae couldn’t—though they could bend the truth until you’d swear up was down. At the floodplain, Nori had hinted that she knew I had fae blood.
Now she appeared to be weighing how much sway it held over my words.
She must have reached some conclusion because after a moment she said, “The ABMU has a charmed disk in evidence. It looks like witch magic. You are aware that fae rarely use complex charms?”
I nodded. By “rarely use” she actual y meant that most I nodded. By “rarely use” she actual y meant that most couldn’t use witch charms. The Aetheric resisted something about the fae nature. When I used my second sight, I could see the magic bend away from their very souls.
“Knowing that,” she said, “you stil insist that the attack was committed by a glamour?”
I faltered. I’d disbelieved the creature, not dispel ed it.
That fact indicated that its form was held together by glamour. But, it was undoubtedly a magic construct. When I didn’t say anything, her gaze moved past me.
“I’m sure I’l see you around, Miss Craft.” She walked away, and I let out a relieved breath.
Relief felt premature as a pair of heels clicked a fastapproaching tempo on the sidewalk behind me.
“Alex Craft, a moment of your time,” said a perky, and far too familiar, voice.
I didn’t turn. Not immediately at least. I recognized the voice: Lusa Duncan, the star reporter of Nekros’s most popular news program,
. And if I knew Lusa, there was a camera pointed at me right now. Taking a deep breath, I pasted on my professional smile and prepared myself to face the press.
She pushed her mic at me as soon as I turned. “Word in the Quarter is that the police have cal ed you in to consult on the Sionan floodplain foot murders and that the FIB is now involved. What can you tel us?”
Is that seriously what the news guys are calling the
Not that it mattered—my answer was the same.
“No comment,” I said. I gave a quick nod to her cameraman, whose name I stil didn’t know, though I’d seen his face often enough over the last few months that I probably should have known his name as wel . Then I tried to duck around Lusa.
Not that she let me.
Lusa was a petite witch—a ful head and shoulders shorter than me, even in her heels—but she was 110
percent ambition and excessively tenacious about fol owing percent ambition and excessively tenacious about fol owing a story. She sidestepped, blocking my path, and shoved her mic at me again.
“What can you tel the people of Nekros about the attack in the Quarter today?”
I sighed. I didn’t want to appear dodgy on the six o’clock news. “Nothing more than anyone else here could tel you.
I’m not sure where the beast came from or why it was on the street. We were lucky it was only a glamour.”
“Yes, lucky. Do you think this was a targeted attack?”
Possibly. It was very possible the kil er was upset that I’d revealed the mound of feet in the floodplain. Tamara was also on the case. She could have been the target. But I wasn’t about to speculate on the news.
Instead I said, “I think we need to wait for the NCPD’s analysis.”
Lusa hurried on to her next question. “What can you tel me about what appears to be Aetheric energy slipping into the street? Witnesses say the . . . tear is in about the same place as where you unraveled the glamour.”
“Maybe something to do with the beast?” I gave her the same line I’d fed Nori, though Lusa seemed to swal ow it as more credible than the FIB agent had. Hitching my purse strap higher on my shoulder, I stepped around Lusa. “If you’l excuse me, I need to check on my friend.”
This time Lusa let me go, and I hurried toward the ambulance idling across the street. Hol y sat in the back of the vehicle, two paramedics hovering over her and Tamara at her side. Hol y’s eyes were stil a little too wide, as if the shock of the attack hadn’t quite passed. A flame of freckles dusted her nose and cheeks, bright against her paler-thannormal skin. She usual y hid the freckles behind a complexion charm, but the medics had taken the charm to avoid possible magical interactions with the healing spel s.
“How’re you feeling?” I asked as I approached.
“They say I won’t even need stitches,” she said, but I could tel her frail smile was held in place by wil alone. “You could tel her frail smile was held in place by wil alone. “You know, I’ve used the expression that I felt like I’d been mauled after particularly bad days in the courtroom. I was wrong—this is worse.”
“Just wait until tomorrow. You’l be stiff and sore too.”
“Gee, thanks, Alex. You always give me something to look forward to.” She shook her head, but her smile looked at least a little less forced.
When the paramedics final y released her, with instructions to rest and watch the bite on her shoulder for signs of infection, Hol y al owed Tamara and me to help her down from the ambulance—which was a testament to how shaky she stil felt.
“You’re not stil planning to make your trial?” Tamara asked as she grabbed Hol y’s purse.
Hol y shook her head. “No. I’m cal ing it a day. I already contacted Arty about covering for me.”
Of course she had. She’d probably stil been bleeding when she’d had someone bring her the phone. I shook my head. If Death hadn’t been there, hadn’t warned me . . .
But then again, if the spel truly had been targeting me, Hol y might not have been injured if I hadn’t run back for her.
Had Death been here for Holly, the beast, or me?
Hol y was in no condition to drive, so we deposited her in the passenger seat of her car. I’d dropped my shields and peered across planes during the attack, and though it had been nearly an hour since I’d dispel ed the construct, shadows stil ate at my vision. Which left only Tamara to drive—we’d have to come back for the other cars later.
I slid into the backseat of Hol y’s car, but as we pul ed away from the curb, I noticed Lusa standing not far away, interviewing one of the pedestrians who’d been on the street. The man pantomimed thrusting his hand out like he was shoving it through something—or, more than likely, into a beast. Then he splayed his fingers as if to demonstrate suddenness and pointed to the hole.
Oh, I didn’t even want to know what kind of fal out I’d be Oh, I didn’t even want to know what kind of fal out I’d be dodging from this one.
“No comment,” I said, and hit the END button on my cel phone. It immediately buzzed again. “I need an antireporter charm,” I muttered. Yeah, and if I managed to create
, I’d make as much money as if I created a spel to reduce chocolate to zero calories. Of course, I was searching for a way to break glamour, and
charm appeared to be just as improbable.
“What do you think I should do, PC?” I asked, looking at my Chinese Crested.
The mostly hairless gray dog glanced up at his name.
Then he grabbed a stuffed penguin and dropped it at my feet.
“Yeah, I don’t think that’s going to help, buddy.”
He stared at me, his big brown eyes hopeful. When I didn’t move, he nudged the penguin closer with his nose, and the crest of white hair on his head—the only hair he had aside from the puffs on his tail and feet—bobbed with the motion.
“Oh, al right.” I tossed the toy across the room, and PC
took off, his nails clinking on the hardwood as he scrambled for the penguin. When he reached it, he stood there, squeezing it so it squeaked. Then he took off again, prancing around the one-room apartment with the toy. What he didn’t do was bring it back—we hadn’t quite got that retrieve
thing down. I shook my head.
My phone buzzed again, and with a sigh I hit the button to turn it off completely. I wasn’t likely to score a new client without my phone, but clients weren’t the ones cal ing right now. Tossing the phone on the counter, I turned back to my computer. I’d spent the last hour searching the Web for spel s and charms that could detect glamour. So far I’d run across some sketchy-sounding potions that used exotic—
across some sketchy-sounding potions that used exotic—
and probably fake—ingredients, and I’d found a couple of folklore-based glamour-piercing tricks, which, assuming they worked, would be even less feasible than my using my grave-sight whenever I left the house. After al , walking around peering through a stone with a natural y bored hole wasn’t exactly inconspicuous.
But I didn’t like the fact I’d run up against glamour two days in a row. I wasn’t a big believer in coincidence, and with first the glamoured feet and then the construct, plus the fae from the floodplain showing up in the Quarter . . . Yeah, I’d feel better with a glamour-piercing charm.
Not that I was finding one.
I closed the search browser. I was just going to have to fashion my own charm.
Yeah, because I have such a
successful history of spellcrafting.
At least none of my charms had exploded recently.
As I closed my laptop, the electronic buzz of my TV
turning on hummed through the room. My spine stiffened. I’d reactivated my wards when I came home, and the door that separated my over-the-garage efficiency from the main house hadn’t opened. I should have been alone.