It had once been a lovely kitchen, with pale wood and granite, a pretty view of a courtyard garden, and an enormous refrigerator still dotted with photographs of what looked like a big, happy family. Father, mother, daughter, sons, and an enormous black dog, big enough for the kids to ride on.
But they were long gone now, cleared out like nearly everyone else in New Orleans when Paranormals flooded into our world, leaving most of our city and much of the South in ruins.
I was searching through what they’d left behind, looking for a diamond in the rough.
“There is a house in New Orleans . . .”
I winced at the throaty croak that echoed from the other end of the kitchen. “Like a frog being strangled,” I muttered.
“They call the Rising Sun!”
I leaned around the cabinet door. “Moses!”
Inside the pantry, something thudded, rolled. “What? I’m working here.”
A head, small and pale, with glossy black horns and irritable green eyes, peered around the pantry door. “What about it?”
“It’s not great.”
He snorted, doubt written across his face. “Says you.”
“Yeah, says me.”
Moses walked out of the pantry, three feet of Paranormal attitude. And, for the five weeks we’d been sneaking around New Orleans, my best friend.
“Someone might hear you,” I reminded him.
He grumbled a curse, walked through the shadowed kitchen in my direction. He held up a bloated silver can, its seams bursting from age, heat, and rot. By the size, I guessed it was tuna fish. Very gnarly tuna fish.
“Jackpot,” Moses said.
“You aren’t going to eat that,” I said. “It’s spoiled.”
“Don’t be persnickety.” He sniffed at the metal, closed his eyes in obvious pleasure. “More flavor this way.” He held it out. “You want a sniff?”
My stomach flipped in revolt. “I do not. It would probably kill me.”
He waved off the concern. “I’ve done this tons of times. Maybe I just have a stronger constitution than you, Claire.”
“Hmm,” I said noncommittally. Better to avoid going too far down that rabbit hole.
Moses was supposed to be locked up in Devil’s Isle, the prison for Paras and anyone else touched by magic. Some Paras had wanted our world for their own; others, like Moses, had been forced to fight via magical conscription. Unfortunately, the Paranormal Combatant Command, the federal agency in charge of Paras, didn’t much care about that detail.
I was a Sensitive, a human affected by magic that had seeped in from the Beyond. That magic gave me telekinesis, but at a cost: Too much magic would destroy my mind and body. Keeping that balance was a trick I was trying to master.
I’d kept my power secret until a cult called Reveillon—people who believed magic in any form, including the city’s remaining Paranormals, should be eradicated—had attacked Devil’s Isle. I’d had to use my magic to bring down Reveillon’s founder. The PCC now considered me its enemy—and didn’t get the irony.
There were signs the PCC might eventually come to its senses, acknowledge that magic wasn’t all bad and not all Paranormals had been our enemies on purpose. It had even authorized temporary leave for a select few Paranormals who’d fought in the Battle of Devil’s Isle.
Sensitives like me hadn’t gotten the same consideration. We weren’t Paras, and we weren’t humans. We were different. Paras couldn’t become wraiths—the pale, skeletal monsters into which Sensitives transformed if we failed to control our magic, to balance all that heady power. If we weren’t careful, the magic would corrupt us, turn us into twisted creatures obsessed with absorbing more and more power.
So despite my efforts in the battle, there’d be no pass for me. I was too unpredictable, too dangerous, too untrustworthy.
Moses, having already snuck out of Devil’s Isle and having skipped out again during the battle, didn’t need a pass. He was already on the lam.
We’d tried playing the game, helping Containment, the PCC unit in charge of Devil’s Isle, track down Reveillon and fighting on their side. And except for the few token passes, nothing had changed.
So we’d been sneaking around New Orleans, working to avoid Containment. And since they were treating us like criminals, we figured we’d might as well act like criminals. We’d decided our job was to challenge the PCC and its refusal to acknowledge the truth about magic, about Paranormals, about Sensitives.
Along with the other members of our crew, which we called Delta, we’d been covering Reveillon’s antimagic billboards with our own messages, using contacts outside the war Zone to rally the rest of the world to our side and gathering supplies for the Devil’s Isle clinic.
The facility—and the wraiths secured here—weren’t on Containment’s priority list. Reveillon’s attacks had put a big crimp in the PCC’s supply chain, so even if the clinic had been on that list, consumables were getting harder to come by. We were in this house to gather up what we could for delivery to Lizzie, who ran the clinic.
Moses walked toward the kitchen island with his slightly sideways gait, then slung a mesh bag of equally swollen cans onto the granite countertop and added his newest find to it. “You find anything?”
It took me a moment to reorient. I closed the cabinet, held up a carton of sea salt and a tin of tea bags. “Salt’s half full, and the tea bags still smell mostly like tea.” No small feat, given they’d been stewing in heat and humidity. “Still,” I said, “you’d think there’d be more here.”
“It’s a nice house,” he said, glancing around the room. “It would have been one of the first ones sacked after the war—or during the battle.”
“Yeah,” I said.
Reveillon had ransacked Devil’s Isle—and every neighborhood the members had blown through along the way. They’d been like a hurricane scouring their way across New Orleans. Not the first storm the Big Easy had faced down. But over time, hell and high water took their toll.
Reveillon’s members had hurt the city and those who lived here—and some, including Liam Quinn, didn’t live here anymore. The bounty hunter I’d fallen for had been hit by magic, and he’d left New Orleans to fight his resulting demons.
I hadn’t heard from him since.
I knew Liam was with his grandmother Eleanor in what Malachi called the “southern reach,” the bayous and marshes of southern Louisiana where small communities of Paras worked to stay out of Containment’s crosshairs—and out of Devil’s Isle.
Malachi, another of my Paranormal friends, had told us that much when he’d returned from reuniting Liam and Eleanor.
But that was all I knew about Liam’s location or the effects of the magical hit he’d taken. It was a point of pride that I hadn’t asked Malachi for any more details, for updates as one week after another passed. I’d tried to force thoughts of Liam to the back of my mind, giving him the time and space he apparently needed. In the meantime, I’d focused on Delta, on our new work for New Orleans, on controlling my magic. Because even though I knew why he’d gone, it still hurt to be left behind.
I put my hands on my hips and sighed as I looked at our meager harvest. “Oh, well. You add it to the bottled water, the aspirin, the radio. That’s something.”
“It’s something,” he said. “You know they don’t take things for granted.”
They hadn’t. If anything, they’d been too grateful, and that didn’t make me feel any better about Containment or our situation.
“Oh, found one more thing,” Moses said, pulling something from the bib of his denim overalls. He’d found the overalls during a previous scavenger hunt. They were way too big for him—the pants rolled up at the bottom—but he loved that front pocket.
He moved toward me, offered his hand. In his small, meaty palm sat a silver robot with a square body perched on blocky feet. Probably three inches long, with a canister-shaped head topped by a tiny antenna. A metal windup key emerged from its back.
“It was wedged behind a drawer,” Moses said.
“It’s old,” I said, taking it gingerly and looking—as my father had taught me—for a manufacturer’s mark or date, but I didn’t find anything. “Probably from the fifties or sixties.” That was much older than the fancy cabinets and countertops in there. “Must have missed it when they renovated the house. Let’s fire it up.” Carefully, I cranked the key, listened to the gears catch and lock, then set the toy on the countertop.
The gears buzzed like hornets as it moved forward, its feet rotating in sequence, the little antenna bobbing as it moved. We watched silently as it marched to the end of the countertop. Moses caught it before it reached the end, turned it around, and sent it back in my direction.
“Huh,” he said, monitoring its progress with surprising affection in his eyes. “I like that.”
“Yeah,” I said, “so do I.”
We wound it again and let the toy repeat its parade across the granite.
“Shame they missed it when they left,” he said.
“What did they miss?”
We both turned sharply, found a man behind us.
Malachi was tall, over six feet, with the broad shoulders of a soldier. He looked like an angel: tousled blond curls that reached his shoulders, a square jaw, luminous ivory wings that folded and magically disappeared while we watched, and eyes of shimmering gold. That gold was a signature of some Paranormals—and it was the color I’d seen in Liam’s eyes after he’d been hit and before he’d run.
Malachi had been a general in the Consularis army—the caste of Paras who’d ruled the Beyond before the war, the same Paras who’d been magically conscripted to fight us by their enemies, the Court of Dawn.
We hadn’t heard the usual thush of wings that signaled Malachi had alighted—and apparently walked right through the front door. His wings were now retracted, and he wore jeans, boots, and a faded Loyola T-shirt.
Malachi smiled at Moses, then let his gaze linger on me. My heart met that look, delivered by a man beautiful enough to be carved in marble and preserved for eternity, with an answering thump. It was an instinctive response, triggered by the sheer power of his gaze.
Paras had very different conceptions of romance and attraction. We were just friends—even if we’d become better friends over the last few weeks—but that didn’t make his power any less potent.
“They missed our new toy,” I said, answering his question. I wound it again and set it to work.
“Ah,” he said, then picked it up to study it. “An automaton.”
“Or humans’ sixty-year-old idea of one. How’d you find us?”
“We followed the sound of mating cats,” Malachi said, sliding a sly smile to Moses.
Moses lifted his middle finger. “I got your mating cats right here.”
I guess the gesture translated. Good to know. “We?” I asked.
“Someone wanted to talk.” He glanced back as footsteps echoed on the hardwood floors at the other end of the shotgun house.
A man stepped into the doorway, his figure only a shadow in the harsh sunlight behind him.
For a moment, I was lost in memory, back at Royal Mercantile, my store in the French Quarter. Or it had been, before I’d been forced to abandon it. In my mind, I was in bare feet on a rough-hewn floor, a slip of a breeze coming through the windows and a man sleeping next to me. Dark hair. Blue eyes. Body lean and honed like a weapon.
The man I’d fought beside.
The man who’d left.
Then he took a step forward. Memory faded, putting another man in the doorway. Similar to the one who’d left, but not the same.
“Gavin,” Moses said.
This wasn’t Liam, but his brother. But it was still surprising that he was standing here with Malachi. I hadn’t seen him since the battle.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
Gavin didn’t waste any time. “Jack Broussard is dead.”
Broussard was a Containment agent, and a generally despicable human.
“No loss there,” Moses said.
“Maybe not,” Gavin replied. “But they’re saying Liam killed him.”
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