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Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Young adult or teen  ➡  Romance  ➡  Fantasy

The Bells of Black Magic

 

 

THE BELLS OF BLACK MAGIC

B Y S A R A H H O G L E

 

Text Copyright © 2016 Sarah Hogle

All Rights Reserved

CONTENTS

One

THE MIDNIGHT FORTUNE

Two

IT ISN’T GOODBYE

Three

STRIPES

Four

A BAD OMEN

Five

THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT

Six

BAT’S BELFRY

Seven

POPPIES

Eight

THE CLEROMANCERS OF ARCANE WAY

Nine

UP IN THE NIGHT

Ten

WIN’S GATE

Eleven

THE SPIRITED AWAY

Twelve

NOBLEMEN OF PAUPERS

Thirteen

INSPECTOR NORMAND

Fourteen

ON NINTH STREET

Fifteen

THE ONE FOR LOVERS

Sixteen

TIP THE BALANCE

Seventeen

OVER THE MOON

Eighteen

WINKEL SHOP

Nineteen

GABLE’S MAGIC

Twenty

A NIGHT FOR RED

Twenty-One

FRISO’S GHOSTS

Twenty-Two

EIGHT FORTY-SIX

Twenty-Three

WE

Twenty-Four

MY WILD IRISH ROSE

Twenty-Five

ONE LESS LIGHT

Twenty-Six

THE BONE DIVINER

Twenty-Seven

ORANGE

Twenty-Eight

CABAL CONNECTIONS

Twenty-Nine

WITCH HUNT

Thirty

DEAD MAN

Thirty-One

BLACK MAGIC BURNING

Thirty-Two

ILLUMINATE

Thirty-Three

THE CAVOUL

Thirty-Four

THE DOLLHOUSE

Thirty-Five

EYE FOR AN EYE

Thirty-Six

STARS AND SOLDIERS

Thirty-Seven

THE MIDNIGHT FLIGHT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

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THE MIDNIGHT FORTUNE

 

He leaned forward eagerly, the darkness of the shop swallowing everything but his chin and nose. All part of the ambience, Liesel had told him as soon as he fell in love with the crystal balls and herbs, the five-pointed stars painted on decks of tarot cards. The only magic you’ll find here is in our hands.

Liesel’s hands were full of omens. She had carved the small wooden chips from the branch of an ash tree that had been struck by lightning, each omen painted a different color to represent different emotions.

“The moonstone.” Her eyes dipped to a pearly white rock, and he moved it to the lower-right corner of her spread handkerchief. “All right.” Liesel curled the four fingers of her left hand inward. “Let’s see that hair comb.”

“Not a comb this time.” Charleston grinned, reaching into his suit jacket to reveal a single pink pearl.

“You stole a pearl?”

“Didn’t steal!” he insisted. “Her necklace broke while she was walking down the street. I very politely helped pick up the mess—taking a cut of it for myself, naturally. You should have seen me. I was a right old gentleman.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Right old thief.”

His grin widened, devilish and waxy in the red glow of candlelight thrown off damask-papered walls. “She won’t miss it. And anyway”—he tapped the pearl—“that comb hasn’t been used by her in over a year. This memento’s fresh.”

“That’s not how mementos work,” Liesel reminded him sternly. “Fresh or old, it doesn’t matter. You could use something she never touched at all and it would still work, if you felt a connection.”

Charleston wasn’t listening. His eyes were on Liesel’s omens as she poured them from one fist into the other, which she did constantly but not always consciously. Clack-clack-clack. “May I … ?” He reached for them.

“It’s not going to—” she began, but then stopped to laugh as Charleston let the omens drop, one by one, over the moonstone. Each of them vanished before they hit the cloth, returning to Liesel’s fist.

“These omens know who they work for.”

She loved it whenever she could prove to him how ordinary he was, how his future was hopelessly not his own to behold. Instead, he must rely on a seventeen-year-old Juhl girl who lived on Arcane Way. He, heir to a vast fortune, was reduced to unspooling his nights in the tenebrous shop floor, candlelight wrapping around the table like cobwebs while quick fingers spun his fate.

And he loved it.

“Ah, well. Someday.”

“Nope,” she replied with a mean little smile. “You’ll be coming to see me forever, giving me money to hear all about Macall Kozma’s indifference. You and I are soul mates—you destined to be miserable, and I destined to remind you of it.”

He wagged a finger at her. “I won’t be coming here forever. Just until she’s no longer indifferent.”

Liesel threw him a look that plainly said she thought forever would come much sooner than Macall changing her mind about him.

“Let’s commence with the disappointment!” he joked, but she could tell from the way he shifted in his chair that he could never truly prepare himself for the rejection he met in his readings every week.

He held his breath, and she let the omens roll.

They broke around the moonstone in a splatter of colors whose meanings he’d come to memorize. By now, he could tell fortunes just as quickly as Liesel could—and he’d be able to replicate the whole business himself if he’d been born with magic in his hands like the Juhls, instead of money and privilege.

Both of them stared at the arrangement of painted ovals, unable to speak. A split-second later, Charleston sprang to his feet.

“It—ahh!” He punched the air, then threaded his fingers through his hair so violently that the ends stuck out. “Yes!” He did six or seven double-takes to be sure that the blue omen was in fact the one sitting closest to the moonstone, and that the horrid little yellow and green ones were far away.

“Well, well, well,” Liesel said in surprise, hands on her hips as she stood over the table in a posture identical to his. “What have you accidentally done to make this happen?”

“I don’t know!” he cried, beaming euphorically. He paced, glancing at the omens every other second in disbelief. “Harmonious. Harmonious!”

Liesel didn’t tease him for not getting the pink omen, which symbolized romantic feelings.

“Harmonious,” he repeated. “What a beautiful word. And then what was the—oh, I can’t remember!” Liesel opened her mouth, but he didn’t let her answer. “Can mean that the object of my reading has feelings for me that are either content, admiring, or tolerant.

“Tolerant, then,” Liesel guessed.

“Admiring!” Charleston exclaimed. “She admires me!” He was incapable of standing still. Liesel grinned at him as he spun about the room, absently peeking through the curtains and lifting books off shelves only to immediately return them. “Indifferent for fourteen months, platonic for five. I remember her word for me at one point was ‘mosquito.’ Now look!” He breathed in deeply, surveying the Juhls’ dingy shop with the same air as a king gazing upon his newly-conquered land. “Give me another week and we’ll be married.”

“Congratulations,” Liesel said sincerely. “She considers you a friend. If you can be reasonable, this will be enough for you.”

“I’m going to go visit her right now,” he rambled, checking the window again. The gas-lit streets were misty, black sky lightened to gray with rain. It was a quarter after midnight.

“I would not advise that.”

He wrung his hands. “Tomorrow, then. She’ll be … oh, it’s the weekend. That means staying in at Ruiseal’s—no, it’s technically Monday now, isn’t it? Aha!” He snapped his fingers. “She’ll be having breakfast with her parents in the hotel. Chocolate croissant and a coffee. Her mother will sit with her back to the door because insomnia makes her eyes puffy in the morning, and her father will read the entire front page of the newspaper aloud while dunking his pastry in tea.”

Liesel shook her head woefully at him. “You odd, lonely little man. Someday they will find your body in the snowy mountains, clutching a Chinese dictionary and wearing two different bathing suits, and no one will ask any questions.”

Charleston didn’t respond. He was too keyed-up. “Right. Seven o’ clock.” His hands were in fists, and he chattered his teeth over one thumbnail as he lifted up a fake crystal ball to examine its bottom for the third time in less than a minute. “I can stride into the room in my … oh, wring it. I’ll just wear my formal frock coat and risk it all. And my evening hat, too. If she laughs, she laughs. All the better.”

Liesel coughed loudly. Charleston didn’t appear to register her, but he still dug out his billfold and gave her a few copper peons. He was in such a good mood that he gave her double what he normally paid. Liesel happily counted her money and locked it in a metal box.

A knock thumped at the door. Both of them jumped.

“It’s locked,” Liesel called unnecessarily, not moving.

Whoever was outside knocked again.

“We’re closed!” Charleston added helpfully. The knock sounded again, louder this time.

“It’s inappropriate to knock on people’s doors at this hour,” Liesel grumbled, twisting the lock above the doorknob and letting it fly open. A black silhouette stood in the doorway, drowning under a sheet of water rushing down from the gutters. The figure lifted his head, exposing a scowl with thick eyebrows and cold, surly eyes beneath a flat tartan cap.

“I would like a reading,” he said stiffly.

“Then you’re out of luck,” Liesel replied. The boy at the door looked to be about the same age as Charleston—probably no older than nineteen—and both boys bristled when they saw each other.

Must be from another cabal, Liesel thought warily.

Charleston was the ringleader of The Hanged Men, one of six prominent cabals—or clans—that ran circles around the city of Black Magic. As a general rule, rival cabali were not allowed in Illuminate. The only reason why Liesel’s cousins grudgingly looked the other way when Charleston came to the door for his midnight sessions was because he paid so generously. Liesel suspected Charleston wouldn’t pay half so well if her cousins actually liked him.

“We’re closed,” she said in a tone of finality. She tried to shut the door but he stuck his foot in and slid through the crevice with ease.

“I have money,” he answered smoothly.

“Prices for readings at ungodly hours are different from godly ones.”

The boy glanced at Charleston, who now wore a neutral, unreadable face that had been honed to perfection. “You going to stay and watch, Birch?”

Charleston moved toward the door. When he was halfway outside, he turned. “Will you tell her I … will you say hello for me?”

The other boy didn’t respond, only glared at him. Charleston finally nodded goodbye to Liesel and left, sinking the two of them into silence.

“You are the one who tells people how others feel about them?” he finally inquired in a formal, rigid voice.

“That’s right. I’m guessing you’re not here about finances, death dates, or to learn how a loved one was killed.”

“No, I am not.”

She waited for him to say something else, and when he didn’t, asked, “What’s your name, chatterbox?”

His eyes shot around Illuminate’s interior, absorbing its carefully-constructed eccentricities without interest. He selected one of the cards sitting in a basket on the counter, hand-written with the Juhls’ name and address, zipping its sharp corners under his fingernails until he dulled them. “I don’t see why you would need to know.”

Liesel crossed her arms. “It’ll be four silver queens to start, then.”

He shrugged. “I’ll pay after the reading. First I want to see if you’re a fraud.”

Liesel had heard this too many times before to be offended by it and merely gestured for him to sit down at her round divination table. “So, no-name.” She tore her handkerchief open and let the omens spill onto the cloth, pushing the moonstone away. “Here’s how we’re doing this. You’re going to take the moonstone and put it somewhere on—”

“The what?”

She pointed.

“And put it somewhere on the cloth. Anywhere on the cloth. The moonstone is you. See, it even looks like you.” She made the moonstone dance, singing an octave too high out of the side of her mouth, “Look at me, I’m an angry man!”

He was not amused.

She cleared her throat and put the moonstone back down. “Now, in order for this to work, I need to have something that belongs to the person whose feelings you want divulged. Unless we’re reading your feelings. In which case, I can tell by your remarkably warm smile that you’re in for a really enjoyable self-exploration.”

The boy considered this, shrugging off his jacket. It was striped gray and purple, with two rows of mismatched buttons. “I was given this,” he said, tapping a small brown button with three holes in it.

“It’s from the person we’re reading?”

He nodded curtly, prodding the moonstone into the center of the cloth. Liesel closed one hand over the brown button. “May I ask who the person is?”

He stared blankly at her, scraping the business card back and forth down the skin of his index finger.

Liesel arched her eyebrows. “Fine.” She unfurled her fingers over the handkerchief, her eyes suddenly calculating as she swept them over the rattling omens. “Pink,” she declared in surprise. “I won’t lie to you, I was expecting to see the black one.”

“What does it mean?” he grunted.

Liesel studied him intently. “It means that your mystery friend has romantic feelings for you. Can be lust, love, or just a conscious partiality. In my experience, it usually indicates true love.”

The boy’s expression was wooden, revealing nothing.

“Are congratulations in order?” she wheedled. He didn’t reply, instead grabbing his jacket and putting it back on. “ … Or not?”

He abruptly rose from his chair and made toward the door.

“Hey!” she yelled. “Pay up. You owe me six of silver. I mean eight.”

He slipped out the door, letting it bang wide open in the wind. Rain whirled inside, making the tilework slick and shiny. Liesel chased him to the corner of Arcane Way and Meridian, but he disappeared into thin air. A brilliant green whip of lightning cracked apart the sky.

“I lied!” she shouted through the rain, feet freezing with water leaking through the holes in her hand-me-down boots. “Pink means that they hate you!”

She couldn’t tell whether or not he heard her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

[]

IT ISN’T GOODBYE

 

Across town at that very moment, two teenage boys stood in a bell tower waiting for their friend. On an average night there would have been six teenagers; however, two of their number had preexisting plans and were unable to come, one of them had darted off ten minutes ago with the promise to be right back, and the sixth—the friend they were waiting for—was infuriatingly late.

“Hurry up,” Friso Weisz muttered, pressing his face to a cracked stained glass window. “The ferry’s already left by now and we have to borrow someone’s boat before they light the fog lamps … ”

As if in answer to his summons, the shape of a boy lumbered out of the gloom toward the bell tower, backlit with steam rolling off the banks of Espello. A broken moon twisted his shadow both ahead of and behind him, a six-armed, six-legged monster.

Gable Petrovich hovered at Friso’s right, squinting through the multicolored glass at the boy heading their way. The boy was distorted in greens and purples, slowing down, seeming to stump along rather than walk. Blood trailed down his trousers, puddling in the road.

Gable realized something was wrong half a second before Friso did and flew down the tower stairs into a small cemetery. He didn’t stop when Friso tripped headlong over one of the tombstones with such force that he blacked out.

Their friend Cadrie finally arrived, bunching her dress’s hem all the way up to her waist. She had dashed off to fetch coins from a wishing fountain, as they’d planned to run afoul of St. Noire tonight, Isle of Majiel’s capital city. St. Noire’s peace officers responded best to bribes of the silver variety, looking the other way so long as their palms were greased.

The bleeding boy swayed dizzily with the threat to drop. Gable was off like a shot with Cadrie flagging his heels, her coins falling upon the pebbled walk. Friso was still prone in the cemetery.

The bleeding boy pitched forward onto his face before Gable could catch him, tartan cap spilling off. “Olivier!” Cadrie shrieked. She and Gable flipped him over quickly, wiping the dirt from his brow. His eyes rolled back into his head, mouth wide open, a light rain pattering off his teeth. Clink, clink, clink, clink. Gable could see all of Olivier’s cavities.

Friso approached their small circle at last. One glance at Olivier’s condition caused him to hang back a bit, consuming the futile actions of Cadrie and Gable with a terribly pained look on his face.

Cadrie’s hands were everywhere at once—flurrying to unbutton, to smooth, to be in control of small tasks of no importance. She stared at the blood soaking Olivier’s jacket, bubbling between his fingers as he clamped against his wound with diminishing pressure. His face was white and sunken, teeth chattering. “What happened?”

Olivier tried to respond but that seemed to intensify the pain. He let his head fall back onto the wet cobbles, breaths shallow. “Help him,” Cadrie begged of Gable and Friso. She lifted his hand but it was so limp that it slapped the ground the second it escaped her grasp.

Olivier was beyond help, and Gable knew it.

None of it felt real. Olivier was a Bell—a member of Gable’s cabal—and he should not be meeting his end so suddenly, with so few loved ones gathered over him. Gable could see Olivier’s life stretched out like a rope, hacked off a fourth of the way through. In the seismic nonsense of Gable’s thoughts, there floated to the surface an irrational belief that if Lars and Macall had been here, the whole group solidly together, none of this would have happened.

“But we need you,” Cadrie said to Olivier. Her expression was so fragile and private that Gable had to look away.

They did need Olivier. They needed his steadiness, his levelheadedness, his way of herding them all around to reason whenever they brewed up some harebrained breaking-and-entering scheme. The stoic, impenetrable Olivier Kraus, bleeding to death in the street on a night when he was supposed to be adventuring with friends. Most of the people in their city had never heard of Olivier. He was unimportant to them. But in the tightly-knit world of The Bells, he was invaluable.

“You’re all right, Olivier,” Gable said calmly, hooking his arms under Olivier’s shoulders. “It’ll be okay. We’ll get you to a hospital. Friso?” He glanced at his friend, whose pale, upturned face was flooded with angelic light from a streetlamp. He looked murderous. “Get his ankles?”

Friso wasn’t looking at Olivier. He was panning the cemetery, jail, and train station. On the other side of the train tracks, Gable could see bright orange baubles of lamps shimmering in the rain. No one was lurking about.

Gable slowly let go of Olivier, staring at him as though confused about what he was seeing. His hands fell to his sides, feeling oddly detached, like he wasn’t getting adequate circulation in them. “Who did this to you?”

Olivier’s mouth formed moans of agony that brought no sound, only a slight spasm in the muscles at the base of his throat. Cadrie and Friso both had their fingers on his abdomen, tearing away heaving, blood-soaked strips of fabric. Olivier had been stabbed, and the shard of glass used to do it was still twisted into his gut.

“Was this an accident?” Gable asked him.

“Of course it wasn’t,” Cadrie snapped, raking slashes of crimson through her black hair. “He would’ve pulled it out himself if it had been an accident. Can we stop questioning him and get him to the hospital?”

Unexpectedly, Friso stopped trying to staunch Olivier’s bleeding and took his friend’s hand in his own, ignoring the other two. “We’re going to find out who did this,” he promised, his voice gaining strength, “and we’re going to make him suffer. I’ll be the last thing he sees.”

Olivier gaped at him, open-mouthed, dreamy confusion eclipsing his pain.

“Tell him you love him,” Friso ordered the others, wiping his eyes and runny nose on his sleeve. “Tell him everything, tell him you’ll miss him, tell him what you would say if this was your last chance.”

Gable’s mouth opened and closed. “It isn’t goodbye.”

“It is.”

Gable bent to straighten Olivier’s jacket, knowing how meaningless the gesture was but doing it anyway because it made him feel less idle, trapped in horrific suspense while waiting for him to die. Olivier’s heartbeat slowed to a drip under his fingertips. He and Friso looked at Cadrie, as if for permission to let Olivier go, but she wasn’t in a position to be reasoned with. Panic seized her, making the movements of her hands unstable. She blinked rapidly as though her vision was rife with spots.

“He’s lost so much blood,” she muttered, binding her coat over Olivier’s wound. Olivier didn’t react. “Get him up!” she told Gable and Friso. “Why are you just sitting there? What’s wrong with you?”

Friso shook his head, tears glistening in his eyelashes. “I’m sorry.”

Cadrie tried to lift Olivier’s shoulders, then his ankles, her wobbly legs bowing. Tears dripped down her chin to land on Olivier’s sallow cheek. “Help me!” Friso and Gable scrambled to their feet, backing away. “Come on!”

“Cadrie,” Gable said quietly.

She stopped struggling with Olivier as it dawned over her that he wasn’t doing any of the struggling himself. He had gone utterly still. His eyes were open but they didn’t blink.

Cadrie let out a thin, torturous cry. “Olivier!” She shook him, smacked his cheeks, threw all of her weight onto her hands as she drove them into his chest, whump, whump, whump, whump. “olivier!” Gable reached out to her, cringing at her bloody strings of hair, and she recoiled, snarling, “What is the matter with you two?”

“Cadrie,” Gable said, choking on the word. He had to avert his eyes so that he wouldn’t see Olivier flopping unresponsively under Cadrie’s pressure. “He’s dead.”

Cadrie shot to her feet, staggering off the road into the grass. Hands supported on a gravestone, she vomited on her own shoes.

When Gable was thirteen years old, his mother, brother, and sister died one right after the other from rhizine wartpox. The first symptom was fever. Then came blisters at the corners of their mouths. By the time they developed a lichen-like crust on their skin, they were halfway dead. It happened fast, stage one progressing to stage three within two days. He could remember standing in his kitchen, the yellow lantern making his sister’s toughened skin even greener than wartpox rendered it, as a procession of mourners came in and out of the room to say goodbye to coffins propped up on chairs. His father laid a hand on his shoulder and said, “Shock is the brain’s way of making grief bearable. You have to gain awareness of a tragedy in increments or else you’ll shut down.” He’d felt paralyzed more than anything else.

Cadrie wasn’t gaining awareness in increments. The impact hit her fully and all at once, and with a rising sickness in Gable’s throat he identified a strange odor he’d been unconsciously trying to place. Olivier had soiled himself.

Gable and Friso were halfway to Cadrie when she sat up on her knees, head tilted back to view the sky. She declared that all she could see was white, and then she fainted.

“I want to get out of here,” Gable said. “Whoever did this could still be around.”

Friso’s jaw tightened as he turned to sweep his eyes up and down Meridian Street. He took a compass out of his pocket and clicked it open, glancing into shadows thrown over the road. Friso began to walk back the way they had come, to the bell tower, slipping into darkness as Gable gently slapped Cadrie’s cheek to wake her up.

Gable felt as though he’d been ripped from his body, all of his actions slow and scared. He was aware of a shuffling noise in a nearby alley, but he couldn’t bring himself to look. His leg prickled with pins and needles from bending it awkwardly beneath his weight, but he couldn’t force his weight to shift.

Friso trotted down the hill once more with his palm rubbing a lump on the back of his head. Gable sat peculiarly still for a long, tense moment, aware of being bound to the road by gravity, unaware of Cadrie stumbling sideways to her feet. Green lightning snapped and flashed in the distance, the heavens an ominous magical boil.

“Look.”

He turned slowly, hearing the edge in Cadrie’s voice that meant she’d found something important. She was crouched over Olivier’s body, holding up a small white card for him to see. Rain had faded the card’s black scrawl almost past recognition, but not quite.

Cadrie’s features disfigured with an anger that didn’t fit her face. It seemed to saturate the air around her, as well. “Juhls,” she said darkly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three

[]

STRIPES

 

Liesel awoke to a hammering noise.

She must have heard the noise in her sleep, too, because sweat clung to her temples and back, making her nightgown sticky. Misha was still asleep on the other side of the room, curled up under the slanted ceiling with his mouth open.

There was a thump in the shop below, followed by a crash!

Heart pounding, she tore out of bed and skidded across the floor only to double back for a metal curtain rod she kept hidden under her mattress. Once she closed the door behind her, she tiptoed across the cramped landing to her cousins’ bedroom, rapping softly with her knuckles.

After no response, she rapped again. Finally, she pushed open the door. Greenish moonlight spilled across two empty beds, the covers flipped back. Liesel gave a sigh of relief. This meant that all the noise downstairs belonged to them.

Curious, she descended the flight of stairs that led to Illuminate, their family shop. The door was closed but the noise coming through it was carelessly loud. She opened it and froze; six strange eyes stared back at her.

The three invaders were teenagers, two boys and one girl, and they’d slung most of the shelf decorations onto the floor. Misha’s cheap crystal ball lay smashed in three pieces. The girl was shaking the money box, listening to that week’s revenue clang around her ear. Her long black hair and swarthy skin were coated in drying blood.

The boys, one blond and one dark-haired, were rifling through books and tossing them over their shoulders. “What are you doing?” Liesel yelled, brandishing the curtain rod.

The girl holding Liesel’s money box beat it against the edge of the counter to try to break it open. Liesel hurried over and snatched it away, shocked by her own courage. “I have a gun,” she threatened, although the lie was obvious or else she would’ve been pointing a gun at them rather than a piece of furniture. “We don’t have anything worth stealing.”

“We’re looking for the murder weapon,” the Indian girl hissed. “Once we’ve got it, we’re free to retaliate.”

“Could be a bottle,” the dark-haired boy mused.

“Or one of these,” said the girl, eyes passing over a crystal ball.

Liesel blanched. “Murder weapon?” Before she knew what she was doing, she was attacking chairs and tabletops and anything else she could reach with the rod. The invaders dodged her. “What did you do to my cousins? Where are they?” Her voice was so high that she almost couldn’t hear it.

One of the boys gazed at her keenly, head tilted to the side. Dark blond hair that was longer on one side than the other fell over his right eye. Red fingerprints smeared the front of his brown-and-blue-striped waistcoat. They were all wearing articles of clothing with vertical stripes.

“You’re a cabal,” she accused.

“You should know,” said the dark-haired boy, still ransacking the shop floor. His stripes came in the form of a black and gold traveling cloak. He lifted the divination table and looked underneath it, letting it crash to its side when he was done. She thought she recognized his face, as it was usually quite handsome and busy grinning at bored socialites.

If Liesel was right, this boy was someone called “Weisz”, and he had a reputation for seducing ladies and gentlemen above his station only to turn around and forget them. At the moment, it was difficult to tell if this was Weisz or not. He stared out from under a tangled mass of curls, eyes savage and frenetic and fixed on everything at once.

“Why should I know anything about cabals?” Liesel replied. “The whole world doesn’t revolve around you people and your petty differences, you know. I’ve got plenty of other problems to deal with. Now get out before I give one of you a concussion.”

“No thanks,” Weisz quipped, delicately rubbing his head. “I do believe I already have one.”

The rod wavered in her grip, slippery with sweat. Blond Boy stepped forward, never moving his eyes from hers, and took the rod from her. He tossed it off to the side, where it clattered under a shelf containing hoax photographs of ghosts.

“Did you kill Olivier Kraus?” he asked evenly.

“Who’s that?” She shook her head, not caring or comprehending. “What’d you do to my cousins?”

“Nothing,” Weisz answered, pacing over to check behind the curtains. He swept a finger down the sill. “Yet.”

“Are you saying Ridley and Dresden aren’t here, then?” Blond inquired. There was a glint in his gray eyes that made Liesel regret speaking at all.

“Of course they are,” she replied hastily.

“Then we would like to speak with them. I believe they are the lads responsible for our current situation.”

There was a long pause. Weisz had a loud, destructive energy about him. He tore without direction through the Juhls’ ledger of receipts and appointments, running his hand over a dresser of china, along cobwebbed corners like a magic wand luring out evidence.

“We don’t know who Olivier is and my family has nothing to do with whatever happened to him. So go.”

“Go, go. Take them and go,” Weisz replied dazedly. His friends threw him odd looks.

Blond fished a familiar card from his pocket. It was smudged but Liesel placed it at once as one of the Illuminate business cards she’d made herself.

“Why do you have that?”

Blond didn’t respond, gaze unblinking. Liesel’s skin crawled. She eyed the gap under the shelf of photographs, catching a speck of curtain rod. If she could get past him, she might be able to grab it.

“It was on my friend’s body,” he answered, slapping the card on the counter. “Olivier. And now he’s dead.” He stepped forward. “Would you be able to tell me why my friend, who has never been here before, would have something belonging to a Juhl in his pocket?”

And then it clicked. The angry boy with mismatched buttons.

“Oh.” Her hands flew to her mouth. “Him. He’s dead?”

The girl spat on the floor. “Just now remembering?”

Liesel shook her head several times, trying to back away. Blond caught her wrist, pulling her forward so that she couldn’t dash backward up the stairs. “No, it’s not—I didn’t hurt him. I told his fortune and he left.”

Their expressions flitted between disbelief and horror. “You what?” Weisz said, dropping a bag of crystals.

“He wanted to know … how someone felt about him. That’s what I do. I tell people what others think of them. Cleromancy.” She raised a fist and rippled the muscles in it, as if rolling something under her fingers, then let her hand drop.

The girl stared at Liesel, eyes narrowing. “Olivier would never do business here.”

“Well, technically, he didn’t. In business there’s an exchange of money. Your friend got what he came for and left without paying.” There was a period of silence in which the only thing she could hear was rain sheeting off the windowpanes. “Listen, I would gladly have given him a punch to the nose if I’d been able to catch him,” Liesel admitted, “but taking advantage of a poor fortune-teller doesn’t warrant a death sentence.”

“I’ve never seen her with The Graveyard Shift,” Weisz noted, his doubt growing. He looked at the other boy. “I dunno. What do you think?”

Blond hadn’t taken his eyes off Liesel. “I think Olivier’s twice her size and likely twice as fast. Judging from the way she was waving that stick at us, she doesn’t have stellar aim, either.” He scanned her for scratch marks or bruises, nodding grimly when none announced themselves. “Whoever killed him will bear obvious damage. Olivier won’t have made it easy for them.” He spoke this with pride.

“Her cousins?” the girl growled.

Weisz examined Liesel shrewdly. “More I think about it, the more I think her cousins are all flash and no action. What do they do besides zip around on that enchanted train of theirs, playing conductor? Wouldn’t have the stomach for death. Wouldn’t get their own hands dirty.”

“No, they wouldn’t,” Liesel agreed. “And they’re asleep. I’m sorry that your friend is dead, but you’ll find no answers here.”

The boys exchanged looks.

“Whoever it was has probably gone into hiding, licking their wounds,” Blond said. “We’ll be able to tell if it was her cousins just by watching them walk. Unless they’re missing a significant quantity of their blood, they’re not the ones responsible.”

“We’ll be back,” Weisz warned, making his index finger swoop to signal that it was time to leave. “When your cousins get home, tell them The Bells would appreciate a chat. They’ll know where to find us. Or don’t tell them, if you’d rather. I love a good ambush.”

They filed outside, two of them turning left and the other one turning right. Liesel flew to the door, locking it. Heart beating fast, she shoved a shelf in front of it for good measure.

Adrenaline pumped throughout her body with nothing to distract it, making Liesel’s arms and legs quiver. She felt abruptly feather-light, like she hadn’t eaten in days. She fetched frying pans and pots and anything else that could possibly be used as a weapon, dragging them into the middle of the shop. She sat in a chair with an arsenal of blunt objects across her lap, eyes trained on blurry shadows swimming under the streetlamps of Arcane Way.

  

Sunlight smattered through the curtains, jerking Liesel awake. She jumped, almost falling over, and cut her foot on Misha’s smashed crystal ball.

The grandfather clock ticked away by the counter, whispering that it was nearly six. Liesel grit her teeth. I can’t believe I fell asleep.

She reassessed the shop’s damage with some despair. It didn’t look quite so bad with daybreak spreading across it, pushing the events of last night into a distant memory. Liesel sighed and began to clean up.

She cleared away barricades in front of the door, throwing it open. The street was empty except for the two owners of Lucid Dream spying on her through their window and Mrs. Van Parys sweeping the dirt from her shop with a twig broom. Wind had peeled away the corners of Liesel’s handmade poster on the window: turn of the century, turn of the fortune. come see your tomorrow! It was nearly 1901 now, but she thought her slogan was catchy and left the poster up.

As she worked, she entertained how satisfying it would be to leave everything a mess and take Misha to breakfast. Let Ridley and Dresden come home to an annihilated shop and a barrage of unanswered questions.

Trying not to feel too anxious about where her cousins really were, Liesel finished reorganizing the shop floor and swept all of the broken glass into the trash. Her adrenaline was gone, fatigue settling in. She was a little proud of herself for standing up to the cabal and possibly sparing her shop from heavier destruction.

Not that Illuminate was her shop, really. Dresden inherited it after his father died. Liesel and Misha were the youngest of nine children. Their father was a spell merchant, and Liesel grew up on ships and trains, traveling from India to Turkey to China to buy and sell magical spells. Despite having such a job, Liesel’s father wasn’t magical himself. Nor was his wife. When Liesel and Misha began displaying signs of being magical, Mr. Juhl decided to ship them off to live with his brother Orrick in Woaring Cupboard, one of the Finnarian Isles. He meant for them to nurture their magic and make careers out of it, rather than squander this precious opportunity living in a constant state of travel and instability. Teaching them magical arts was not a gift Mr. Juhl himself could bestow, as all of his magical knowledge was based on second-hand information, and the kindest thing he could do for his two youngest children was to put them in the path of someone who would give them a proper education in magic.

Uncle Orrick, his wife Inge, and their sons Ridley and Dresden were all cleromancers. Orrick promised that if his niece and nephew received magic’s blessing to practice cleromancy, he’d teach them how to tell fortunes. Luckily for Liesel and her brother, magic allowed them to blend seamlessly into the family trade. It would have been a headache for them all if Liesel was instead chosen by magic for crystal-gazing or Misha for brewing potions, as the Juhls didn’t know anyone in those branches who could take them on as apprentices.

Liesel imagined that her life would have shaken out quite nicely if Orrick hadn’t died of wartpox when she was eleven, and if Inge hadn’t run off soon after. It probably also would have helped if Liesel and Misha’s parents hadn’t been nomads lacking a specific address, for none of Misha’s frantic letters ever reached them. Their parents abused spells to appear much younger than their silver years, and were likely gone from any land that could be contacted by post.

Misha still had a few dusty spells kept in bottles in his trunk—one that would give food any flavor the user desired, one that could briefly turn the user into a bat, one that spawned a swarm of wasps wherever it was dropped, and another that provided frames for portraits of any size. These were gifts from his father and therefore priceless to him; he routinely checked the corks to make sure they were still sealed and shook the contents so that they wouldn’t settle and spoil.

Liesel ran upstairs frequently to check on Misha, who now sprawled with his head at the foot of the bed and his feet propped up on the wall. He would be furious that she hadn’t woken him up when she heard the intruders.

At six-fifteen, she hurtled down the stairs and smacked right into Ridley.

“Hey!” he exclaimed, jamming a wad of bread in his mouth. “Watch where you’re going.”

Liesel folded her arms. “Where’ve you been?”

“Out getting breakfast, obviously.” He handed her a slice of cinnamon bread studded with raisins, taking another for himself. “You’re welcome.”

“Yeah, we tried waking up you and Misha to see if you wanted to come with us,” Dresden said. “You two were dead to the world.” He handed her a bottle of milk. “Here. Get some mugs.”

Liesel stared at him. “But the milkman already came.”

“So now we’ll have extra. Why are you complaining?”

“What’s all this?” Ridley wanted to know, gesturing at the chair in the middle of the shop. It was still covered with Liesel’s feeble weapons, the only evidence of the previous night she hadn’t yet cleaned up.

Liesel was overcome with the instinct to lie.

“I don’t know.” She twisted loose threads on her skirt, unable to maintain eye contact. “There was a man hanging around outside the shop yesterday. Didn’t like the look of him. Kind of shifty.”

“Knave of Arcane?”

“No.”

Ridley and Dresden closed in on her, their expressions ghosts of their father, with the same gravity, the same seriousness that Orrick Juhl always wore. “Did he come into the store?” Dresden asked just as Ridley said, “Was he wearing stripes?”

She met Ridley’s gaze, lips parting. She knew by Ridley’s tone, laced with something dark and hopeful, that she had been right not to disclose The Bells’ visit. After living with them for many years, she’d learned the hard way that they always doled out worse punishments than the offenses deserved. Liesel wouldn’t give them a reason to pick a fight with another cabal. “No. Why would you ask that?”

Ridley spit another question. “Can you remember anything about his face?”

“Umm.” Out of the corner of her eye she caught a flash of orange light searing the window. “Glasses. Uppity-looking. Probably not from around here.”

Dresden exhaled through his nostrils as he and Ridley wordlessly consulted each other over her head, trying to piece together whether or not they knew anyone who matched that description. The two young men had an insatiable longing for enemies, a longing to employ full, unconstrained brutality without guilt or fear of consequences. It would be easy for them to talk themselves into making The Bells their enemy if given the slightest justification. No matter how much trouble Bells were, no one should be subjected to Dresden’s quietly simmering wrath or Ridley’s easily excited temper, which took on a sinister edge to make up for his unintimidating appearance.

Dresden was a giant. It wasn’t purely his muscles that were heavy, it was everything about his build—his square jaw, his heavy boots and heavy suspenders and large, meaty forearms. He could stand eye-to-eye with his mother by the time he was nine years old and outgrew his father by thirteen.

Ridley was almost pitiful next to him, spindly and sallow with a beard that crept down his neck, a bulbous nose, and a receding hairline despite his young age. The receding hairline made his already-large forehead massive, cartoonish with expressive black eyebrows so thin that they looked like they’d been drawn on with a pencil. Liesel didn’t resemble either of them. They shared the Norwegian blood on Liesel’s uncle’s side, but Liesel looked more like her mother, who was Egyptian and Iranian.

Before they could ask more questions, Liesel grabbed a hunk of bread and crammed the whole thing in her mouth. “Why do you care so much?” she asked once she had swallowed it all and regained her composure. “What’s with you two, anyway? You’re acting squinty.”

Ridley and Dresden, who had been looking at each other meaningfully until that point, both turned their focus to the door.

“We’ll be right back,” Ridley told her. Dresden followed him outside, brushing crumbs to the floor in his wake. “We forgot the milk.”

Liesel glanced at the bottle of milk still in her left hand, three mugs waiting on the counter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four

[]

A BAD OMEN

 

The rest of Black Magic was winding down into evening. Trade ships juddered ashore with chests of malted grain and cloves, the overlooking windows of Rungaula’s School for Unfortunates frozen over with twilight. It was at this peaceful time of day that the blond cabali boy returned to Illuminate.

“Get out,” Liesel told him as soon as the bell tinkled.

“What if I’m a paying customer?”

Liesel glanced up from the counter where she was carving a stick figure into the wood with a penknife. “Get out.”

Instead of leaving, the boy wandered over to the divination table and gave it five slow, lazy knocks, then dropped into the chair where Liesel ordinarily sat. For someone who had recently been terrorizing the shop, he acted like everything was new. Something he hadn’t seen before.

“So Dresden does money and Ridley and Misha fiddle with the dead,” he announced, reading a sign on the wall. “That must make you Liesel. I’m Gable, in case you were wondering.”

“I wasn’t. And it’s strange how you’re still sitting in my chair when I told you clearly to relocate yourself outside.”

“Oh, this is your chair?” He got up and moved around the table, then sat down in the chair opposite. “My apologies. Now, how much do you charge for your … what are they called? Readings? I see that you don’t list a price. This must be so that you can pick and choose depending on how rich your customers look.”

Liesel eyed the front door, expecting the other Bells to trickle through it. No one else came.

“Misha!” she bellowed up the stairs.

Feet thundered down the steps from their apartment on the second floor, and a head of hair as dark and wavy as Liesel’s emerged. He was sixteen, a year younger than his sister. He looked at her expectantly and all she did was point at Gable.

Gable waved hello.

“This one of them?” Misha demanded, puffing out his chest. “Want me to go find a greencoat?” As if on cue, a junior watchman passed Illuminate. Junior watchmen were distinguished by the white star on their hats rather than the shiny scarlet of constables or the silver double circle of fully-qualified watchmen.

Liesel leaned against the counter. “No need. Just wanted you to see so that you wouldn’t yell at me later when you found out they came again.”

“Only me, no ‘they’,” Gable corrected. “So you’re Misha, then.”

Misha gave him his toughest stare, which admittedly looked like an angry bunny who did not want to be adorable but was resigned to it against his will.

“Are your cousins at home?” Gable asked. His voice was too light to pass for genuine indifference, thumbing through a pack of tarot cards for sale.

Misha narrowed his eyes. “What’s it to you?”

Gable shrugged, an exaggerated movement. Tilting his chair back onto its two hind legs, he drawled on, “I take it they haven’t been informed of our little pow-wow last night. Interesting.”

Liesel and Misha rolled their eyes at each other. “So what?” Liesel said.

He shrugged again. “Merely an observation about the lack of communication around here.”

“I’m capable of handling my own problems,” she replied. “I don’t need my big bad cousins to come beat you up.” In truth, she and Misha were used to lying to their cousins. They lied to placate them, to avoid confrontation, and to keep them in the dark whenever they were harassed or cheated by customers to prevent Ridley and Dresden from lashing out at those customers and taking it too far.

He let the tarot cards fall into an ungraceful pile. “So, Liesel. As you have undoubtedly gathered from our friendly visit, something very bad has befallen a very good friend of mine. I have more questions for you.”

Liesel turned to Misha. “It’s like he doesn’t understand how much his presence is unwelcome here.”

Gable waved her off. “Just a few questions. And then I’ll be out of your hair. Who knows what sort of gypsy rituals I’m interrupting? Human sacrifices, chanting around fires at the full moon … ”

“Gypsies don’t perform human sacrifices,” Liesel replied flatly, “although you’re starting to tempt me. And we aren’t gypsies.”

Gable cast his gaze over her circlet of gold coins and numerous necklaces, raising an eyebrow. Her costume jewelry had lost most of its luster, paint rubbing away to betray the cheap metal underneath.

Liesel touched a gold coin pendant, which concealed another necklace that contained the birthstones of everyone in her uncle’s family for easy reading. “What I wear is a prop.” She jutted a thumb at her brother. “Misha paints one of his teeth with boot polish.”

Misha grinned at him to prove it.

“Back to my friend,” Gable responded after a pointed pause. “What time did he leave here?”

“Around twelve-thirty.” Liesel considered this. “Maybe twelve-forty. In the morning, I might add. Without paying. Right before the rest of you so rudely showed up.” She jerked her head at the door. “Thanks to whatever you did to pick my lock, now it doesn’t work right.”

“Did you see anyone following him? Did he speak to anyone? Have your cousins expressed a particular interest in him?”

“Why should they care about someone from The Bells?” She studied him closely as she asked this, ascertaining from his reaction whether or not he truly was a Bell like he claimed. Gable didn’t flinch.

“Because your cousins are in The Graveyard Shift, and around here cabals are always raving about how they’re better than other cabals, poking noses into other people’s business … ” He stopped to peer through a model telescope, the lenses of which had long fallen out. “Don’t worry. Ridley and Dresden have dropped to the bottom of our suspect list. I think the murder was personal. Someone Olivier probably knew. Why else would he have let somebody get close enough to stab him? He barely let me get close to him, and we were friends. So The Bells and I are conducting our own investigation. Can’t depend on our fine judicial system to do it, obviously. They’re probably celebrating his death over a bottle of scotch.”

The bell tinkled and all three of them swerved in a simultaneous motion toward the door, where a tall, sharply-dressed man had just walked in. Liesel’s mood turned from sour to poisonous, as this man was Chief Inspector Humphrey Normand.

“Let’s see what we have here,” he announced in his usual whistling-through-the-teeth way. “The two youngest Juhls, and … ” His gaze trickled over Gable. “Some sort of vermin infestation. I will have to notify the health department.”

Gable smiled wryly, but did not respond.

Liesel shifted in her chair, already starting to perspire. “It’s cheers having you here, Humph, but may I ask what I’ve done to earn this blessed visit?” Her eyes shot quickly around the room, knowing there shouldn’t be anything there that might get her into trouble but also knowing Normand didn’t need a good reason to punish people.

“I am authorized to inspect your services without advance notice, Juhl.”

Rhizine wartpox had deformed Normand’s tongue. Despite several operations, he still slurred his words—especially his L’s and N’s. He tended to replace them with R’s. Ridley’s mother had once caught him laughing at Normand’s speech impediment and punished him by forcing him to go door-to-door at every house on Della Torre, volunteering to do everyone’s housework for free.

Liesel hadn’t laughed at Normand’s way of talking in years. But now, at the most inappropriate and undesirable of times, she found herself choking back a strange, maniacal urge to laugh. Stop it, she commanded herself. She bit down on her tongue so hard that her eyes watered, but her lips wouldn’t stop trying to curl back into a deranged smirk.

Outside her head, the conversation had barely skipped a beat.

I am authorized to irspect your services without advarce rotice, Juhr.”

Deciding it would be best not to fight the grin, Liesel gave Normand her most winsome smile. “You telling me you want to have your fortune told?”

He looked down the bridge of his long nose at her. His black mustache was so thick that Liesel didn’t see his mouth move when he spoke. He had skin like dough that had been left out for too long and was beginning to flake. “No.”

“No? So you didn’t come here to get a tiny drop of the magic you haven’t tasted in so long?”

His eyes darkened. “You are a mouthy little brat.”

“Yeah, yeah,” she replied dismissively. “Mouthy … nosy … cheeky … All the face insults, really.”

Gable snorted.

Inge Juhl, if Liesel was right about her current whereabouts, would be rolling in her grave. Normand used to be a wizard until he lost magic’s favor. No one knew why, but many years ago magic abandoned him out of the blue and never came back. One day he was going about his spellwork as usual, joyously beating people with his watchman’s baton, and the next thing he knew all his magic blew up out of him in a small explosion and Normand couldn’t levitate so much as a butterfly.

Magic delighted in giving gifts randomly. Sometimes it bestowed a powerful blast of magical ability onto a person for no reason at all, or sometimes (as in Liesel’s case) it blew barely a wisp onto them. It was frustratingly fickle, notoriously spiteful, and loved the element of surprise. Magic could give, and magic could take away. It changed its mind frequently and harbored grudges.

In Normand’s case, magic seemed to have changed its mind about whether or not he deserved powers. Ever since magic revoked them, the inspector really had it out for magical people. He’d stopped Inge constantly on the sidewalk to rummage in her pockets and bags, looking for any excuse to arrest her. Liesel always resented this power Normand had over her aunt, frightening someone ordinarily so strong and resilient. Perhaps this was why Liesel liked to make a big show out of not being scared of Normand, even though by all rights she should have been. Every time she gave him sass it felt like taking some of Inge’s lost power back.

Liesel was spared Normand’s inevitably ugly response due to the arrival of her next customer, a heavy-set fellow wearing a bowler hat.

Liesel laced her fingers together on the divination table, smiling sweetly at Normand. “If you will excuse us, sir. I have business to attend to.”

He bowed. “That’s precisely what I came here to inspect. Surely you’re not intimidated by being watched?”

She scowled, but it appeared there was no getting rid of him so she might as well pretend he wasn’t there. “Good evening,” Liesel greeted the customer, shifting into Friendly Fortune-Teller mode. “What can I do for you?”

The man cleared his throat. “I need to see the one who does finances.”

“Dresden is out. How about I give you a reading instead? If you have a memento belonging to somebody else, I can determine what type of regard they hold for you.”

“No thanks. I’m only interested in money.”

“Ahh, what is money without someone to share it with?” She patted the table, winking at him, and used her other elbow to jab Gable until he vacated his chair. “Sit down. To sweeten the pot, we’ll add Misha for a joint reading.”

The man hesitated but sat down. Gable hovered over his shoulder, looking excited. Misha reluctantly came over to stand behind his sister, shoes dancing nervously away from Normand.

“Can I have a name, sir?” Liesel coaxed in a charming voice, pulling a silk handkerchief out of her pocket. She didn’t stop smiling as she untied it, one moonstone and eight omens rolling out.

The man swallowed, toying with one of his rings. He wore two on each finger. “Lafayette.”

“I require a memento for divination purposes,” she prompted. “Something that belongs to the person whose feelings you wish to be revealed.”

Lafayette’s mouth crumpled at one corner. Finally, he took off his bowler hat and dusted the brim with the back of one hand, appraising it sadly. Then he thrust it at her without explanation.

One of Liesel’s greatest prides was that she didn’t need an explanation. This was the mark of being a true fortune-teller and not a scam artist. She threw a brief I-told-you-so smile at Normand as though he could hear the thoughts she was directing at him.

She held up the moonstone before one eye, squinting. “This is you.” She flicked it across the table, where it clattered against his stomach. “Put that on the handkerchief.” She then looked at Misha, who gave her a nod so ambiguous that no one else could have noticed. He stepped forward, cupping a handful of black onyx chips.

Liesel and Misha’s omens splattered across the table’s surface at the same time. Misha’s obsidian omens had collapsed around two chips in the middle. Embossed on one in silver was XII; the other read imminent. Liesel interpreted them out of the corner of her eye while reaching for her own omens and collecting the one that lay closest to the moonstone. It was painted vivid orange.

“Romance!” she crowed. “I see a … ”—she scrutinized Lafayette quickly—“woman who admires you a great deal. She’s young and gorgeous.”

Lafayette frowned. “You can tell all that from a hat my business partner gave me?”

Liesel nodded gravely, not missing a beat. “The admiring woman must be someone your partner knows. Although I do not believe you have met her yet.”

“You will be extremely rich,” Misha solemnly vowed, staring at his omens.

Lafayette didn’t seem to care about the admiring woman but he looked relieved, to the point of being in pain, to hear about his financial prospects. Gable frowned as he studied Misha.

“When will I be rich?” Lafayette pressed.

Misha shook his head slowly, lips pinched into a thin white line. “The fates are not exact, but your fortune approaches swiftly. It will be snowing.”

Lafayette’s eyes lit up with greed. “So soon?” He swiped his hat from Liesel and replaced it to his balding dome. “Good. Very good.” As a second thought, he shelled out a few coins and let Liesel and Misha flurry to catch them before they rolled off the table.

“Congratulations,” Misha told Lafayette as he exited the shop.

“Come again!” Liesel sang.

Misha didn’t see anything about money or being rich. He saw death dates. The date on Lafayette’s gravestone only mentioned his month of death, December, but it coincided with the imminent onyx chip, giving Lafayette less than a month to live. Liesel’s orange omen did not in fact symbolize romance, but rather anxiety; and she had a hunch that this anxiety was more in the vein of distrust. The Juhl siblings were so in tune with one another that they knew from the moment Normand insisted upon overseeing the reading that they weren’t going to give Lafayette anything other than good news. Happy customers made them look better.

Inspector Normand watched Liesel closely for several moments, until tension in the room became unbearably thick, and then without another word he left just as abruptly as he’d arrived.

Misha let out a sigh of relief. “That was awkward. He was so quiet, I can’t figure out if the evaluation was good or bad.” He considered this. “Probably bad, since you refuse to behave.”

Gable squared his shoulders and tapped the tabletop forcefully. “My turn. Tell my fortune.”

“Absolutely not.”

“Why?” he cried indignantly.

“Because you broke into my shop and I don’t like you. And your friend stiffed me ten of silver.”

“Ten queens? I highly doubt that. Lafayette only gave you one silver and two peons.”

They were interrupted by the triumphant blast of trade ships’ horns. She and Misha locked eyes. “I heard Ruri from down the street is offering thirty kings to whoever can bring her new silks,” she said.

“I hope it’s parchment and sugar,” Gable chimed in. “We haven’t received shipments from the east in months, not since that boat from Africa was welcomed by Finnarian waters with a magical gyre that swallowed them up.”

The rest of the world wasn’t magical by nature, unlike Finnary, and often forgot the chain of islands existed in so unnatural a manner that it couldn’t have been anything other than magic’s interference. Magic was known to blur Finnary out of maps, tamper with wind patterns, and send out waves of forgetfulness just so foreigners wouldn’t succeed in coming ashore. Today, however, a trade ship had managed to squeeze through.

Gable turned his attention to the various props decorating the room. “Have you ever been to Mascarada? The Fortune Teller came last spring. I played Sandor.”

“You’re an actor?”

“I’m a wash of everything, but at the moment I’m mostly a magician,” he revealed with a crafty smile. “That is to say, I portray one at Mascarada. Even do the tricks.” He nimbly slid tarot cards from his fingers one by one, dividing them into four suits. “But between you and me, I dabble in a bit of real magic, too.”

“Is that so?”

“Oh, yes.”

Liesel snorted derisively. “And what sort of magic do you do?”

His eyes blazed. “I make people trust me. And then I convince them to tell me their secrets.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Five

[]

THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT

 

The ceiling puckered to a point directly over Liesel’s head, molding and peeling, producing a teardrop of water every half-second. While a pan normally sat at the top of the stairs to catch this leak, Liesel had pushed it out of the way so that she could better spy on her cousins. Ridley and Dresden, who had no clue they were being spied on, conversed behind the shop’s counter.

Drip pan shoved aside, cold water dribbled down her neck. She raised the collar of her dress higher.

“But they never do this here,” Misha whispered, crouching at her side. The walled landing prevented them from seeing Ridley and Dresden in the flesh, but their shadows blossomed upon the walls with exaggerated height and girth. Three lanterns patterned the chipped tile floor with soft, ruddy light.

The third lantern, judging by a slippery voice, belonged to Foy Montego.

Tonight, for unknown reasons, Dresden and Ridley had decided to have their cabal meet at Illuminate rather than Runaway’s freight station. Roars of wind and an isolated distance kept their conversations private in Runaway, so it was an ideal rendezvous point. The Graveyard Shift, which was the name of their cabal, only operated post-midnight. Their main headquarters was not the rail yard itself but rather The Graveyard Shift Express.

The Pohles, two siblings who were friends of Ridley and Dresden’s, owned the train. It once belonged to a circus, as evidenced by the green, orange, and purple residue of something called Salenko imprinted on one of its cars. The Graveyard Shift Express was a crematorium of sorts, fueled by human bones and enchanted to levitate a foot off the ground. It could whip over water and roads, unconfined to tracks. Will-o’-the-wisps were harvested from bones and their energy was what made the train move.

“She saw him outside this shop,” Dresden’s voice spoke. “It’s something to watch out for, at any rate.”

Liesel and Misha glanced uneasily at each other. The Graveyard Shift, like any cabal, was perpetually waiting for something to watch out for. An invitation to mayhem.

“When was this?” asked Foy Montego.

“Saturday.”

The tone of their discussion dropped to a level so low that Liesel couldn’t hear them. The lie she’d told Dresden about the man in glasses, waiting and watching outside Illuminate, had apparently kicked up a fire among her cousins.

Misha lowered himself down a step. It creaked, but the three voices downstairs continued murmuring unawares. Liesel nervously twisted a nail sprouting out of the staircase and lowered herself to Misha’s level. Then she decided to do him one better and go even lower. Misha’s eyes were large in the dark, whites shining.

“Don’t!” he whispered. “They’ll see you!”

The shadowy profile of Ridley rippled taller on the wall as it hedged closer to the stairs, flame from his lantern sweeping his torso sideways.

“If he comes back,” burst Foy with sudden loudness, “tell her to kill him.”

Liesel chanced sliding down another step. Drywall broke away into a banister. Between the railings, Dresden’s glowering face was easily visible. “Liesel can’t kill people.”

Foy’s response was a creeping jeer. “Then teach her how.”

Liesel heard a soft intake of Misha’s breath, but she couldn’t pry her gaze away.

“This is not a family matter,” Dresden said, two shadows slanting under his fierce, bloodshot eyes to make them more powerful in the light. “This is a business matter.”

Water from the ceiling’s leak splashed upon wood planks, causing a dense lapping sound. Boards on the staircase groaned as though someone was stepping on them, but no one was there. Liesel felt her brother freeze as the unseen presence drifted up the stairs, shifting weight onto Liesel’s step heavily enough that her fingers absorbed the rattling. A footprint appeared in the small puddle at the top of the stairs, turning to the right and disappearing inside Dresden and Ridley’s bedroom with more wet prints. Liesel’s skin erupted with goose bumps when she noticed that the ghost appeared to be pigeon-toed, just like her Aunt Inge.

Misha dragged one finger over the puddle, lifting a bead of water to his nose. Its consistency had turned to that of a jelly. Even from where Liesel sat, she could smell the musty efflux of Admiral Hedgecombe’s All-Girl Academy. Illuminate’s resident ghost always carried that smell. It was earthy and damp, as the girls who boarded there were kept far below the ground. It stirred to mind the images of fungus and dungeons.

“I hope it’s The Knaves,” Ridley admitted, his twisted little scoliosis-ridden body puttering in restless circles. “God, I hope it’s them. It’ll finally give us the excuse to teach them who runs this street.”

It occurred to Liesel that The Graveyard Shift probably suspected Liesel’s fictional man with glasses of being Olivier’s killer. Which wouldn’t have bothered them, were it not for the fact that he’d been sniffing around Illuminate.

Their wariness was for nothing. There was no man with glasses. For all anyone knew, Olivier had stopped off at the pub after his cleromancy reading and gotten into a drunken brawl. Maybe his attacker was third crow’s drunk and still didn’t remember what he’d done. Maybe they were chasing a ghost.

What have I started? she thought to herself.

Foy wandered to the door, using his back to hold it open. Liesel saw him glance at the lit face of a clock bolted to Illuminate’s brick siding. Identical clocks hung outside Runaway Rail Yard as well as the house where the Pohles lived. Train station clocks.

As Liesel looked on, she knew by the gong of cathedral bells that the skinny black needle of the train clock would be snicking to its third numeral, announcing three in the morning. Over Foy’s shoulder, she glimpsed orange flames rippling up an old monastery from base to roof, coughing acrid black clouds.

She slapped away the itchy sensation of drying raindrops from her neck, but realized it was Misha’s breath that was causing the irritation.

It was possible that the monastery had caught on fire entirely by accident. But in Black Magic, it was usually arson. Cabals across the city often lit buildings on fire to memorialize the death of a member. It was a way to show that they were grieving.

Dresden voiced Liesel’s suspicions.

“Olivier Kraus, from the tide of recent rumors,” he said, walking over to stand next to Foy. Ridley joined them.

“I’m not sorry he’s dead,” said Foy. “The Bells are street rats. They take nothing seriously. They’re like The Hanged Men … this is all a big game to them.”

The three of them didn’t speak for a long time. Their jaws were set like wood, lamplight flinching in the contours. Liesel shuddered at the passive, dead-behind-the-eyes expressions on her cousins’ faces reflected in the display window. A commotion of firemen trying to extinguish the flaming monastery whirled beyond Illuminate, but it was as though The Graveyard Shift didn’t really hear it.

Ridley, Foy, and Dresden were positioned so that all they would have to do was look over their shoulders and they’d see Liesel and Misha there.

Liesel held her breath. This was their home. They had every right to sit on the stairs, of course. If her cousins saw them, what was the most they could do? Half of her wanted to get up and trot downstairs. It might feel empowering to confront them about bringing their business home with them when there was an unspoken policy amongst Juhls to play ignorant about Dresden and Ridley’s nighttime activities. This was a blatant slap in the face to that policy.

The step Misha sat on rasped, then Liesel’s, as the ghost descended past them in a trail of watery prints and mildew.

A wheezing, beastly monstrosity swept down the street with a noise like grinding glass, smoking at the wheels and flushed with emerald light. Particles of disintegrated human billowed up in green clouds, something coiling and dark with many pairs of ruby eyes blinking behind the train’s golden grilles. A whistle shrilled, the Pohles who conducted it indicating that it was time to go.

Liesel and Misha curled back up the stairs, disappearing into the murk of the landing. Liesel wasn’t certain what she had just witnessed but felt a rush of relief that she hadn’t condemned The Bells to the malicious plans taking root within The Graveyard Shift.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Six

[]

BAT’S BELFRY

 

Tuesday afternoon found Gable Petrovich lounging in Bat’s Belfry. He liked this belfry so much that he’d named his cabal after it, The Bells. This favorite haunt was all that remained of Witching Hour—a gutless, charred safe haven for magical folk now decaying in the bell tower’s shadow. Long ago, Bat’s Belfry bawled its tolls whenever the city was under siege by anti-witchcraft societies, and up until the sanctuary burned down it was believed to be impenetrable against all forces. To this day, Bat’s Belfry still chimed the midnight hour.

“What time is your thing?” Cadrie asked sourly. She hated going to the theatre, although she never missed one of Gable’s plays. It went without saying that all Bells would be in attendance, crowded on the upper balcony where they could drop bits of caramel and toffee on people’s heads.

“Eight,” Gable replied, stretching his arms and flexing the fingers on his right hand. His middle finger on that hand was shorter than it was supposed to be, a flaw he was always mindful of. “But you already knew that.”

Lars Zakari, asleep on the staircase in front of a stained glass portrait of black cats, mumbled as he rolled over. Sunbeams pouring through the glass beaded his forehead with polychromatic sweat.

Carillon bells from a cathedral on Braushaum chimed the hour with song, its forty-seven pendulous clangs so heavy that they made the church shake. “Show-off,” Macall said, patting the belvedere’s ancient cast-iron bell affectionately. It gave a sleepy hum in response.

Gable, assuming that she was referring to Friso, pulled himself to his feet and leaned on the balcony that faced south. Friso was walking across the vault ribs of Witching Hour, the only part of its structure that remained intact. They were licked black, crossing over each other seventy-two feet off the ground. Friso’s arms extended on either side of him, wobbling theatrically as if balancing on a tightrope.

“You’re going to fall off and break your neck!” Gable shouted.

Friso smiled and gave him a thumbs-up, dark hair obscuring his eyes. Cadrie made a disapproving noise as Friso edged down a rib to one of the two flying buttresses that connected Bat’s Belfry to the remains of Witching Hour.

“Idiot,” Cadrie snorted.

“You pronounced ‘impressive’ wrong,” Friso replied, scaling the buttress with both hands and climbing over the balcony.

Gable hugged his arms over his chest, shivering in the December wind. Weather was powerful up in the belfry, making their cheeks red and their noses run. It was their refuge, their second home; they could see the beauty in its abandonment even if most people glancing south down Meridian Street saw it only as a dead-end.

“So,” Friso said cheerily, hopping onto the balcony ledge. “What’s on the agenda for today?” He jammed his hands on either side of the stone window, leaning back as far as he dared. Gable flinched.

“Get off that.”

Friso leaned back farther, barely clutching the frame. He was one-eighth of an inch from plummeting nine stories. “Like this?”

Macall reached out to slap him on the shoulder, but thought better of it. Friso grinned diabolically from ear to ear and wriggled back inside. He danced over to Macall and then away, pretending that he was going to jump out the window.

“Do it,” Lars dared, his lanky figure coming up the stairs. He wore an orange-and-brown-striped hat that made him appear even taller. “Stop teasing us and jump.” Friso grabbed Lars’s hat and flung it off the balcony, then yanked him down into a headlock.

Cadrie almost smiled. Gable knew Friso was trying to lift her mood in his own odd way, always willing to play the role of distracting entertainment.

Friso picked up a handful of nails Gable had been in the process of lining up on the ledge like toy soldiers and placed them between his teeth, spitting them east toward Runaway Rail Yard in a gesture of malevolence.

“Because if you ask me,” he began out of nowhere, “we should go visit our friends the Pohles and revamp their train.” He wielded a nail like it was a wrench. “A few repairs in the right places and that son of a bitch wouldn’t brake even if a building fell on it.”

“Gable says The Graveyard Shift didn’t do it,” Lars reminded Friso.

Cadrie shot Lars a dirty look. “Gable is a moron seventy-five percent of the time. I don’t care what any of you say. The Juhls killed Olivier and the only reason why Gable’s rationality has taken a flying leap off a bridge is because of that Juhl girl. We all know he’s got a weakness for the weird ones.”

“The Juhls didn’t do it,” Gable insisted. “My intuition is fail-safe. Remember those muggers from Majiel who had it out for us last summer? Remember how Olivier clocked that big git with the tattoo on his face? Could’ve been Tattoo-Face who did him in. Could’ve been some old lady with a glass cane. Could’ve been that Olivier tripped through someone’s window and got window bits stuck in him … ”

“You’re in such denial,” Cadrie seethed. “Do any of you even care that Olivier’s gone? You’re acting like everything’s fine.”

“We liked him, too, you know,” Friso said, perhaps insensitively, as he spit out another nail. “And if you remember correctly, there was a long time when you couldn’t stand to be around Olivier. You’d go running off whenever he showed up.”

Cadrie mumbled under her breath that she hoped he would swallow one of his nails, but he pretended not to hear her.

Gable reclined against the balcony. Sunlight filtered through the fine strands of his hair, turning them gold and concealing the features of his face in shadow. He drummed his fingertips on the ledge, jaw tilted to one side in deep thought.

“We could go to Majiel,” Macall suggested. “Since you couldn’t on Saturday night.”

Gable spread either arm out on the window frame for support. “I’d like to question that girl again.”

“What girl?” Lars and Friso asked in unison.

“The Juhl girl,” Gable said, as if he didn’t know her first name.

Cadrie groaned. “Here we go.”

“Sure, all right,” Friso agreed. “Let’s go there.” He squinted into the distance at a giant sea serpent clock. “You chat up the girl. I’ll interrogate her cousins. Maybe they’re innocent like you say, but it’s been a while since I’ve gotten to tie people to chairs and I could use a refresher. Anyone got any gasoline handy?”

Lars sighed. “You’re going to make a fine headline in the newspapers someday, Weisz.”

There must have been signs, they’ll all say,” Friso replied cheerfully, leaping for the stairs.

Gable caught him by the scruff of his neck. “Not so fast.”

Friso staggered back. “What?”

“You’re an unreliable henchman in this state and you belong somewhere boring. You’re officially Lars’s problem.”

“No!” Lars groaned. “Why me?” He pointed at Macall. “Why not her, though? And hey, weren’t you on babysitting duty tonight?”

“Taking offense!” Friso piped up. “Taking offense to that immediately.”

“You’re the only one who lives alone,” Gable told Lars. “When Friso does something stupid this evening, and I’m sure he will—”

“Hey!” Friso cried.

“—I don’t want to explain to my father that he can attribute his broken furniture to Friso Weisz not knowing how to express his feelings.”

“I have many feelings,” Friso defended staunchly. “Most of them make me really great at punching things. Also, your father never expressly said I could not use his lamps to play ninepins.”

“And that,” Gable responded, consulting a busted fob watch, “is my cue.” He saluted his friends and jumped down the stairwell.

“When you coming back?” Friso yelled after him, leaning over the balcony.

“I don’t know!” Gable shouted. “If I’m not here by a quarter to twelve, leave without me.”

Friso turned to Lars, Macall, and Cadrie, flabbergasted. “Well, that was rude.” He snapped his fingers high over his head as Gable dashed across the tombstone-dotted lawn, his long afternoon shadow running to catch up with him. “Oi! You! Bring me back some gasoline!”

 

Gable stopped running when he made it to the train tracks, slowing to a trot as he turned left onto Arcane Way. Illuminate was on the right side of the street, fourth building down.

Gable sniffed under his arms, paused for a moment, shrugged, and kept going. He strolled into the shop with his chin held high, weaving his fingers behind the back of his head as he meandered along the shelves. It wasn’t until he’d made his way past the shelf of fake paranormal photographs that he chanced a peek at the counter.

Liesel cast him a withering look, but didn’t say anything.

Gable swiftly turned to the shelf, so fast that his neck popped. He thought he heard her laugh softly, but he could have been imagining it.

Several more surreptitious glances informed him that Liesel wasn’t alone in the shop. A woman was browsing postcards near the window, frowning and mumbling to herself.

Here we go.

Gable crossed the room three times, the third time dragging his feet. Liesel continued to watch him suspiciously but didn’t speak, lurking behind the counter so as to draw him out. At last he approached her and jammed a little bell with his finger.

“May I help you?” Liesel asked with an acidic smile.

“Yes.” Gable cleared his throat. “I would like a reading.”

She crossed her arms. “I already told you no—”

“Ha! Such presumption!” Gable interrupted. “As a matter of fact, I wanted a reading with … oh … ” He rapped the counter’s surface five times, arching back to read the sign on the wall that informed customers about which Juhls performed what readings. “I can hardly read that ghastly writing. Does that say Drydon? Yes, Drydon. I want to find out when I’m going to become a millionaire.”

Liesel’s expression was dour. “Dresden’s asleep.”

“Oh?” Gable replied innocently. “Late night, eh?”

She moved crabwise to the other end of the counter, definitely scowling now.

“What’s that look for?” Gable asked merrily. “You’d think I broke into your shop with a bunch of knives or something.”

Liesel’s face whitened. “You had knives?”

“’Course I didn’t”—his voice dropped to a whisper—“have any visible ones.” They both eyed the woman browsing postcards, who was staring at them. She acted as if she hadn’t been, and quickly left the store.

“What do you want?” Liesel demanded once they were alone. She banged money around in the till. Gable saw that most of the coins were copper.

“Slow day, Freckles?”

Liesel’s appearance was dominated by the dark, dense freckles liberally showered all over her skin, especially on her face. “Listen, you.” She flung a polishing rag over her shoulder and sauntered around the counter to stand next to him. Gable’s eyebrows flew up in surprise but he didn’t back off. “I don’t want any trouble in my store. My cousins do not provide service to cabali. I make special exceptions on occasion, but not for you.” She poked him in the chest. He stared at her finger.

“So let me get this straight,” Gable laughed. “Your cousins”—he paused dramatically and nodded at the door that concealed stairs leading to the Juhls’ living quarters—“do not allow cabali in your … what did you say this was? Do you really call this a store?” He whisked her omens off the counter and started to juggle them. Liesel’s entire face twitched.

“It is a store,” she fumed. “It provides goods. Mostly intellectual, but I wouldn’t expect you to have an appreciation for things that improve and repair the soul.” She took her omens back.

“The soul.” He rolled his eyes heavily. “Right. No, no, I mean—don’t get me wrong. This little outfit you’ve got here is cute. It’s adorable. Quaint—I think is the word I’m going for?”

“The word I’m going for is ‘go bury your face in a beehive’,” Liesel replied serenely, reaching for her broom. Gable skipped out of the way.

“One reading,” he insisted, holding up a finger.

She aimed her broom at him, pointy-end over his heart. “Shoo.”

“One little reading. A tiny one. So small and forgettable that it’ll be over before you know it.”

“I bet that’s what you say to all the ladies.”

He smiled as charmingly as he knew how. “I’ll even take it with you, even though I really came here looking for … ” Gable consulted the sign again. “Driscoll. And I pay in favors.” He winked.

“Out!” She swatted at his hand, flourishing her broom irritably.

“My favors are honestly quite good!” He danced over to the door. “Everyone raves.”

“You can do me a favor right now and never come back.”

He tipped an invisible hat, evading her broom as she chased him outside. “No promises!” he shouted from across the street, spinning on his heel to walk into the cobbler’s as if he’d intended to go there all along.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

[]

POPPIES

 

Charleston Birch—or Charleston Birch-Robillard, as he was still getting used to calling himself—prodded his cutlery around on the white tablecloth, arranging and rearranging the china dishes of hot chocolate, coffee, and croissants.

He stopped Loic, his personal servant who was passing by with a fresh vase of gardenias. Loic, a sprightly man who not-so-privately resented Charleston for wasting his bottomless well of opportunities, had a foxlike face and an affinity for brownnosing.

“Is this chocolate?” Charleston asked, pointing at the plate of croissants sitting across from him on the small, intimate table overlooking the train tracks, and beyond that, the harbor. All of its usual fishing boats had already escaped for the day, untethered before sunrise and set afloat on Espello.

It was Macall Kozma’s favorite table, favorite window, favorite view. His favorite view, personally, was of Ruiseal’s, the restaurant owned by Bartek Kozma and named after his wife, whose maiden name was Ruiseal. Their restaurant’s success was sudden and their money quite new, which made Macall all the more attractive to Charleston. She had acquired personality before affluence and was therefore incurably but delightfully ruffian.

Loic examined the croissants uncertainly. “I am not sure, sir. I could—”

“Yes, that would be good,” Charleston finished for him. “And hurry, please.” He peered around Loic, searching the doorway for any sign of red hair and green-and-white-striped stockings. Charleston’s mother summed up Macall’s wardrobe choices as ‘a sad mix of urchin and prostitute’. Macall preferred the term ‘trash princess’. He smiled fondly at the thought, and wished he had a picture of her. Maybe he would ask for one.

His mother detested Macall, and his father naturally disapproved because she wasn’t French. John Birch, who wasn’t French himself but was obsessed with the culture, had always planned to marry into it. When he found himself married to an Englishwoman instead, he’d passed those plans on to his son.

Her money’s lucky, John had said about Macall with some disdain. He couldn’t fathom how a no-name with a flimsy inheritance and no investors could open a restaurant on Bouton de Rose and not be laughed out of Black Magic the very next day.

“Loic!” Charleston called again before the maître d’ could hurry off. He pointed at the white gardenias on his table.

“Of course. My apologies, sir,” Loic said, bowing as he swept through a pair of double doors. He returned three minutes later bearing a tray of seven croissants and pink peonies in a crystal glass, swiping the gardenias away. Charleston tipped two drops of champagne into the water and picked out any floating leaves.

“Harmonious,” he said aloud, beaming out the window. He caught his reflection in it and preened his hair, which was nearly as red as Macall’s, and then took a bracing breath.

“Charleston,” greeted a voice, followed by two oxfords tromping across the floor. Charleston stood up so fast that his chair almost fell over.

“What are you doing?” he muttered, gesturing to the table. “She’ll be here any minute.”

His guest merely glanced at the vacant chair and sat down. Charleston had no choice but to do the same.

“Lower your voice,” his guest advised. It was Yeardley Kieve, son of Commissioner Victor Kieve, and one of few people in the world privy to Charleston’s inner circle.

Charleston’s eyes skimmed the breakfast parlor. The gilt furniture was softened by sunrise, glistening off the marble floor and seven-tier chandeliers with rosy winks. Only one other man occupied the room, and he was seated so far away that it was impossible he’d overhear anything they were about to discuss.

Yeardley selected a cloth napkin, shook it out, and tucked it into his collar. Charleston watched, aghast, as his friend took a large bite out of one of Macall’s croissants. “Came to report some odd behavior,” he mumbled around a mouthful of pastry.

“Make it quick.” Charleston spied the tiny white petal of a gardenia camouflaged into the tablecloth and stuffed it in his pocket.

Yeardley licked flakes of butter from his fingers. “Montego.”

Charleston perked up. “Foy Montego? From The Graveyard Shift?”

“The very one.” Yeardley rammed his spectacles further up the bridge of his nose with one thumb, scooting his chair closer so that he could speak in a whisper. “They pulled their train into the northwest station last night at two and they all got off except for the girl. The train is still there and Montego’s been hanging around Della Torre all day.”

“For what?”

“For following me, that’s what. And I don’t know why.”

Charleston didn’t reply, rearranging the cutlery again and closing the gap between croissants on Macall’s plate. At that moment, the girl he was waiting for wandered into the room, heading toward their table without looking at Charleston.

“Go!” he whispered urgently, kicking the rung of Yeardley’s chair. Yeardley sprang out of it, grumbling. He bowed slightly in Macall’s direction but she didn’t acknowledge him. He made a rude hand gesture at her once her back was turned.

“Peonies,” Macall observed, sliding into her seat and crossing her legs. The double-doors brushed each other as Yeardley exited through them, swish-swish. “You remembered. But my new favorite is red poppies.”

Charleston frowned.

Teasing people was one of Macall’s greatest joys, much to Charleston’s chagrin. He suffered from her tricky, always-changing tastes, and Macall got a kick out of watching him flounder as he tried to keep up. Charleston still couldn’t believe he’d wriggled his way into her day-to-day life, popping out from behind plants and corners until she came to expect it, and then be disappointed when he wasn’t there.

He obsessed over her smile in furtive glances, trying to concentrate on his untouched food.

“Help yourself,” she offered happily.

“It’s impolite to begin eating before the lady does.”

“It’s also impolite to leave a calling card with our servants at half-past-five, demanding that I meet you here for breakfast or else you’ll buy the whole street, blow it up, and fill it with water so that we’ll all have to start paddling in canals.”

“You loved it.”

The corners of her mouth quirked. “Shame on you. Our new maid doesn’t read English very well, so she thought you were threatening to blow me up and dump my body in a canal.”

“Your maid and my maid should gossip more. Together they could control the city.”

“You wouldn’t dare flood the road,” she accused. “Not if it might mean you’d have to learn how to swim. I’ve seen the type of money you carry. You’d sink in three seconds.”

“I really thought you were going to go a different route with that and tell me I’d float because I’m so full of hot air.”

She laughed.

“Imagine it,” he began, unconsciously tilting forward. “You and I sailing down Bouton de Rose in a gondola, snowy moonlight painting the water silver.” He made animated hand gestures, eyes wistful with too many dreams to give any particular one of them justice.

“I see you’ve imagined it for me already. Not sure I want to see what else you’ve made me do inside your head.”

“I’ll shower the canal with the petals of red poppies or roses or whatever flower you’ll claim is your favorite after I’ve already gotten you something else”—Macall grinned at this—“and a band will bellow down to us from the music hall on Castelo. Plenty of violins, of course.” He mimicked playing the violin, closing his eyes. “‘My Wild Irish Rose’.”

“Still thinking about August?”

“That night at the opera house was when you first almost let me kiss you.” Charleston’s gaze temporarily lost focus. “That song could drive a man insane, by the way. I’ve taken to listening to it on purpose. Box reservations all month long, and no one ever bothers me there because I pretend to be asleep.”

“Always two steps behind, then,” she teased. “Didn’t you know that I’ve acquired a taste for ragtime?” Her fingers danced along the table, up and down invisible piano keys. “A friend of mine performs a play set to ‘Harmony Club Waltz’. You’d like him, I think. I’ve always thought the two of you are incredibly similar, except he can laugh at himself and you can’t.”

Charleston took his invisible violin and bashed her piano with it.

“It’s a wonder you’re not an actor, too,” she replied dryly. “You and your histrionics.” She lifted a croissant to her lips and was about to taste it when she decided at the last second to put it back on the plate. Charleston’s stomach growled.

“My histrionics got you here,” he replied.

“Actually.” She uncrossed her legs and crossed them again, uneasy. “I came for my own reasons.”

Charleston’s expression didn’t change, but the flare in his eyes dulled somewhat. “Yes?”

Macall leveled her gaze on him with a sharpness he was accustomed to but still made him a little sick. “Did you and your friends have anything to do with Olivier’s death?”

“Olivier? Who’s Olivier?”

Anger flashed across her face. She pushed all of the dishes away from her. “Don’t play stupid, Charleston. It’s insulting.”

His heart leapt to hear her say his name, but he replied with wariness, “He is one of your Bells, I assume?”

She clasped her hands in front of her on the table, leaning in very close to him. Charleston’s stomach flipped. “I know that you sit up here in your fancy hotel and look down upon the world as though you are not a part of it,” she said quietly, “but if you believe for a second that I don’t think you’ve memorized the name of every cabali in this city and know where they live, what they do for a living, and what their activities have been right up until this second, then I have just lost a great deal of respect for you.”

Charleston shifted uncomfortably. “I didn’t know you respected me at all.”

She withdrew, crossing her arms coldly. “Charleston.”

He reached for the place where her right hand had been resting on the table until she removed it, absently stroking the cloth. “You know I wouldn’t … ” He stumbled over his words, picking and choosing them, looking at the window rather than at her. “I would never hurt anyone you loved. Not for my life. And you know there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do for you … ”

Macall was about to retort when a train whooshed by the hotel, whistle shrieking. “I hate that train!” Charleston exclaimed before she could speak, to save himself from what promised to be another memorable rejection that would keep him lying awake at night, wondering if he could have phrased his words any differently to make her fall in love with him. “Look at what it’s done to my hot chocolate. I swear it’s moved two inches.”

His attempt to lighten the mood didn’t work, and Macall’s mask of composure slipped inch by inch to expose her grief for Olivier. “My friends and I don’t hurt people,” he assured her with more seriousness. “What we do … It’s petty. It’s play. In a year we’ll have outgrown each other.” He reached across to speak conspiratorially at her ear. “But you didn’t hear that from me.”

“Thank you,” Macall said softly, smiling a little. She grasped one of his hands, the gesture shocking him, and gave it a gentle squeeze. “I mean it.”

She rose from the table, eyes sparkling with their usual taunt. “Poppies next time.”

Charleston watched her go, smiling inanely even after she’d been gone for two minutes, five minutes, ten.

Harmonious, he internally sang.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eight

[]

THE CLEROMANCERS OF ARCANE WAY

 

On Thursday morning, Liesel paced from the scullery to the door as she always did whenever she was daydreaming. She caught the blue gingham dress of a woman passing outside and borrowed the design for imaginary curtains in her imaginary cleromancy shop, Sit a Spell, which she liked to mentally visit whenever she was bored. One of her favorite things to do was disappear inside her head to Sit a Spell, which, in her daydreams, was larger than Illuminate and much more cheerful, decorating and redecorating it. The only person she’d ever shared this fantasy with was Misha, who loved the idea of getting away from Illuminate and starting a business of their own.

“—a long happy life,” Misha mumbled from the round table, not looking his patron in the eye. “Congratulations.” One of his hands was busy spinning an onyx chip like a top, flicking it at his other omens until they rained off the table.

He stole a peek at Liesel and she read the dreadful forecast on his frown. Days are severely numbered.

There seemed to be a lot of early deaths going around.

“Hello.”

Liesel spun. Gable stood right behind her, hands jammed in his pockets, blinking in surprise and looking a bit like he’d stumbled into the shop by accident. Ridley, who was dozing at the counter, snapped awake.

“You know, I was just thinking about you,” Liesel said.

“I shouldn’t be surprised. Which is why I’m not.” Gable made a show out of smoothing his striped waistcoat, eyes flicking to Ridley and then quickly away. During that brief space of time, Liesel realized she was staring at Gable’s mouth, which had a habit of drawing up on the left side in a cross between smile and smirk.

“I was thinking that if you came back,” she explained haughtily, “I would agree to a reading and then I’d lie about the results.”

“Lying would be pointless. I’d see your little stone things and be able to tell for myself.”

Ridley stood up, fishing through the till. Liesel saw him transfer money into the metal box and then lock it, sliding it out of sight.

Gable poked at the small bulge in Liesel’s pocket where her knotted handkerchief was stowed. “May I see?”

Liesel gamely obliged, pouring her omens onto the table. Straight away, she was aware of the missing stones. There was always a sense of incompleteness to the set that rubbed her the wrong way. She’d arrived at their particular titles through an old cleromancy handbook of Uncle Orrick’s, which he plunked in front of Liesel and Misha on the same day they came to live with him in Black Magic.

She and Misha didn’t get much choice with their respective branches of cleromancy, as you could either feel the magic accept you or you couldn’t. Magic made all the decisions. At first, it didn’t know what to do with Liesel. Before she came to Illuminate, magic gave her premonitions, then it took them away. It gave her the ability to read minds, but that lasted one week (the most annoying week of Misha’s life). It wouldn’t let Liesel predict the weather as she’d originally wanted, nor would it let Misha chart a patron’s lucky and unlucky days. When she was instructed by Uncle Orrick and Aunt Inge to take up cleromancy, nothing in the handbook wanted to suit her except for emotions, an affinity that was initially only the faintest watery tug of intuition. Conversely, magic knew immediately what it wanted to do with Misha. He opened the handbook randomly to a page for Omens of Death: All Types and the fire in the hearth laughed a roaring purple that stained the brickwork violet. His fate was sealed in seconds.

The problem with Liesel reading emotions was that Uncle Orrick’s handbook was missing several pages in the divining emotions section, as Ridley had torn them out when he was a baby and then eaten them. There were supposed to be scads more omens for Liesel to work with—regret, joy, jealousy—but without the exact spells needed to imbue each omen with the right tone, those would-be omens were all lost to her.

“This one is anxious,” Gable guessed, moving the orange omen aside. He tapped the black one hesitantly.

“That one’s strongly negative feelings,” Misha said to be helpful. Liesel shot him a look.

“Naturally,” Gable replied, scratching the nape of his neck. “Is there … like a chart or something … ?”

Liesel found a pen and paper and scrawled down the options.

“Ahh.” He absorbed the list, chewing on the pen. “Pink would be romantic, then.”

“Or would it?” Liesel challenged.

Gable pursed his lips. “Yes. And you’re not good at bluffing.” He turned back to the omens, Misha laughing. Ridley glared at them but Liesel and Misha pretended not to notice; their way of pretending wasn’t nearly as convincing as Gable’s. Gable radiated confidence almost to the point of making Ridley invisible.

“Blue is harmonious. Purple is melancholic,” he decided after very little debate. “The white one is … no, the green one is platonic. Or indifferent?”

“Ha!” Liesel crowed. “Green is platonic.”

“Which I was just about to say. You didn’t give me room to change my mind again.”

“Hmph.”

“Yellow is indifferent, then,” Gable continued, “and white is … ” He angled himself to study Liesel’s reactions. “Indeterminate.”

Liesel considered herself to be quite adept at bluffing, so this turn of events did not flatter her ego.

He read the last line on the list. “But then, which one would symbolize go away? All of the colors are taken.”

Liesel gave him an arrogant smile.

“Ahh.” Gable scratched that one out with the pen. “Bravo. I have been put into my proper place.”

“All of them symbolize ‘go away’, as far as you’re concerned,” Ridley declared. They all looked up at him. Gable’s face colored but he didn’t move. Ridley went white and still.

“We don’t let cabali in here,” Ridley said firmly.

Instead of being embarrassed, Gable laughed. He took one step closer to Ridley, cocking his head so that his hair fell across his forehead. It was a little greasy, and Liesel’s gut twisted with the odd and irrational fear that Ridley would point it out. “Is that a fact? And does that go for your cabal, too, or just mine?”

Ridley didn’t say anything, but his disgust was palpable. Liesel was horrified. While it was well-known within their family that Ridley and Dresden were involved with The Graveyard Shift, Liesel and Misha were never supposed to acknowledge it. The topic was taboo.

“Because you know,” Gable went on, “what a hypocrite that would make you?”

“Better a hypocrite than what you Bells are. You’re nothing but petty trespassers,” Ridley replied snidely. “And have you ever washed your face in your life? Look at those pustules. I don’t know how you go out in public like that.”

This was a cheap shot. Gable had severe acne and pockmarks along his jaw, and there was some scarring around his mouth that indicated he’d survived wartpox.

“I’d rather have the bits of bad on my face than have your face,” Gable said, “which is all the way bad.”

“Constable Carmen,” Misha warned, and they all shut up at once.

Carmen’s short, pudgy figure glided past the front door, pausing only for a fraction of a second in front of Illuminate. Patrols had a daily quota of arrests to fulfill, and they always targeted the poor, the strange, the criminal, and those who could not defend themselves or make too much noise. Black Magic called these individuals, pushed to the fringe of society, the Invisibles.

Carmen, Black Magic’s Constable for Youth Crimes, was one of the worst patrols. He liked to plant queens on the pavement and watch from a distance to see if anyone would pick them up. Law demanded that money found on the street was to be handed over to patrols, no matter how small the amount, but the temptation was often too overpowering for beggar children to resist. More than one household on Arcane Way wished for his grim death.

When Carmen was gone, they all let out a breath.

Ridley’s attention reverted to Gable, odious. “You still haven’t left yet?”

Gable’s eyes narrowed. “Cabali or not, my money is as good as anyone else’s.”

“You gonna give me money?”

“I’ll gladly pay for a reading.” Liesel was ready to protest, assuming he wanted emotions divined, but he cut her off. “With you. You can see how people were murdered.” His expression closed up, face rather pale, and Ridley easily guessed what he was after.

“You want me to see who kicked Olivier’s bucket? For you, the price is a thousand kings. But even if I offered my services for free, you wouldn’t have the nerve to dig up your friend’s bones, which I use in divination.”

Gable grimaced, betraying that Ridley was right. Gable could never disturb Olivier’s bones. Liesel gave Ridley reproving looks that he ignored.

“You can leave now,” Ridley said pointedly. Liesel glared at him again. Telling Gable to leave Illuminate was her job.

“Fine, I’ll leave,” said Gable. His expression changed, lit up by some thought, and he turned to Liesel. “Want to come?”

She stared at him. “What?”

He strolled backward, slipping his hands into his pockets. Ridley watched them in distrust. “Our deal? Theatre tickets in exchange for the reading you’re giving me later?”

She had to resist the urge to scoff. “Oh, right,” she said wanly. “The theatre tickets. Forgetful me.”

“Mmhmm. The play starts at seven, so we should get going if we want decent seats.”

“We’re open until seven and likely later,” Ridley said with a hard edge to his voice. “Liesel isn’t going anywhere.”

“Did I say seven?” Gable asked angelically. “I meant six-thirty.” He checked the clock. “Which gives us two minutes to get there. One if Liesel is wearing sensible shoes.”

Ridley’s eyes blazed. “Liesel isn’t going anywhere,” he repeated.

Liesel bristled at Ridley’s attitude. “Liesel can go anywhere she wants,” she snapped. “You have no problem taking a night off. Why should I?”

“Because I let you live in my house,” he shot back. “Dresden and I could have kicked you and Misha both out after our father died, but we didn’t. We let you stay here. It’s only right that you repay our kindness by working your fair share.”

“I work more than my fair share,” Liesel said, “and you don’t even pay me.”

Ridley was scarlet. “I have paid for every meal you’ve eaten in the last seven years. If you’re ready to give that up, be my guest and take some time off.”

“I’ll cover for you,” Misha offered timidly without looking at his cousin. “Go to your play, Liesel.”

“I will, thank you,” she told him, leading Gable out of the shop. Ridley was so furious that he couldn’t speak. Gable, on the contrary, was buoyant as ever.

“He’s going to kill me,” she grumbled once they’d walked out the door. “I’m not giving you a reading, by the way.”

Gable only smiled.

“So what play are we watching?”

He turned to her in mock surprise. “Play? What do I look like, someone who carries around two theatre tickets in his pockets at all times?”

“You look like someone who is getting very much on my nerves.”

“Good. You look like you could use a nice punt in a fun direction.”

He took off his coat and slung it over his shoulder, tilting his head back to assess the evening sky. He wore simple black trousers and a thin white shirt, sleeves rolled up to the elbows. The blue stripes of his waistcoat brought out the gray of his eyes. In this light, Liesel had to admit she found him almost handsome.

Oh, lord, she thought. I’m in trouble.

He caught her admiring and grinned, twirling so that he could better show himself off. Liesel soured instantly. Never mind.

She realized she was walking faster than him even though she didn’t know where they were going, and grudgingly asked, “So what’s the plan?”

“Plan?” he repeated vaguely.

He didn’t say anything else, and Liesel huffed loudly. She didn’t appreciate not being in control of the situation.

He cast her a side-long look before squinting at the sky some more. Liesel suspected he was doing it because he knew how good he looked in profile. He had a boyish, playful lightness about him that ensured he would always be noticed in any room he occupied. “How old are you?” she inquired at last.

“Twenty-eight.”

“No, really.”

“Ten.”

A muscle in her cheek jumped. “Is there a purpose here to blistering my feet or are you making it all up as you go along?”

“I always make it up as I go along. That’s how all the good things happen.”

They trod in silence until the sun burned up and the cathedral on Braushaum chimed seven. Liesel’s heart panged, thinking of Misha and Ridley closing Illuminate without her, and what sort of aggression Misha was putting up with since Liesel wasn’t there to bear the brunt of Ridley’s anger.

They wound up in Villa de Luxe, an elaborate park in the center of Black Magic’s wealthiest district. It was on the north end of the city, close enough to see the distant lights of St. Noire that twinkled hello at them from across the Strait of Espello. Liesel waved back. Gable smiled down at her.

Villa de Luxe was populated by its usual fare of spell-addled people this evening. The upper class, who could afford all the best spells and potions, had turned themselves invisible for the hour, or given themselves fox tails, or voices that sounded like they were professional opera singers. Liesel spotted a woman whose feet hovered so that they didn’t skim the ground, humming and twirling a parasol that cascaded bewitched snowflakes off its edges. Aunt Inge used to call Villa de Luxe ladies ‘the rouge’, as they gussied up their lips and eyelids with floral-scented creams, painting the apples of their cheeks with everlasting shy blushes. “We should have cut across Cairn Park,” she mentioned, digging a rock out of her shoe that had wormed its way through one of the holes. “That would have shaved a minute off our walking time.”

“Yes, but Cairn Park is right behind your shop, and I do believe we left your cousin in an undesirable mood. It’s possible he could have watched us. I don’t trust anyone with a bird’s-eye view of my whereabouts.”

“Ha. That’s rich, coming from a boy who frolics in a bell tower.”

He wagged a finger at her. “No frolicking.” He stopped to rethink this, a memory flashing behind his eyes. “Well … I suppose a little bit.” He lobbed a rock at one of the wooden horses on the park’s carousel, delighting in the ping! sound it made.

They passed into shadows thrown by the towering Sur La Lune. Painted onto each side of its turret were four images of the moon in various stages of the lunar cycle. The one facing Bouton de Rose was a smiling crescent, and a beautiful girl with alabaster stars in her hair sat cradled in it, reaching for the moon’s face.

It was a peaceful night, which arrived early now that winter cut the days in half. Liesel gazed up at the girl on the moon, radiant with light flooding through the round window onto which she’d been painted. All four sides of the turret had originally been designed to accommodate clocks, but John Birch had taken one look at the empty glass cases intended for them and said I want a woman up there.

“She looks sad,” Liesel remarked thoughtfully. “I wonder who she misses.”

“Probably oxygen.”

“Ha.” She paused. “This is where Charleston Birch lives. I wonder what his life was like before his parents added ‘Robillard’ to their last name and started pretending to be French.”

Gable raised his eyebrows. “Do you know him?”

“He’s a regular customer of mine.”

He let out a bark of laughter. Liesel gave him a quizzical look and he shook his head. “Interesting.”

“I don’t see how.” She remembered Ridley telling Gable that they didn’t provide service to cabali and sighed. “Ahh.”

“Ahh,” he echoed knowingly.

“Ridley’s just overprotective of his turf,” she said. “All of you people are screwy. Cabals are stupid and I see no point in calling extra attention to yourselves so that Carmen and his corrupt patrols can use you as scapegoats for other peoples’ crimes.”

“Cabals are for those who desperately want to feel like they belong. They crave being part of something exclusive, to know all the inside jokes, to have likeminded friends who care,” Gable explained.

This was a fair point, as Black Magic was overrun with homeless teenagers. Most of them quickly developed criminal records once they were out on their own. Due to poverty, wars, unsafe factory conditions, and diseases, many children lost at least one parent before they turned ten. These orphans banded together for survival, which gave rise to Black Magic’s cabal problem. If Liesel didn’t have Misha and Illuminate, she might very well have become part of that problem.

“And,” Gable said with a shrug, “cabals are attractive for those who are simply bored. Afraid, too. Groups are better at saying things the individual doesn’t want to stick his neck out for. Joining a cabal can be about more than a pact with friends to have each other’s backs. Numbers can make you brave. They can get important things done.”

“Like what?”

“Like … ” He examined Villa de Luxe’s hedgerows, red and white roses tailored into the shape of a long cat arching its back. “The Raaf Ring, for example. They infiltrate the Cavoul from below and smuggle people out.”

Liesel had never seen the Cavoul, but she’d heard about it. It was a massive burial vault under a jailhouse on First Street. It was filthy with diseases, had no light, and was like a landfill for people. Patrols arresting repeat offenders usually threw them down there to rot.

The entrance to the Cavoul that the jailers used was in a trapdoor of the jailhouse. The walls of the Cavoul were piled high with corpses, and in order to stay alive down there, prisoners had to sustain themselves on the bodies of others. Sometimes Liesel could hear them, if she was walking on First Street at a quiet hour. Even the innocent ones became volatile at the very end.

“Is it true, then?” Liesel asked. “What they say about the Cavoul? That Commissioner Kieve doesn’t keep track of anyone he puts down there?”

“Kieve is a commissioner for hire,” Gable replied tersely. “His protection is only good if you can afford it. He lets The Hanged Men do whatever they want because they give him money. Charleston could paint a mural of his nethers on the mayor’s house and he still wouldn’t get arrested for it, because Kieve’s son is in Charleston’s cabal.”

“And you,” she cut in. “What do you do? Do you help free people from jail, too?”

“Nothing so noble as that,” he admitted. “I’ve been in jail loads of times, but that’s just because we Bells tend to poke our noses into places we’re not supposed to and end up getting arrested.” He chewed this over. “We guard doorways of the dead.”

“What?”

“Or not guard,” he rushed on nervously. “More like record. We think of ourselves as librarians, documenting where they are.”

“Oh, no,” Liesel said, looking dreadful. “I knew there was a hitch. Here I’ve been wondering when you would reveal the thing that makes you insane, because everything else seems to be ship-shape. It’s worse than I feared. You’re one of those nutters who claim to see the doors.”

The doors in question were mythological. Certain doorways, according to Finnarian folklore, were actually gateways to other points in time. These gateways were only accessible to the dead, as they lived on a non-linear plane of existence and could traverse time.

“Actually,” Gable said with dignity, “it’s Friso who can see them. They look like average doors to anybody else, but he swears they’re off-color. And they emit a weird frequency. It may seem like a stupid way to spend our time, exploring Black Magic looking for doors that won’t even function properly for us, but there you have it. Whenever we find them, we jot down their locations in Friso’s logbook. We’re up to four confirmed doors and two maybes. There’s a cider barrel in an abandoned warehouse that smells like it came from outer space.”

Liesel gave him a bemused smile. “Bully for you.”

“You don’t believe me! Such is the plight of the explorer. I’ll have to show you sometime. An attic door in the old McCobb house is a gateway. When we walk through it, naturally, we still end up in the attic. But when ghosts walk through it—who knows?”

“A ghost lives in my house,” Liesel replied. “I’ll have to ask her about all this. And if you think you’re not taking me to that attic someday, you’re wrong.” Gable flashed a smile at her. “Ridley’s probably gone upstairs by now. I should go home.”

His smile faded. “Already?”

“Not all of us can run around hunting for time-traveling doors that don’t exist,” she reminded him. “We’re down to the last drops of oil and some of us have to work in the morning.”

“I work, too!”

She laughed. “Ah, yes. Mascarada. I forgot you said you were an actor.” They passed Ruiseal’s, which wafted the delicious aromas of soup and bread at them. Outside the door, a fiddler and an accordionist cranked out a lively tune.

“I act everywhere I can,” Gable replied dreamily. “Real life always, occasionally vaudeville on the Spirited Away, and of course the theatre. The theatre is my first love.” She smiled at the adoration on his face when he talked about acting. It was exactly how she felt about cleromancy.

It had been a while since Liesel walked the entire length of Bouton de Rose Boulevard, and she’d forgotten how pretty it was with its swatches of color spilling from windows upon café tables lining the avenue. The Kozma mansion had every single one of its garden fountains running, spurting purple water high into the darkening sky. All of the mansion’s curtains were gold lace with the exception of one on the far left, which was striped green and white.

“Your cousin Ridley is a treasure,” he said. “He mentioned how he could have kicked you out after his father died … ”

Liesel rolled her eyes. “Yeah, he likes to play that card.”

“Hmm. It makes one wonder why you bother staying.”

Liesel turned in surprise. “What choice do I have? I don’t have any money. Misha and I wouldn’t survive on our own.”

“No money at all? No savings?”

Her expression darkened. “My cousins take everything. When I was younger I believed them when they said they needed all our profits for taxes, but then I realized they just wanted to keep my brother and me poor and dependent on them. If it were up to me—”

She rammed her mouth closed, blushing, and Gable probably sensed a good secret because he gave her an irresistible grin designed to tease out truths. “If it were up to you … ?”

“I’d open my own shop,” she replied in a rush. “Misha’s never liked cleromancy, but Ridley and Dresden won’t let him take any apprenticeships elsewhere because they need him at Illuminate. If I were the boss, I’d put Misha in charge of baking and bookkeeping and I’d be a fortune-teller famous throughout the land.”

Gable didn’t laugh, which she’d been bracing for. “I see. And what would you call this new shop of yours?”

Liesel hesitated, pretending to think up a name when truthfully she’d known for years what she would christen her own shop. It was a private, fanciful world very close to her heart, and she didn’t know whether or not she could share it with him. “Sit a Spell,” she said at length. Then her shoulders drooped. “At any rate, it’ll never happen. I’m stuck in Illuminate. I’d need ample start-up funds, permits, furniture, and all sorts of money I don’t have. I could work at Lampi’s Lumberyard for years and never save enough for Sit a Spell to come true.”

“Don’t be a pessimist,” he chided.

“I’m a realist.”

“You have a dream, which is more than a lot of people let themselves have. With a little more motivation, nothing could stop you.”

When they reached the part of Meridian Street that met Arcane Way, Illuminate visible four doors down, Gable scanned the distance for a mountain of rubble—Witching Hour. It looked like an enormous beast that had collapsed face-down in the dirt, now trying to revive itself.  “I have to go meet my friends.”

They were quiet, a band in Cairn Park striking up a tune. “Listen … ” Gable rubbed the back of his neck, not looking at her. “Do you want to go to a real play tomorrow?”

She started in surprise. “With you?”

He let his head fall back, sighing melodramatically. “No, Liesel, I’m asking you if you want to go alone. I really enjoy suggesting solitary activities for other people.”

She bit her lip. “Ridley would be livid.”

Gable made a frustrated noise.

“That wasn’t a ‘no’,” she clarified cautiously. “Just an observation.”

“Ah! Excellent!” His eyes gleamed. “Go ahead and get your expectations drastically high up there”—he drew an imaginary line across the sky—“because you’re going to absolutely love it. Do you go to plays often?”

“Err—that wasn’t a ‘yes’, either—”

“Sure, it was.” He danced a little to the left, then to the right. “Did I mention it’s one of my plays? Because it is. And not to spoil things for you, but it’s amazing and that’s mostly because of me. I’m marvelous at the acting thing. You’ll meet my friends—Friso, Cadrie, Lars, and Macall. We’ll all get on famously, I can just tell. Now: Would you prefer for me to come by your shop, or … ?”

“No, I’ll meet you at Mascarada,” she said quickly. “What time?”

“Eight. You can do eight, right?” He slouched, then jumped up a foot off the ground. It was no wonder why he’d gotten into theatre. He moved like a marionette being operated by a drunk person.

Liesel was relieved to hear that the play wouldn’t start before seven, since the last thing she needed was to pick another fight with Ridley. She cocked her index finger at Gable, squinted one eye, and fired a bullet from her imaginary pistol into his chest. “I can do eight.”

Gable fell down dead, arms splayed. “Brilliant! She can do eight! She shall be blown backward by the violent winds of my talent. Monsoon winds, even.”

“Then she will arrive in a raincoat,” Liesel mused.

“For my first trick, I shall perform a vanishing act. Turn and walk twenty paces.” He closed his eyes, then opened one of them a few seconds later. “Are you gone yet?”

He was still lying spread-eagled in the road when she passed Toscani’s Sweetshop. By the time she reached her door, however, Gable had vanished as promised.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Nine

[]

UP IN THE NIGHT

 

The bells on Braushaum tolled once at seven forty-five, making Liesel stop to listen. She had been walking quickly until she reached the theatre and saw Gable’s friends huddled close together on the sidewalk, passing around a bag of candied chestnuts. As of yet, they didn’t notice her. Friso Weisz took the bag from the tall black boy she assumed was Lars, its white paper sides crumpling to paste in the rain. She recognized Macall right away, of course, as Charleston had wasted approximately sixty tedious hours of Liesel’s life describing her. Macall had her back turned to them, sticking her fingers out from under Mascarada’s overhanging roof to rinse them of pineapple glaze. Liesel’s stomach rumbled, wondering if they might offer her any.

“There it goes,” the girl she thought must be called Cadrie noted, the words marrons glacés in black ink melting through her hand. The rest of the bag gave way, and The Bells all scrambled to catch the remaining chestnuts before they washed into the gutter. A troupe of little street urchins across the street looked on miserably, their stomachs panging for sweets. Friso twisted a few pieces into a scrap of bag and threw it over to them.

“Ten minutes ‘til,” Liesel heard a Bell say. Rain made the sky lighter than the hour, curling with wood smoke and dead December leaves that never seemed to turn orange and pink in Cairn Park. They went straight to brown in autumn, a rotting sea that spilled over onto Meridian.

“Where’s she at?” Cadrie said.

Liesel inwardly died a little. There were only four other people on the street and they couldn’t pick her out of that small of a crowd. Things were off to a stupendous start.

“Ope.” Friso ogled her, not bothering to be discreet. “There she is.”

Liesel was suddenly desperate to be distracted, waving hello to Mr. Toscani so she could pretend not to notice the many goggling eyes outside the theatre. Mr. Toscani didn’t see her.

She imagined what they saw as she drew near: a short, stocky girl with long hair chiefly comprised of frizzy dead-ends that would have been more commonplace on a cackling old crone. Her body spread its fat content disproportionately, giving her a wide waist, narrow boyish hips, bony wrists, puffy ankles, and broad feet that doomed her to a life wearing men’s shoes. One of Liesel’s favorite bits of herself was her upper arms. They were strong-looking, like she could throw a good punch, and she liked to swing them a lot when she walked to show any potential muggers what kind of goods she was packing.

Normally Liesel didn’t think twice about her appearance, but she found herself sucking in her stomach and tugging down the waistband of her skirt slightly to better hide her ankles. As she did so, Cadrie’s eyes traveled to the scarf on Liesel’s head, jangling with fake farthings, and a sneer darkened her face.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” the girl muttered.

“Gable said it’s for show,” Macall replied, elbowing her. “Be nice.” They either assumed Liesel was hard of hearing or they figured they didn’t have to treat her like a real person because they didn’t know her personally.

Lars didn’t look at Liesel. He took off his glasses, cleaned them on his shirt, and replaced them to his nose without changing expression.

Cadrie critically appraised Liesel’s patchwork skirt. “I think she’s wearing a quilt.” Then, in an awfully accurate impression of Gable, she mimicked, “I think you’d like her.”

“Shh,” Macall reprimanded. “And you can’t talk. You cut your dress out of curtains.”

Liesel concentrated on her breathing—not too fast—grateful for the cold air that made her skin slow to blush. Her heavy raincoat was left unbuttoned, so long that it trailed through dirty puddles of water. Pretend you don’t care. They don’t matter at all. She lifted her nose to stare all over the starless sky, watching plumes of her own cold breath drift away. You are a fortune-teller famous throughout the land, and they are the peasant servants who scrub your castle. Today you are going to sack Cadrie and listen without remorse as she begs to keep her job.

“Hey,” Friso murmured to his friends. “Watch this.”

He sauntered over to Liesel, who was standing next to a beam that propped up the overhanging roof and showing exceptional interest in some rubbish that was blowing across the road. Friso combed one hand through his hair, shook out his right foot, and walked in a circle around her with his eyes bugged out. Then he went straight back to his friends without a word of explanation.

Cadrie shoved her fist in her mouth, body shaking.

Famous fortune-tellers do not have to put up with this piffle. I am unfazed. I am the master of emotions. Chin high, Liesel sailed right past them and shoved on the door with tremendous pomp and confidence. It did not budge.

Drat. I am trapped with the help.

Luckily, she was rescued from The Bells’ tittering in the nick of time. “Oh, sorry!” a Mascarada employee exclaimed, unlocking the door. “Come in, come in.” Friso tried to slide in front of Liesel and she impressed herself by putting up a fight, stepping on his foot accidentally even as she banged her elbow on the doorknob.

“Excuse me,” Friso said politely, shoving.

“Excuse me,” Liesel said just as politely, ramming into him with a smidge more pressure as she squeezed through the door. She hurried to lean against the middle of the lobby wall so that there wouldn’t be room on either side of her for all the others to flock together. The inconvenience this caused them became her source of pleasure for the next few minutes while they waited to be allowed into the auditorium.

Friso winked at her. “Psst.”

She glanced at him in spite of herself (he was very attractive; she couldn’t help it) and he instantly looked away. Then he bugged his eyes out at her again as if to ask what she was looking at.

Liesel regarded him wryly, unsurprised that these were the sort of flavors Gable would want to marinate in. Macall smiled at her. Liesel smiled back, much too broadly to be sincere.

“I think she just mocked me?” Liesel heard Macall whisper to Cadrie.

“What?” Cadrie whispered back, cupping a hand behind her ear. They passed the ticket vendor and handed him five tickets.

“The last one’s for her,” Macall informed the vendor, inclining her head to where Liesel lingered a healthy distance from Cadrie, draping her raincoat over one arm. This whole business was starting to be more trouble than it was worth.

“I said that I think she just mocked—oh, sorry.” Macall stopped to awkwardly pat the vendor’s arm, as she’d bumped him. By the time she looked around again, Cadrie had already trailed off into the dark auditorium in search of a seat and Liesel passed her by, still smiling.

Liesel slid into the row right behind The Bells. She didn’t allow herself to pay them any mind, craning her neck to get a good look at the stage. A few actors halfway transformed into their roles, applying fake mustaches with a paintbrush and hopping about trying to get their shoes on, flurried all over in disorderly joy. Liesel thought four of them might have been Gable and was wrong all four times.

A stagehand wheeled out a trolley full of coconuts and small palm trees. Cadrie’s head dropped to hit the back of her chair, which was in front of Liesel and a space to the right. “Not Up in the Night again. I thought he was going to do the new one? His magic act.”

“That’s for solo performances,” Lars replied. “Fridays are troupe nights.”

The lights dimmed, an organ groaned, and the curtains closed. When they reopened a second later, the stagehand and his trolley were gone, replaced by a young woman. Up above, an enormous white crescent moon hung suspended from the rafters by a cable. Gable sat inside it, rocking back and forth in a dapper black suit.

Now that the room was dark, Liesel briefly let her attention flit to The Bells. Cadrie was staring to her left and looking grumpy. Macall tilted forward with her elbows on her knees, chin in hand. She looked bored. So did Lars. Friso was trying to fall asleep.

“I am engaged to be married in a month,” the woman on the stage called to Gable. “What have you to say to that?”

“Wait for me,” he replied.

The woman, whose name was Onaona, stood on her balcony each night and pined for the man on the moon all throughout her engagement to someone else. “It’s too cloudy!” she once fretted. “I can’t see you.”

“Then you’ve stopped looking,” Gable, whose character was called Hoaka, replied.

“I’m tired of hoping and waiting for an impossible thing,” she confessed. “Tomorrow I will marry Mr. Finch.”

“Hoping for the impossible is still better than the slow-death reality of living out your second choice,” he said. “Wait for me.”

“But she won’t,” Friso remarked under his breath, cracking open a compass and leaning it this way and that to watch the needle spin. “She won’t, she won’t, she won’t.”

“Maybe she would if she didn’t think the wait was going to be forever,” Macall replied quietly. Friso darted a glance at her.

“Maybe he worries he has nothing to offer her,” he whispered a minute later.

At intermission, Friso stretched himself out across his friends’ laps, head on Macall’s knees, and fell asleep. “I can’t feel my arm,” Macall complained to Lars. “He’s so deadweight, it’s like he’s three hundred pounds.”

When the play resumed, Onaona was tap-dancing on the arm of a man who wore a feathered mask and black top hat. The man on the moon watched in silence as Onaona was married beneath an arbor of roses, confetti blowing through the stage’s moss-green curtains.

Charleston was there, on the opposite side of the theatre. He must have been looking at the set and thinking the same thing Liesel was presently thinking: it was much like the paintings on Sur La Lune’s turret, sprung to life.

“Look who it is,” Friso muttered with a meaningful glance at Macall, head tilted back so far off her lap that his hair nearly grazed the floor. “Who the hell invited him?”

“Be nice,” Macall whispered. “He gave me peonies.”

Friso’s reply was almost too low to be heard, closing his eyes for another nap. “Too bad he didn’t try bluebells, eh?”

The Bells never clapped or whistled. They were either so used to the play that they were beyond its enchantments or they refused to contribute to Gable’s already over-inflated self-esteem.

Onaona and Mr. Finch boarded a ship for their honeymoon, and the ship took them further and further away from the moon, as the sun began to stay out longer and longer each day and the ocean was so vast that Onaona became lost in it. Hoaka yelled out for her but there was no answer.

He decided to create a powerful storm in hopes that it would blow him out of his perch so he could be with his beloved, commanding the waves to toss recklessly. Instead of falling to earth, his plan backfired. Onaona’s ship crashed into another and they both sank. A lifeboat carried Mr. Finch to safety, but he didn’t return for his bride.

“Are you still here?” Onaona cried over the roar of the storm, gasping for breath.

Hoaka reached helplessly for Onaona, using the lunar tide to hurl her among waves, hurling those waves upon a desert island so that she would live.

“I’ll come for you!” he bellowed through the storm.

The noise of wind and rain from musical instruments backstage died down, curtains closing. Liesel barely had time to gather her bearings when they reopened to display a tropical island of crepe paper.

Lars shoved Friso’s shoulder.

“Yes!” Friso cheered before his eyes fully opened. “This is the best part,” he informed Liesel, wriggling upright to find his own seat. Still half-asleep, he accidentally ripped out a few strands of Macall’s hair. “Forget Gable, he’s nothing to Captain Blackthorn.”

A pirate tore onto the set, brandishing a sword and yelling that the gods had brewed a storm because they wanted a sacrifice and wouldn’t calm until they’d gotten one. Captain Blackthorn and his crew intended for Onaona to be sacrificed to the sea. The man on the moon was wretched. He tried getting blown off the moon again. When it didn’t work, and all hope was dashed, he lowered one of his moonbeams—a silver rope of light, and Onaona ascended it.

Mr. Finch’s top hat whirled by. Hoaka plucked it from the water with a fishing pole, placing it on his head to complete his bridegroom outfit. They sat together, cradled in the moon, until the sun rose and took them away.

Liesel jumped when everyone started to clap, a bit disoriented. The four Bells followed her outside, swarming off to the right side of the building while Liesel hung back on the left. Gable materialized a minute later, still decked out in costume. He gave his friends a look Liesel couldn’t quite read and then walked over to her, smiling so widely that the skin around his eyes crinkled. Up close, she saw that his eyes were rimmed with kohl to contrast with the bright lights of the stage. He did a quick tap-dance number, jumping in circles before finally stopping to her great applause.

Out of breath, he observed her raincoat and laughed. “How did you like the monsoon of my talent?”

“I’m lucky to be alive.”

Behind him, Friso and Macall danced around a streetlamp, heads tilted back to let mist spray their tongues. Their silhouettes blurred with it, catching some of the orange from the lamp’s aureole. Lars and Cadrie slunk up and down the sidewalk, throwing bits of leaves at each other. All the air was sucked out of Liesel’s chest, seized by unexpected jealousy of their camaraderie. For the space of a heartbeat she painted Dresden and Ridley into friendly people who valued her and her brother, savoring the image of the Juhls being close and full of fun and mischief like The Bells. But she could not reconcile her cousins’ personalities to this happy image, and the bubble popped.

“I don’t even know why I’m here,” she admitted. “You broke my crystal ball.”

“Bygones!” Gable cried cheerfully.

“Tell that to Misha. He loved that stupid ball.”

“Come with us,” Gable entreated, moving to block Liesel’s preoccupation with his friends. Doing so drained his body into one long shadow, features lost. “I think Friso wants to go rooftop-walking along Wohlstand. You can jump on top of Mayor Szekeres’s house all you like.”

“Yeah, and I’m gonna sprinkle some gunpowder down his chimney, too!” Friso hollered. He mimed a huge explosion. “Holiday greetings from Friso Weisz!” He and Lars saluted each other.

“No, you’re not,” Macall said to Friso, frowning. “Empty out your pockets right now.”

“Lars, m’boy!” Friso sang. “Is gunpowder in a chimney dangerous?”

“Only in large quantities!” was the reply.

Friso rummaged inside his pocket and inspected a miniscule amount of powder. “Hmm. I’m going to need more, then.”

Liesel looked dubiously over Gable’s shoulder at Cadrie.

“What—Singh?” Gable asked, tracing her line of vision. “Don’t mind her. She’s a Mr. Finch. Very short list of friends, doesn’t like hardly anyone.”

“Yeah, and that list is getting shorter!” she yelled back at him. “Go change so we can leave.”

“Ha!” Friso pointed at her. “You’re a Mr. Finch!”

“Err, I think I’ll just head on home,” Liesel replied. She waved awkwardly. “Thanks for inviting me along. See you around … or something … ”

Gable waited until she was halfway down the road. “Hey, Freckles!”

She turned at the waist, not saying anything, and waited.

“Tonight I am thirty-two years old.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Ten

[]

WIN’S GATE

 

On Saturday, the fifteenth of December, Charleston ambled into Illuminate with his hands in his pockets and his eyes shifting both ways. “You’re early,” Liesel remarked, mopping up the floor after a customer with particularly muddy shoes.

“I have an engagement tonight and this is the only time I could come.” He shivered in the waning daylight, skin purpled with it, and waltzed right through her trail of suds to sit down at the divination table. The grandfather clock ticked away, not quite four-thirty. “I set out nearly an hour ago, but your shop moved on me.”

“It does that.”

Illuminate was teeming with magical people, and over the years the walls had taken to absorbing wisps of magic that floated invisibly about like dust. The house now had a somewhat whimsical, but mostly inconvenient habit of jumping to its sister address on Fifth Street whenever Arcane Way became rainy, noisy, or plagued with barking dogs. It once moved to Fifth Street purely because it didn’t like a customer who knocked on the door too hard, and another time because it had a vendetta against a clumsy milkman. The house could usually be coaxed back to Arcane Way when Toscani’s began to emit especially delicious aromas.

“I haven’t prepared the atmosphere yet.”

Atmosphere was important to Charleston. It heightened the significance of whatever Liesel’s omens decided to divulge, situating his head between clouds of melted tallow and incense, his own face glittering back at him in the fourteen facets of a pendant that hung from a chain around Liesel’s forehead.

She flurried about the room, closing the curtains so that everything would be darker and staging the appropriate amount of nonfunctioning occult devices.

“Ready?”

“Ready,” he affirmed calmly, arms outspread. Without waiting to be asked, he put the moonstone on the lower-right corner of Liesel’s handkerchief, dragging his chair closer as he did so. A pearl from Macall Kozma’s broken necklace rolled in Liesel’s direction, coming to a stop beneath her palm.

“Charleston,” Liesel said hesitantly. A candle on the table crackled and leapt, the ghost who haunted Illuminate bending the flame like an ear to eavesdrop. “May I ask why you do this to yourself every week?” She shook her omens in her left hand, loving the sound they made, their familiar texture. They were like an extension of Liesel herself. She could tell what colors lay in which positions in her palm without having to look at them. Cold black in the center, melancholic right above it, indeterminate crushing harmonious under her thumb.

Charleston’s mouth was a thin line, knuckles tapping the table. “Some of the money I pay you is so that you won’t get all judgmental on me, you know.”

“I am aware,” she replied carefully, raising her omens over the center of the cloth. She met his steady gaze. “My concern comes from the place of a friend and not a cleromancer. What are you going to do if it comes up indifferent again?”

“Impossible. There’s no way to go but forward from here.”

“Forward could be worse. You could get black … or green again.”

“Nothing is worse than indifference. Indifference is the absence of anything at all. I would rather be hated.”

Liesel held out her hands in a gesture of surrender. “All right. It’s none of my business.”

The omens dropped, and they both leaned in. The blue and pink omens almost touched the moonstone, and it was difficult to tell at a glance which one was within the moonstone’s orbit.

Charleston gasped.

“No,” Liesel said quickly, fluttering her hands at him. “It’s not that one.”

“Yes, it is!” he cried, jumping up.

“No, no, look.” She forced his head down to examine the omens thoroughly, and his shoulders caved with disappointment. “It’s close, Charleston, but blue is closer.”

“But the pink one is almost just as close!” he pointed out. “That’s got to mean something.”

She shook her head, sympathetic. “It doesn’t. All of the other omens are coincidence. The only one that means anything is the omen closest to the moonstone. The others have to be disregarded.”

Charleston stared at the blue omen, the light going out of his eyes. “Cast them again.”

“You’ll get the same results.”

He fished a handful of silver coins from his billfold. Liesel’s eyes flew wide as he hurled them at the wall, his expression almost insane with desperation, with a fixation she would never understand. “Again,” he commanded.

Her jaw tightened but she scooped up her omens as told and shook them in her right hand. She nodded meaningfully at the moonstone but Charleston didn’t move it, perhaps fearing that placing it anywhere else on the cloth would damage the chances of getting a pink omen.

At that moment, the shop bell jingled and someone entered Illuminate. Gable strode over to the table without saying a word and planted an object in front of Liesel. She glanced at it, smiling slightly, and Gable exited the shop without either of them speaking. Liesel didn’t once look up.

Winter’s chill had followed Gable into the room, but it didn’t follow him out. Charleston hugged himself, irritated. “What’s he doing here?”

By way of answering, Liesel cast her omens. She could tell where they would land before they hit the silk.

Which was the exact same pattern as before: blue edging out pink by a millimeter.

Charleston looked demented, candlelight ravaging the bottom half of his face and widening his crooked grin. “The pink still doesn’t mean anything,” Liesel informed him hastily. “Coincidence.”

She knew he didn’t believe her. “Blue is a good thing, Charleston. Blue means your improvement is stable.”

“This is more of an improvement,” he insisted. She watched with bated breath as he selected the pink omen and held it up to one eye, twirling it between his fingers. “This means everything.”

“Do you want me to cast them again?”

“No.”

“I’ll do it for free.”

“No,” he repeated, clutching his pearl and backing away from the table. “I don’t want to jinx it.”

He left the shop without saying goodbye. Liesel cast her omens, anyway, touching a ruby birthstone around her throat as she did so. Orange. She cast again, moving to the amethyst birthstone. Orange. She cast a third time, touching the sapphire. Blue.

Anxious, anxious, harmonious. Dresden, Ridley, Misha.

Liesel picked up the crystal ball Gable had left for her. It twinkled dimly even when candlelight didn’t touch it, smoky jade in color.

Her index finger traced the crystal ball, other hand lingering on the omens. She debated it. She could do it, certainly. The connection would be more than strong enough.

Liesel could read him if she wanted to.

“What do you think?” she asked the empty room. Illuminate’s ghost seemed to be drifting somewhere near the doorway, as that’s where the musk of Admiral Hedgecombe’s All-Girl Academy lingered. It was possible that this ghost was a figment of Juhl imagination and the house simply had an odd smell to it, but the promise of a ghost was a lure for customers.

There was a light tapping on the door—probably tree branches, but possibly a ghost inviting her to take the plunge.

Her fingers shrank away before temptation could steal her, the ball still greased with fingerprints. Only then, in the flutter of movement from her hands, did she notice the tiny slip of paper bent under the crystal ball’s gold base.

Win’s Gate at midnight.

  

In the middle ages, Black Magic’s most famous citizen was Lady Win, a soothsayer. Emperor Angelo had recently overturned anti-witchcraft legislation from the preceding emperor’s reign, and when tales of Lady Win’s unearthly abilities reached him, he conspired to invite her to court as a political olive branch. She declined the invitation. Empress Sophie, driven by curiosity, came to the hamlet of Black Magic to meet Lady Win and subsequently fell in love with her. The two commenced a passionate affair; to make a show of her love, Sophie crowned Win the Imperial Sorceress and bestowed Black Magic upon her as a gift.

Angelo, who didn’t mind his wife’s consorts, did mind her public displays of affection and demanded they end the relationship. Sophie responded by building a wall that enveloped Black Magic and hiding behind it with her mistress. Following a siege of Black Magic, the emperor’s men dragged Sophie away in chains.

Almost all of the wall had been demolished or fallen apart naturally by now, with the exception of a small escape gate close to present-day Vasquez Street. As the emperor’s army encroached from the east side of the city, Lady Win and Empress Sophie had been in the process of trying to flee west through the gate when they were captured. Legend had it that Lady Win was hanged from the gate for treason. She was so beloved by the townspeople that they took down her body against imperial orders, entombing her in a sepulcher in the forest.

As Liesel stepped off the corner of Vasquez and Eighth Street, arms crossed tightly over her chest, she questioned the sanity of roaming to the outskirts of town in the middle of a December night. Gable was clearly insane for suggesting it, but she must be extremely stupid for listening.

Or boggled out of her senses by his charms, which were doing a fine job of eating away at her initial resistance.

He was already waiting, snooping along the stone archway and wrought iron door. There used to be two doors, but one was destroyed a hundred years previously. Gable rapped the gate, head cocked as though listening to it speak.

“What are we doing here?” Liesel called out.

Gable jumped in surprise. Then he laughed. “Oof, you gave me a start! We are here, natürlich, to have our fortunes told.”

She blinked.

“Don’t tell me you’ve never heard the legend of Lady Win’s ghost,” he said incredulously. “Especially you, an enchantress of the oracle.”

“A what?”

“A conjurer of visions. A prophet of the divine. A visionary—oh, wait, I already said ‘visions’.” He paused to catch his breath. “A charmer—”

“Gable.”

“Among fortune-tellers, Lady Win ought to be famous,” he said loftily. “Thou hast not doneth her research.”

“I know about Lady Win,” Liesel replied. “She was the Imperial Sorceress. She was hanged from this gate. So what are you nattering on about? It’s five degrees and I miss my bed. Even the moon doesn’t want to be out here.” She gestured at the moon, which had ducked behind veils of glittering cloud.

Gable flung himself into a terrible pirouette, dancing through the gate. “We are here to seek our fortunes!” He flew back through the archway in a pounce, drawing out his words for a flair of drama. “You and I, on this winter’s night as the clock strikes twelve and the ghost of Lady Win blows up from her grave, will bend, right here … ” He pressed a cheek to the stone archway, garlands of ivy tangling in his hair, grinning from ear to ear. “To listen.”

She observed him closely, lips pursed. “There is something very wrong with you.”

“Come here.” He waved her over.

“I’m not listening to a rock.”

“Not the rock, pessimist! The lady. She comes … this way … ” He tried to make his voice spooky, gesturing at the other side of the iron gate with both arms.

In spite of herself, Liesel stumped over and stood next to him, brushing away tendrils of ivy. The stone was incredibly old, flaking away. Age had eaten chunks from it, which sprinkled down to scatter loosely at the gate’s base. “I don’t hear anything,” she whispered in mock seriousness. “Maybe the ghost is busy.”

“She is never busy. She is punctual and arrives at twelve.”

Liesel twisted away so that he wouldn’t see her smile, as he was taking this whole thing so seriously that she couldn’t help but be amused. To interrupt the silence, which threatened to stretch on and on while Gable attempted to attach himself to medieval stones like a barnacle, she said, “Reckon Lady Win will bring any snacks?”

“Shh. Listen.”

Liesel’s eyes froze in the process of rolling them heavenward, as she heard a faint female voice.

“ … don’t know why I bother.”

She and Gable locked eyes. His shone with suspense, and he was smiling like a maniac. With the contagious enthusiasm that poured out of him and his funny animation that made her laugh, Gable looked much handsomer than she remembered him being a few minutes ago.

You all treat me differently,” the voice continued, pained, “just because I’m a girl. It’s not fair. It’s my train, too.”

Gable’s smile slackened.

Liesel turned toward the true direction of the voice, which was growing louder, and he tucked her deeper into the archway’s shadow. Hiram Pohle and Foy Montego were on Vasquez. Isaelia Pohle trailed behind them moodily, hair standing on end like a curl of smoke from The Graveyard Shift Express’s grit of ground bones.

“It might serve you well to remember,” Isaelia said, endeavoring to control the tremble in her pitch, “that you’ve lost three members of your cabal in the past five years.” She ticked them off on her fingers. “Byron in the factory fire, Casimir to that sunken ship, and the other one, the one who moved away to be closer to his dying whoever.”

“So?” Foy countered.

“So Hiram might not be around forever,” she finished. “And someday, you may need me to be on your good side or I’ll take my train and go.”

“Kindly reconsider how you word your threats to me,” Foy said in a dangerous voice. “I don’t need permission to take trains from corpses.”

“Mission aborted,” Gable murmured, sliding out the other side of the gate. He touched the stones with wandering, worshipful fingers, as though they were sacred. “We’ll return for our fortunes another day.”

Liesel touched the stones, too—not because she believed they held supernatural powers, but because Gable had done so—and as her skin raked across the icy rock she heard a whispering voice, soft, like it was coming from the other side of the world.

He is the magic, and you are the fortune.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eleven

[]

THE SPIRITED AWAY

 

Liesel had a secret side-business with Mrs. Van Parys, the owner of Winkel Shop. Winkel Shop actually translated to ‘Shop Shop’, but Van Parys thought ‘Winkel’ sounded mystical and didn’t figure anyone would know the difference. Her merchandise ran along the lines of tarot cards, tea cups, crystals that were supposed to bring you luck or chase away bad spirits, and talismans. Among these items, one could find Liesel’s handmade omens. They were kept under a dusty display case with a sign above that said: Made in Gullrum by Naveed Rakhsha, noted alchemist.

While standing physically inside Illuminate, Liesel had to be honest about omens and the truth that they only worked for fortune-tellers specializing in cleromancy. Otherwise, everyone would start trying to tell their own fortunes with their own omens and she would be out of business. But Dresden and Ridley wouldn’t allow her to keep any of the money she earned, so if she wanted to build up some savings she had to be inventive.

This afternoon Liesel entered Winkel Shop with twelve clay beads, each of them painted a different color and inscribed with numerals from one through twelve.

“Ah!” Mrs. Van Parys exclaimed, floating over. She wore a ridiculous purple turban today that hovered an inch off her head and had a pale lavender feather sticking out. She’d also bewitched her shadow so that it was perpetually dancing. Van Parys paid good money for this spellwork, as she wasn’t magical and considered the extra quirks essential to her persona. Her hands reached for Liesel’s, hungry for the omens. “What sort of fortunes shall these divine?”

“Your luckiest month of the coming year,” Liesel replied as Van Parys dumped the omens in a bowl. “Twelve of them, for the twelve months.”

“Grand. These’ll be gone in a hot minute. The people from Majiel eat this stuff right up.” Van Parys followed her to the door. “I’ll come by with your half of the money whenever I make a sale.”

If Liesel wanted to, she could leave Illuminate and work at Winkel Shop. Van Parys had offered her a job there more than once, but made it clear the offer extended only to Liesel and not Misha, whose dark nature of cleromancy often put customers off. The salary was too cheap to tempt her consideration—a mere three peons a week—and she wouldn’t leave Misha for another situation unless it paid well enough to support both of them.

When Liesel returned to Illuminate, she found Gable there chatting with Misha. “Hello, Mr. Rakhsha,” Gable greeted with a huge smile.

Liesel frowned pointedly at Misha. “You gossiping old hen.”

Gable tapped the bell on the counter. “Be right back.”

He left, returning not even a minute later with twelve clay beads and Van Parys trailing after. “That was quick!” she said brightly, handing Liesel a two of copper. “Gobbled up by a nice young man, he seemed quite keen—oh!” She turned in surprise to see Gable, who gave her a toothy grin while admiring his new omens. “That’s him right there.”

Please,” Liesel chortled. “Those won’t work for you. Ask Charleston. He owns eleven sets and they’re all worthless.”

“Yes, but the craftsmanship is to die for.” Gable happily cast his beads onto the divination table. “Hurrah, I got the number seven!” He looked up at Misha. “What’s that mean?”

“It means you’re going to make, or have already made, a foolish and imprudent purchase,” Misha intoned sagely.

“Spectacular.” Gable cast them again with glee. “Exactly what I was hoping for. Liesel, come.” He beckoned without looking up. “I’ll give you a reading if you’ll give me one in return. Fortune-teller to fortune-teller.”

“I can tell both of our fortunes right now,” she replied. “You’re going to leave and I’m going to drum up a bunch of business and treat Misha to cheesecake at Ruiseal’s tonight. Just the two of us. Dresden and Ridley won’t have a clue.”

Misha’s eyes widened. “We can’t afford that.”

“We can if we make out like bandits today.” They counted how many customers they would need in order to stash a few peons for themselves while keeping the till full enough that it wouldn’t arouse suspicion.

“Ten,” Misha concluded. “Eleven if we want hot chocolate.”

“We definitely want hot chocolate, and strawberry glaze for our cheesecake costs extra. Which is a must. Let’s challenge ourselves to finding twelve customers so we can stop by the bakehouse on the way home. Split an apple turnover.”

Misha grinned. “What about thirteen?”

“If we get thirteen, then you and I will just leave and open up Sit a Spell with only a stick and a tarp for our premises. I’ll tell all the fortunes and you won’t have to tell any of them, and you can bake pastries for the customers in Mr. Clough’s bread oven. We’ll eat apple turnovers every day.”

“Deal!”

She and Misha raised imaginary flutes of champagne and toasted each other.

Gable looked put out to not be involved in their plans. “I can help.”

Liesel rolled her eyes. “The goal here is a productive workday. Sorry, but you are the most counterproductive person I’ve ever met.”

He jumped over the counter in one rolling motion, landing swiftly on the other side with his face close to hers. “What if I could promise thirty customers?”

The Spirited Away was a glass palace of a watercraft. It twinkled radiantly even from afar, its crystal facets dappling the sea. The ferry’s top deck boasted a domed ballroom with a revolving chandelier, and its prismatic effects were dazzling.

Liesel, Misha, and Gable made their way toward a pier that rose from rocky sands near the east wood, shaped by boulders of jasper that had been carved into parapets. Juniper trees climbed out from cracks between these boulders, leaves dipped in ink-spells to make them everlastingly silver.

“Thirty customers,” Liesel echoed uncertainly.

“Or more,” said Gable, putting a skip into his step. The pier didn’t jut out in a straight line, hewn instead from nature and permitted to zigzag. Liesel had ridden the Spirited Away once before with Aunt Inge, when she was small, but their ticket was for the lowest deck and she hadn’t been privy to the flash and sparkle of the upper deck.

“How much is this going to cost?” she asked nervously. “I wouldn’t imagine that they let you into the ballroom for less than a queen.”

Gable let out a bark of laughter. “The ballroom? Oh, honey, you’re talking kings for that.”

Liesel and Misha exchanged troubled glances.

“But,” Gable added before they could voice their concerns, “We’re sneaking onto the second deck, where security is more lax. Sneaking is free.”

Misha scuttled closer to Liesel, fidgeting worse and worse as they drew closer to the ferry’s boarding entrance. When they reached it, Liesel saw that a teenage girl was issuing tickets for money to those heading to the middle deck. Gable ran his fingers through his hair when he saw her, then plastered on a huge grin.

“Hello,” he sang, winking first with his left eye and then with his right. “The Bells send The Dolls our regards. Particularly you, Cella. That new dress is quite pretty. You should wear it to the grand opening of my play in two weeks, West of the World. Free of charge, of course, for you and a guest.”

Cella smiled, lifting a rope to allow the three of them to pass without paying. “Be discreet, Petrovich.” Her gaze lingered on Liesel, narrowing, and Liesel scurried faster before Cella could change her mind.

“That was terrible flirting,” she whispered.

Gable shot her a hurt look. “Was not.”

“I saw you quite literally bat your eyelashes. I think you get your tips from outdated ladies’ magazines.”

He batted his eyelashes at her. “Not doing anything for you?”

“The best way to seduce me is to buy me food.”

He nudged her. “Filing that one away for future use.”

Misha coughed. “Speaking of terrible flirting … ”

Liesel snapped around to look at him, flashing her eyes, and he just shook his head at her. Misha wasn’t keen on the idea of soliciting business from ferry riders, worried their cousins would punish them for closing the shop. Liesel had assured him that as long as they brought home money, Ridley and Dresden wouldn’t care how and where they’d gotten it, but deep down she was every bit as nervous as he.

She envied Gable. He breezed up the stairs to the second deck without a care in the world, confident that his environment would shape itself to his will and never doubting he’d always come up roses.

He led them to a cozy nook nestled between the railing and a door to the upper deck, where they could hear laughter and music each time the door opened. Gable disappeared for a moment and returned with a collapsible card table, and after refusing to say where he’d gotten it, they set up shop.

“You can pretend it’s Sit a Spell,” he whispered to Liesel.

Her ears burned. It was strange to hear someone else talking about her dream, which she was highly protective of, and for some reason she felt shy and exposed to hear him mention it.

“Fortunes!” he bellowed without warning, making Liesel and Misha jump. “Come seek your fortunes! Two cleromancers for the price of one!”

“Price of one?” she repeated in alarm.

He leaned into her, muttering, “I didn’t say the price was gonna be low.” Then, louder again, he boomed, “Magic show! Come see a magician and two fortune-tellers!” He was still accidentally yelling when he told her, in what was supposed to be a private aside, “Can’t resist the chance to show off!”

His last sentence grabbed some attention from their fellow passengers, and a trio of young men lumbered over to see what all the hubbub was about. They wore mud-caked hats and coveralls, straw and muck clinging to their shoes. Their skin was brown from the sun, and they smiled at Liesel while completely ignoring Gable. “Fortune-teller, eh?” said one.

“We got one of those in St. Noire,” said another. “Old man who visits your house and can tell you the name of the next person who’ll die there.” He tilted his head, looking at Liesel’s omens. “What sort of fortunes do you tell?”

Liesel didn’t have the opportunity to reply, as Gable had stood up and started juggling lemons (where had he gotten lemons?), attracting a larger crowd who elbowed the three farmers out of the way and clamored to know whether Liesel and the other two were a traveling circus act.

“Yes!” Gable readily cried. “And for one night only, our attraction is half the usual cost! For one lowly queen, find out if the object of your affection loves you back. Or, for the morbidly curious crowd, open the door to your deaths and discover the exact date on which you will pass from this earth.”

“Oooh!” a woman squealed. “We can find out when we die? How thrilling!”

“I want to do that one!” another woman chimed.

Misha gawked at them. No one was ever excited to receive his services. His clients were almost exclusively people with terminal illnesses who only wanted to know the exact dates of their deaths so they could make preparations in time.

Liesel couldn’t watch him perform his readings, however, because she was soon inundated with her own share of attention. By the time the Spirited Away made it to St. Noire and back again to Black Magic, the sun was dipping itself in the ocean, stars were beginning to appear, and Gable had amassed the largest gathering of customers the Juhls had ever seen.

First, Liesel entertained them with a lively and well-rehearsed tale of her fictional gypsy ancestors, who first journeyed from Isle of Trésor Edge to Isle of Woaring Cupboard in a thirty-wagon floating caravan. The jewels on her forehead caught the candlelight, shimmering, as she animated her hands in accordance with her story’s choreography. The men and women who came to have their fortunes divined knew, on a deeper level, that the elaborate backstory was a lie. The lie was part of what they were paying for. Her ancestors were not gypsies. Gypsy culture was something Aunt Inge started appropriating a long time ago because patrons had specific expectations when it came to fortune-tellers and were disappointed when there wasn’t enough smoke and mirrors to satisfy their need for mysticism.

Gable threw out questions to challenge or encourage her, but Liesel had already thought of every loophole. She knew her invented history backward and forward, knew when to explain and when to wink evasively and say nothing.

Between divinations, she heard gasps and glanced at Misha, whose eyes were bright with happiness. She’d never seen him so pleased to be doing his job, and perceived that most of the passengers were citizens of Majiel. Their attitude toward death was different from Woaring Cupboard attitudes, and they all thought his gift was marvelously fascinating. Misha was so used to depressing everybody that he didn’t know how to react to applause.

Liesel then glanced at Gable, who was performing card tricks, briny winds pushing his hair out of his face. The speed of the ferry and the cool evening temperature made Liesel’s skin icy to the touch. All around her, the air was glowing with those entranced by magic and the tantalizing promise of exposed secrets, chattering warmly and bathing Liesel in a taste of what the real Sit a Spell atmosphere might someday be like. She’d earned enough money to adequately fill Illuminate’s till as well as order full courses at Ruiseal’s, but the elation money brought her paled in comparison to seeing her brother proud and beaming, for once in his life not hating cleromancy. She couldn’t stop staring at him, mirroring his small smile and knowing how much bigger his smile was on the inside.

Liesel lost count of how many trips the Spirited Away made between Black Magic and St. Noire before she, Misha, and Gable disembarked. Their steps were wobbly on land, used to the sea. Birds in the juniper branches sang kywitt, kywitt, kywitt. Ethereal threads of starlight touched from tree to tree, silver twinkling over the planes of Gable’s face. He smiled down at her, opening his palm to expose a handful of queens. “Tonight, Juhls, we ride in style.”

Gable paid for the use of an enchanted stagecoach, which was an extravagant purchase Liesel had always wanted to make herself but was forever curbed by Misha’s common sense. She was the first of them to jump inside the self-driving carriage designed to look like a pearly onion on wheels.

“Ruiseal’s?” Gable prompted, climbing in after Misha and sliding right up against Liesel even though there was plenty of space on the seat. Misha’s gaze attached to Gable’s thigh, one eyebrow raised, but he didn’t say anything.

“We’d better run home and stuff some of this in the money box before we get in trouble,” Liesel said, patting her pouch jangling with coins.

Misha nodded in agreement. “I bet Dresden and Ridley are going to be mad we’ve been gone all day. The only thing that’ll shut them up is silver.”

“We’ll wait ‘til they fall asleep,” she told him, “then sneak out and go get our cheesecake.”

She rested her cheek on the window’s open frame. Air charging past the carriage tangled her hair, which fell out the window and blended into twilight. She tried not to notice Gable staring at her, or Misha staring in bemusement at Gable. Distant lights of the Spirited Away formed a halo over the water, sailing back to St. Noire. From here, Majiel’s city resembled a cluster of glowworms that blinked by in indistinct flashes, then disappeared.

Smoky black buildings that had been far away only moments ago fell against each other in a flock, shadows constricting the roads into narrow pathways. Darkness smothered the carriage as they raced through, overgrown shrubbery scraping the wheels in a sound like falling rain. With cries of whip-poor-wills haunting the breeze, and the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of the enchanted carriage gleaming white as a unicorn’s tail, and a bewitching boy sitting close to her in the darkness, Black Magic came alive. It was, for a spell, more magic than misery.

She emptied the pouch’s contents across her lap and Misha sprang forward to help her count, both of them deliriously giddy from their spoils. “Let’s leave them three queens and eight peons,” Misha suggested. “And we’ll keep the rest for ourselves.” For the longest time, they stared hungrily at the coins, too excited to be embarrassed that such a small amount of money was such a big deal to them.

Laughter danced in Misha’s eyes. “Extra strawberries,” he decided daringly, taking another copper from the pile designated ‘Illuminate’. Liesel grinned.

All too soon, the stagecoach clipped to a halt outside Illuminate. Gable swung the door open for the other two to get out. “Enjoy your cheesecake,” he said, offering Liesel his hand to help her down. Self-conscious that her palm might be sweaty, she dumped all the money back into her pouch and tried to inconspicuously wipe her hand on her skirt before accepting.

Misha hooked a thumb at the carriage after Liesel shut the door behind them. “I like him.”

“No, you don’t,” Liesel replied firmly.

“You do, too, I see,” he said, grinning, and then quickly ducked out of the way as she lunged at him, blushing furiously. Just as they were about to turn the knob, the downstairs light switched on.

Liesel cursed under her breath.

She heard the lock turn, then the door opened and Dresden’s face glowered down at them. “Where have you been?”

She hadn’t realized until just then how much she’d been counting on her cousins being absent all day. Of course, the one time Liesel needed him to be sleeping or out gallivanting with his cabal he decided to pay attention to her and Misha.

“Business was thin, so we went out to find some,” she answered immediately before Misha could speak. Something about Misha had always annoyed Dresden, and he generally tolerated Liesel’s explanations more than her brother’s even if their responses were the same.

“Is that money?”

He was staring at the bag still clutched in Liesel’s hand. She released a small, involuntary cry when he took it from her, and painfully regretted not putting at least one queen in her pocket.

Dresden loosened the pouch’s drawstrings and dug around in the coins, a greedy smile twisting his features. Before Liesel followed him inside, she saw that the carriage was still parked in front of Illuminate and wondered how much Gable had overheard.

“See what happens when you start taking a little initiative?” Dresden said, sitting down at the divination table to separate copper peons from silver queens. Peons went into the money box and queens went straight to his pocket. “Nice to see that you decided not to be lazy today. We owe taxes.”

Liesel and Misha knew that if they looked at each other, they would both start yelling, so they stared at the floor instead as they marched upstairs. When Liesel was halfway up, Dresden called her back.

She stopped on the stairs, deliberating whether or not it would be a good idea to ignore him. His tone was light and affable, which felt ominous.

“What?” she called, not moving.

“Come here.”

Reluctantly, she trudged over to him. Dresden didn’t glance up at her. He sniffed, wiping his nose on one shoulder, and closed the money box. Before its lid shut, Liesel saw that the interior had much more copper and much less silver than it should have had.

“You’ve been spending an awful lot of time with that boy,” he said quietly. “The Bell.”

Liesel didn’t speak, worried he was going to try to forbid her from seeing Gable. A year ago he probably would have. These days she doubted he had it in him to truly care.

“You know how I feel about other cabals. If loyalty is ever called into question, I hope you remember who feeds you.”

Her mouth fell open, wanting to ask why he would say something like that, but he didn’t give her room. “Tell him to tread lightly. If he or his friends ever disrespect me, I’m not afraid to use you as a message.”

Liesel hurried away from him, almost slamming the door on her way upstairs but thinking better of it. Use me as a message how? Vitriol collected on her tongue, waiting to be purged to Misha.

But Misha had thrown his bedcovers over himself, an indication that he wanted privacy.

She collapsed in her bed, tossing and turning, and settled on glaring at the wall.

Her heart swelled with hatred for Dresden for depriving Misha of his strawberries and hot chocolate. She was about to stomp back downstairs and give Dresden a piece of her mind when she imagined him turning her out of the house. He didn’t threaten to turn Liesel and Misha out very often—that was more Ridley’s pastime—but the few times he had done so left a lasting impression.

She counted the jester’s bells that hung from a shoelace tied to Misha’s bedpost. Nine were his, collected each Halloween. Liesel had given him the other six. They were cheap trinkets of no value, but Misha treated each of his possessions as though they were made of diamond. He deserved to have good things more than anyone Liesel knew. He deserved cheesecake every night and a loving home, and a shop of his own without Dresden and Ridley constantly belittling him.

Liesel slipped into her Sit a Spell daydream, making light changes here and there. She updated the light fixture from a chandelier to a skylight, replacing flowers in the display window with a snowy village of tiny model buildings like the one she’d seen in Ruri’s Miniature Doll Emporium. She pictured herself behind the counter—no, on the staircase—ascending from her basement apartment in one of those conical princess hats with a flowing veil. She moved Misha around, debating his placement, until settling him in a lovely honey-toned kitchen off a side door. He’d be wearing a snazzy suit and a smile, grateful for Liesel’s benevolence and courage to strike out into the unknown (for in her dreams she was always more courageous), fresh off baking a batch of little golden cakes.

Ridley would knock at the door, hoping for a cleromancy reading with Liesel. She’d snap her fingers to summon a troupe of Great Danes. “Tell this stranger to get lost,” Successful Liesel instructed her dogs, who promptly barked him right out the door and down the street. Pretending not to recognize Ridley now that she’d moved so far ahead in her life was a common feature in her daydreams. It was nice to have enough imaginary money and a solid enough reputation as a businesswoman that she didn’t have to fall back on him anymore, or on Illuminate. It was peaceful, just Liesel and her omens, Misha by her side always, with (probably six or seven) Great Danes, and maybe a blond boy dropping in every so often to flirt with her before she gave him the boot …

She was very nearly asleep three hours later when a rock hit the window.

Liesel flew upright, rubbing the glass pane with her nightgown’s sleeve until she cleared the condensation away. Down on the sliver of their property that faced Cairn Park stood Gable. He smiled when she appeared, his mouth a white slash in the moonlight. He juggled six stones, hair plated in silver.

She shook her head at him.

Come on, he mouthed, flashing another smile that made Liesel’s stomach swoop. He’d probably logged several days’ worth of practicing that smile in front of a mirror. It could make a person melt right into the floor.

Liesel looked at Misha, whose chest rose and fell slowly enough to prove that he was either genuinely asleep or really wanted her to think he was. She tiptoed out onto the landing, ready to peek on Ridley and Dresden, when she was gripped by a strong sense of intuition. There was an emptiness to the closed door, and a quiet, that was much more of a void than the silence of sleep.

She hurled the door open. Both beds were empty.

“Loyalty,” Liesel whispered scathingly. Dresden thought she should be subservient to two men who were never around and didn’t care at all about her happiness? Fat chance. “I know where my loyalty lies.”

With her heart, and whoever she felt like giving it to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twelve

[]

NOBLEMEN OF PAUPERS

 

Liesel changed into warmer clothes, transferring her omens from one pocket to another before going downstairs to meet Gable. He was already waiting at the front entrance, now playing with his clay omens.

“I knew you would come,” he informed her, waving the beads. “My omens told me.” He looked pleased with himself. “And you said you had to be special to tell fortunes. Pah!”

“Don’t tell anyone or I’ll be out of a job. Which actually sounds tempting right about now. Even if it’s spiting myself it might be worth it to quit, just to spite Dresden too.”

He gave her a sympathetic look. “You deserve better.” He gave his omens a toss, magically catching them all in his left hand even though they’d been in the process of scattering in all directions. “Karma will come for them, and you’ll have a front-row seat.”

Gable wore a too-long soldier’s coat that had been sloppily painted with brown and blue stripes, making him look like a little boy in his father’s clothes. “Nice stripes,” she told him.

He checked his coat as if he’d forgotten what he had on. “I wear my allegiance prominently.” He pointed at her head, which lacked its usual cluster of baubles. “I see that your allegiance is easily removable.”

She ruffled her curly bangs and found that she still had a hairpin in them. “If you’re talking about my costumes, that’s my livelihood. I wouldn’t read into it.”

“That’s true. You wear your thoughts on your face. An open book that anyone can come along and read!” He laughed. “Just look at that body language! It’s like you’re glaring at me with your well-positioned elbows.”

Liesel examined her elbows. He was right. They did look rather menacing. “So why are you here?”

Gable pointed at her, then spun around so that he was pointing straight down Meridian. “You’re coming with me to my tower. My friends are all waiting.”

“I think I’ll give that a pass, Rapunzel.”

He tipped his head back and growled at the night sky, shaking a fist. “Fits! Why are you so stubborn?”

“I’m in a foul mood and I don’t want to be around those Bells,” Liesel sniffed. “They broke into my shop. Well, I know you did, too, but at least you look sorry about it.”

“Cadrie’s never sorry about anything, so don’t go expecting that out of her,” he replied. “Friso never means well, but he’s easy enough to ignore once you’ve shut down certain parts of your brain. You can’t have a grudge against Lars or Macall, as they weren’t with us that night. And Macall was the one who suggested I replace the crystal ball we shattered, so let’s call it square, eh?” When Liesel still didn’t move, he said, “What is it? You don’t want to leave Misha? He can come, too.”

“No … ” In truth, Liesel didn’t know if she would like Gable very much while he was with his friends. Surely he’d behave a little differently with them around, and that difference might be at her expense. She was, after all, the outsider.

He stared intently at her, then jerked his head persuasively. Then come on.

“Bagh!” She finally gave in and started walking, Gable smiling as he matched her stride in two steps. Spellwork bubbled out of a chimney on Meridian, magical pot roast from a bottle spicing the wind and making her suddenly famished. They caught faint traces of holiday music blaring across Villa de Luxe, escaping through the narrow passages between buildings on Della Torre. A choir rang out, singing something about a horse, until their voices were buffeted away in a sharp winter wind.

Old war veterans and other Invisibles huddled in gazebos, many not wearing coats. Liesel so easily could have been one of them. One wrong move at home and she might be.

Gable’s shoes clacked dimly against the cobblestones. “Wish I had a sleigh.”

“What?”

He did a little dance. “Nothing. La-te-da.”

On the other side of the train tracks, Liesel spied four shapes waiting. One of them kicked the ground when they saw Liesel and Gable approaching.

Liesel reached into her pocket to touch her moonstone and omens, other hand gravitating to the emerald birthstone on her necklace that symbolized Liesel herself. She instantly felt less apprehensive.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you remember the cleromancer,” Gable said, shoving her in front of him. She gave him a panicked look, but he just pasted his cheesy grin back on and prodded her forward a few more inches.

“Nice hair,” Friso mocked. Liesel reached up to pat her bangs but realized he was talking to Gable. Under one of Meridian’s streetlamps, she saw that Gable’s hair was shiny with pomade. The style was the same—parted at the side, the longer half slicked back—but now it didn’t move very much whenever he did. Friso attacked him, ruffling his hair.

“Friso!” Gable yelled, fighting him with inexpert swipes. “Get off.”

Friso sprang away, laughing. Gable flattened his ruined hair as best he could. “I only styled it because it got all fussed up on the ferry,” he said in his most wounded voice.

“You poor dear.”

“Okay,” Cadrie cut in, arms folded. “So what are we doing? We obviously can’t go exploring because Petrovich is babysitting tonight.” Her eyes slid to Liesel.

“Did I throw a wrench in your plans to find a Yeti?” Liesel asked sweetly. “Think I saw him on the way here. He was having a drink with Saint Nicholas and a unicorn over at the pub.”

“Hey, now,” Macall warned. “Yeti are real. You don’t want to mess with the Yeti.”

Gable rushed to intervene. “Proper introductions are in order, since you heathens I am ashamed to call family were rude and didn’t speak to her at my play. Liesel, these are my rude friends: Friso, Macall, Lars, and Cadrie. Friends, this is my Liesel. And I might add that no one has disproven the existence of unicorns.”

Liesel felt a thrill of pleasure at Gable’s slip of the tongue, quietly enduring a small heart attack. My Liesel.

“Anyway,” Friso said, “I’m fairly sure we already voted on this and decided we’re going to go make life difficult for that squinty-faced postman who keeps filching my letters. A cat left me a present this morning and I’d like to pass on the goodwill.” He pulled a half-eaten mouse out of his pocket, swinging it by the tail.

Cadrie snapped her head up to glare at Liesel, who wouldn’t stop staring at her. “Do you have a problem?”

Liesel’s eyes were round. “None. Carry on.”

Cadrie did try to carry on, but snapped again when she saw that Liesel was still staring. “What?”

“Nothing,” Liesel said placidly. “Not a single thing.”

Cadrie flipped her coat collar up around her ears and retreated into it like a turtle inside its shell, looking away before she could catch Liesel’s smile. Through holes in Cadrie’s too-small, shabby coat, Liesel saw a red-and-cream-striped bustle dress and elbow-length gloves of the same colors. She wore more stripes than any of her friends.

“According to my omens, we’re all going to get along swimmingly,” Gable declared, “so—”

“Your what?” Lars asked.

“Omens.” Gable took them out, displaying them eagerly in his palms. “Little magical doodads that spell out one’s future.”

“That’s what those do?” Cadrie peered closer, then studied Liesel. “What did Olivier’s future say? Did you see who killed him?”

“I don’t see futures,” Liesel clarified, swallowing. She’d seen this look in people’s eyes before. All of them stared at her expectantly, waiting for an explanation. “I told you before, I see emotions. You bring me an object that belongs to someone, and I can tell you how that person feels about you.”

“Olivier wanted to know someone else’s feelings about him?” Cadrie’s mouth puckered. “Whose? What did your omens say?”

Liesel chose her words carefully before replying, “The omen that best represented the other person’s feelings was pink.”

“What’s that mean?”

“Romantic.”

Macall and Cadrie exchanged looks. “And who was he—which person—”

“He didn’t say,” Liesel interrupted. “He wouldn’t even give a name. I don’t know who was being read. I only know that whoever it was felt romantically about him. I wish I could tell you more, but it feels like disrespecting his privacy. It should have been Olivier’s choice to tell or not to tell. I don’t want to make that choice for him just because he’s dead.”

Cadrie’s expression turned vicious, but she didn’t say anything. She stepped farther off to the side, watching Liesel with blazing eyes.

“Err—” Gable’s gaze flicked between the two girls. “So Liesel, would you like to see Bat’s Belfry?”

Liesel was beginning to regret coming along, but she didn’t want to give Cadrie the satisfaction of showing it. “Sure,” she said jauntily.

They took her around the tower, mostly touring the ruins of Witching Hour. Gable, Lars, and Macall took her up into Bat’s Belfry, but Cadrie and Friso stayed down below. Liesel saw them jumping out at each other from behind gravestones as she hung over the balcony.

“Can I ring the bell?”

“Nope,” Lars answered before Gable could, patting the bell with a hand so stung from cold air that it was starting to mottle. “This bell is only rung nowadays to alert people to take cover from storms or evacuate before a flood. If you rang it now, you’d confuse everyone.”

They trooped back down the stairs, Macall humming the melody of “Harmony Club Waltz”, and met the two others in the cemetery. A sepulcher bore down on them, winged angels and demons clawing at each other, frozen to stone in mid-attack. Sprigs of holly lay on the sepulcher’s steps and on many of the gravestones. Liesel envisioned The Bells going down each row, arranging shrines of holly for those who couldn’t see or appreciate them.

Somehow, they all ended up following Friso through the cemetery, traveling steadily southeast until the graves dissipated into trees and the charbroiled, cloud-in-your-lungs smell of Runaway Rail Yard.

“Going to one of our favorite spots, looks like,” Gable narrated cheerfully. “Families on Castelo and Wohlstand might spend their winter nights hosting piano parties, but for us noblemen of paupers, what’s a bit of cold air?”

“You’re not a pauper,” Friso reminded him.

“Kings of down-and-outs!” Gable plowed on, choosing not to hear him. “Rich with friends and adventures!”

“And queens!” Macall added as they neared the curve of the city. The trees beyond tapered into a great, winding monster of blue that was the Strait of Espello.

“What are we doing?” Liesel asked. She hadn’t been speaking to anyone in particular, but Gable turned to her and winked.

“There is a god!” Friso declared as he leapt off the bank. A scream rose in Liesel’s throat—the water must have been sub-zero temperatures—but no splash followed. Friso’s shoes skidded over the strait’s frozen surface, ice crackling under frost with a sound like burning logs. “And it is me,” he finished. “Observe. I walketh upon water.”

Liesel hung back on the bank as the others joined Friso. Moonlight sliced into the frost, scattering beams. “Is the ice stable?”

“Like a diamond, princess,” Friso replied. He spun in a tight circle, one of his hands reaching out to grasp Macall’s. Macall was a blur of smile and stripes, whirling over reflected stars. It looked, when Liesel stood at precisely the right angle, like they were standing on nothing at all.

“Don’t worry!” Macall said. “Espello’s enchanted. A few years ago a ship carrying spells sank right here. Every winter since, you don’t need to wear real ice skates in order to skate in this area. It’s like the ice wants to help you glide.”

“But you have to avoid this part of Espello in the summer,” Gable added. “It’s been known to mutate fish.”

“Aha!” Friso snapped an icicle off a tree that leered over Espello’s bank, pointing it straight at Lars’s heart. “You’re mine, Zakari. Tonight, we duel to the death.”

Lars took an icicle for himself and the two of them commenced a swordfight.

Gable slid over to where Liesel still stood on the grass, his hair maintaining a comically windblown state from Friso’s abuse. The tip of his nose was pink with cold, eyes bright. He held out a hand for Liesel, which she grasped.

She caught another snatch of Christmas music, wafted far from its source. She thought she might have only imagined it, but then Gable started to sing along under his breath.

“Ack,” Liesel said as she looked down to survey the ice. Sometimes she could see black water rushing an inch underneath, and other times the ice was opaque for what felt like miles. Gable was inexplicably holding both of her hands now, their fingers entwined, and she had no idea how it had happened.

He noticed her staring at their hands and grinned. “Magician,” he reminded her.

“That explains a lot of things, actually.”

“Don’t act like your magic shows aren’t seat-of-your-pants panache, darling,” Macall chimed in with a laugh as she whisked by, scarf flying. Gable briefly narrowed his eyes, and in a stroke of coincidence Macall took a tumble into Friso’s back.

His lips hovered at Liesel’s ear. “You have to move your legs.” Her breath caught in her throat, and suddenly she could feel his hair brushing her temple and his breath on her neck and it was all she could do to remember to keep her knees steady at all, much less try to make them glide.

Then, abruptly, Gable let go of her and skated backward, letting her fall right into Macall’s waiting hands. “Hi!” Macall greeted happily. They spun twice before Macall passed her off to Lars, whose spectacles glistened with a crust of frost and fog. The smoke of his cigar stung her nostrils.

“May I cut in?” Friso said in less of a question and more of a demand, skidding so violently to a halt that he smacked into Lars.

This was when Liesel realized The Bells were trying to bewilder her. Testing the new girl, seeing how well she’d hold up to their pokes and pinches.

Friso moved with surprising fluidity. With his tornado of black cloak and black hair, he looked like a mist of toxins burning up on the water. “So,” he began crisply, glancing over her shoulder at Lars and Macall talking to each other, “tell me about yourself.”

“Ah.” It took a second for her to digest his command. I’m with Bells, and I’m flailing around on Espello without ice-skates. “Um. Well, my name is Liesel. Which you already know.”

He snickered.

“You’re not that fascinating yourself,” she muttered. “If you want better answers, ask better questions.”

“First off, I am extremely fascinating. I go into a room and utterly absorb it. Into my body, to use as power. Like photosynthesis. Secondly, how does one become a fortune-teller?”

“You become a fortune-teller when magic tells you you’re a fortune-teller. I was chosen for magic when I was seven.”

He considered this. “Where’re your parents?”

“On a ship somewhere, or perhaps in Mongolia or Brazil. Or perhaps dead. They sent me away when I was eight to live with my aunt and uncle.”

He looked her up and down. “No, that’s no good. Give me something better. Do a trick. Your one opportunity to impress me.”

“I really don’t care what you think,” she insisted, which wasn’t entirely true. “I have the right to be unimpressive. You can be as unimpressed with me as you like.”

“I would expect as much from a Juhl,” he admitted, “which isn’t very much at all.” He looked away, already bored.

An orange spark made its way through the fog and she reached out to pluck it from between Lars’s teeth—his cigar—and then tossed it at Friso before propelling herself backward. “Catch.” She split right between Gable and Cadrie, one foot gliding behind the other until she eventually made her way around him again in a circle.

“Ouch! Ah! Hot!” Friso fumbled with the cigar, trying not to let it touch his gunpowder-ridden clothes. “Are you crazy?” He looked up at Gable, floored. “Knocks! This girl tried to burn me!”

“Actually, that was just a diversion,” Liesel said with a smile, holding up something small and brass that winked in the moonlight. She clicked it open. Engraved in the lid was the number 25844. “Look at how west you are! Wow, I am so north right now!” She veered off to the side. “Now I’m northeast. Bet I’d cough up some fabulous information if I used this as a memento to read you against your friends.”

Friso’s mouth fell open, face contorting. “You—oi!”

Her aunt and uncle had taught her to collect mementos from people so she could use them to practice the craft. It became second nature to ask for small, worthless objects a person carried in their pocket or left behind that could be used as mementos. She’d borrowed so many matches in her lifetime that her collection of them was massive.

“Here.” She tossed the compass back and he had to jump to catch it, assuring he’d fall down. He mumbled something unintelligible that sounded like curse words and Liesel laughed.

She was exhilarated, more alive than she could ever remember being. These weren’t her friends, weren’t her jokes and storied histories and unshakable relationships that bordered on codependence—but she could easily close her eyes and make-believe they were.

She skated happily in a loop a small distance away, humming to loose strands of holiday music, tamping down any doubts or awkwardness that came creeping in, the evil reminders to be cognizant of the way she looked and seemed to others. She instead enjoyed the wonderful rush to her head of laughter and friendship, even if she wasn’t quite a part of it, and pretended herself into the mix.

“What are you doing, Gable?” Cadrie jeered, skidding to a rest at Gable’s elbow. He watched silently as Macall, Lars, and Liesel sprinted side-by-side (Liesel doing quite badly, but Lars not much better) and Friso started lighting things on fire and hurling them as far as he could.

“Friso, you moron!” Gable yelled, ignoring Cadrie. “You want to melt the ice? Some of the loose spells in the water might be fire-activated.”

“Blame your friend, she started it,” Friso yelled back, stomping on cracks wherever he could find them. “I have been negatively influenced!”

Gable sighed. Cadrie’s gaze burned a hole through his skull.

“Are you seriously trying to replace Olivier with this fraud?”

He turned to stare at her, shocked. “What?”

“Juhl,” she retorted, gesturing tersely. Lars had tripped Macall, who fell and took Liesel down with her. Friso poked at them with his icicle.

“No one can replace Olivier,” Gable said firmly.

“Then what’s she doing here?”

Gable didn’t answer. He abused the bad habit of selective hearing, one of Friso’s many irritating traits that had rubbed off on him over the years.

“Her cousins murdered him, you know,” Cadrie continued heatedly.

“No, we don’t know that.”

“What more do you need? A signed confession?”

He threw her a piercing look. “We do not call people murderers when there is no proof of it. The Graveyard Shift Express was parked in the west-side train station that night, on the other side of town. We didn’t see any of their lot near Meridian. We watched the Juhl boys carefully and there were no physical signs that they’d been in a struggle with someone. Remember that bloke who tried to knock out Olivier from behind? Remember what Olivier did to his face? There would be signs.”

“For all we know, he was stabbed in the shop and didn’t get the chance to fight back. For all we know, he never had his fortune told at all. Maybe the Juhls found him on Arcane Way and dragged him into an alley—”

“Cadrie.”

“—and left their calling card in his pocket when they were done. They’re twisted enough for it. Especially Ridley. There’s something disturbing about the way he looks at people.”

“Even so,” Gable replied lightly, never taking his eyes off Liesel, “that wouldn’t involve all of the Juhls. You’ve got to stop holding Liesel accountable for something she didn’t do. That her family didn’t do,” he added quickly, the afterthought not fooling her. “I know they didn’t. I can feel it.”

But judging from Cadrie’s brittle expression that showed just how deeply she was still grieving, he knew his convictions didn’t make a difference to her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirteen

[]

INSPECTOR NORMAND

 

Liesel watched the sun rise over the roofs of her town, smiling dreamily. This was her favorite time of the day.

Everything drew closer and warmer, sunlight bouncing off the icy road to blind the windows, forty-two frames on the photograph shelf blinking like forty-two eyes. Everything had movement. The tiles shone almost yellow, in a brief morning phenomenon that inspired Liesel to replace the wooden floors in her imaginary Sit a Spell with pretty yellow tiles shaped like buttercups. In the fleeting seconds of ascending dawn, Illuminate’s colors transformed like something out of a fairy tale, so quick you might miss it, and it almost made her glad to live there.

Almost.

Misha was still a little moody about his sister refusing to work the day before. After staying out late ice-skating, Liesel had decided to give Ridley and Dresden a taste of their own medicine by saying she was ill and needed to sleep in. While Ridley and Dresden’s annoyed reactions were extremely satisfying, it left Misha with the short end of the stick.

“First person who wants a reading with you, and I’ll persuade them to have me instead,” she promised her brother, who was handling the green crystal ball gingerly and pretending she wasn’t there.

He looked up at her then, lower lip pushing out. His lips were forever chapped, no matter the season. Juxtaposed with the uneven haircut Liesel had given him, he looked younger than he really was.

“Tell you what,” she said. “Let’s close the shop for an hour and I’ll come with you today.”

“Really?” Misha perked up. Usually, Misha was the only Juhl to do rounds at the market and the women of Black Magic found it endlessly amusing to see him brooding about with his bags of food, chivalry forcing him to assist twenty ladies at once with opening doors and carrying their groceries.

Liesel intended to go to the butcher’s first, since it was close to Illuminate, but Misha pitched a fit about this: “We save the things that will spoil quickest for last. We pick up last week’s orders first, then put in new orders. After that it’s dry goods, beans, and grains. Then greens and dairy. Take it home, put it up, go across the street for meat.”

“Don’t those other places deliver?”

“Not to Arcane Way! All they deliver to us is milk, and it’s always warm by then because we’re last stop. Don’t question my system. It’s a good system; you have no idea how much you all take my system for granted! It took a lot of trial and error to find out what works and what foods will last all week.”

“Okay, okay,” Liesel laughed, waving Misha to get out of her way. He’d thrown himself in front of her. “Calm down. You’re the boss today, all right?”

This gratified Misha immensely. He walked with a bit of a kick, loving every time he could thrust his usual duties off on Liesel. Some of the ladies who were used to seeing him frequent these shops alone watched them in surprise, and he tipped his nose up in the air. “Hmm,” he repeated often. “Hmm, hmm, hmm.”

Five beggar children approached them, crying for peons. One of them was almost as old as Misha, a girl of probably fifteen. A pair of younger twins originally came from a well-to-do family who all perished from wartpox. Their hair used to be long and shining but was currently cropped at the chin, probably sold for money. Their skeletal frames poked through thin, flea-bitten skin.

Liesel parted with three peons, much to Misha’s distress, seeing herself and her brother in each wild face. She felt rich in her stained skirt and worn shoes, and a certain guilt for the plump flesh that filled out her blouse.

“Make the decision now if we’re going to be good today or bad today,” she said as they reached the end of Lapis Road and turned to scan shops on the other side of the street. A postman knelt on the ground nearby to inspect his hand cart, one of the wheels broken. Piano key as a memento, Liesel thought automatically. Resents his unfaithful wife. Behind him, a rag and bone man with a coal-stained face rang a brass bell and asked passersby for iron. His ring finger was empty but bore the indentation of marriage. Sold it. Would probably sell anything to keep his family warm.

Her gaze flicked between people in the streets. Most who recognized her pretended they didn’t. Fortune-telling was something they indulged in secret, cloaking themselves with excuses before sneaking into Illuminate with their eyes darting both ways. “Ridley’s been moaning about his holey clothes,” she said at last. “Drapers?”

“No drapers,” Misha decided. “We darn our own or we do without.”

“I take it we’re going to be good today, then.”

“We’ll be good as far as Ridley and Dresden’s things are concerned and then we’ll be bad by ourselves off the books.”

Liesel grinned. “I found some coins under Dresden’s mattress yesterday while I was violently, violently ill. Let’s be really stupid about how we spend them.”

Out of all the places they went, Liesel liked the dairy best. It was clean and airy, with white-and-blue-tiled walls. Liesel read off a prewritten list of exactly how much butter, milk, and eggs they needed. It seemed like they were buying enough food to feed ten people for a month. Misha wasn’t paying attention, so Liesel had to sign Mrs. Blethyn’s credit ledger herself. The cost was higher than she expected.

Liesel felt quite grown-up and capable of mastering adult things like shopping as she watched Mrs. Blethyn pat a hunk of butter into a rectangular shape with two wooden boards. Daisy Leifson, Mrs. Blethyn’s assistant, was taking orders behind the counter as well but no one wanted to queue up for her. Liesel chastised herself for avoiding eye contact, but she couldn’t help it. Running into one of the surviving Leifson children made her awkward with pity.

Six months ago Constable Carmen arrested Daisy’s father, Mr. Leifson, claiming he was responsible for the operation of an opium den on Castelo when everyone knew the rich Barros family was actually guilty. With Mr. Leifson sentenced to a lifetime in the Cavoul and his family fined more money than they owned, no one was surprised when the eldest Leifson boy turned to peddling illegal spells to get by. He eventually made enough wages at Moore-Trizza Slaughterhouse to feed his family without having to spell-on-the-sly, but the damage was done. Carmen came after him whenever any crime in Black Magic was reported, eventually carting him off to prison on ridiculous charges and leaving the Leifson family penniless. Mrs. Leifson starved to death trying to spare larger shares of food for her five remaining children.

Daisy started a petition against Carmen’s cruel practices, but most families were too scared to add their signature even if they had personally suffered at Carmen’s hands. All Liesel could think about was her cousins slamming the door in poor Daisy’s face, refusing to sign the petition because they didn’t want to attract trouble to their own doorstep, and how Ridley thought it was funny that she’d gotten upset and dropped her pen.

Liesel carried that same pen now to cross off items on Misha’s list. She forced herself to smile at her before they left, but Daisy decided not to notice. She left the pen on the windowsill, too cowardly to give it to her in person.

As they made their way to the intersection, Misha stopped to chat with David Clough, a boy who helped his father run The Seven Chakras. The Juhls saw the Cloughs all the time, since they lived in the mystic district as well—across the street and one shop down the left from Illuminate.

It was while David and Misha chatted happily, David languishing under the weight of six bags while Misha proudly carried one bag by the barest tips of his fingers, that Liesel saw him.

“Misha!” she exclaimed in a whisper.

Misha and David both looked, then dove behind the nearest tree. All of the tree’s leaves had shed for the winter, however, so it provided no protection. Inspector Normand had already spotted all three of them and Liesel knew, with a knotting feeling in her gut, that he was going to approach them.

Which he did. Swiftly.

“Keeping the scales of justice balanced, I see,” Liesel remarked at once, alighting on a potion bottle tucked in Normand’s canvas bag. It was capped with a glass skull for a stopper, marking it as a black market potion. Probably luck-inducing. Black Magicians were desperate for luck any way they could get it. “I commend you on your priorities, sir. They are top shelf.”

“May I inspect your bag?” Normand asked while yanking a bag of goods from Liesel’s arms. He upended it, letting the food tumble out. He took a bite out of a tomato and let it drop. “Eat it,” he ordered Misha.

Misha goggled at him. “What? You want me to eat that?”

Normand stepped on the tomato, spurting juice on Liesel’s stockings. When he pulled back his foot, he repeated, “Eat it. The whole thing.” His stare floated to Liesel long enough to impart a message before returning to her brother. “Now.”

Shaking, Misha bent to pick up what was left of the tomato. Liesel grabbed it from his hands and stuffed it in her mouth, wincing at the dirt and flecks of gravel. Part of a leaf stem tickled the back of her throat. “Delicious,” she coughed.

Normand was satisfied. “Let me see that.” He curled his fingers impatiently at Liesel’s other bag and she shoved it at him. Liesel heard Misha’s uneven intake of breath as more vegetables and fruits splattered the muddy cobbles. All of the eggs were cracked and the cloth of butter was caked with grit.

“Exactly as I thought. Everything is spoiled,” he said lightly. He clucked his tongue, pouring the last of their precious sugar down a drainage grate. “Clean that up. Littering carries a fine.”

Inspector Normand walked away, his flat expression breeding an unsettling feeling in the pit of Liesel’s stomach. David had stolen away while the inspector wasn’t looking, undoubtedly straining to see out the window of The Seven Chakras right at that moment, worried Normand would come by.

“Rot it all,” Misha growled once they were clear of Normand, pawing through the dirty groceries. “Oh, rot it, no—no!” He cradled a limp cabbage. Liesel rubbed his back with one hand while hurrying to pick up the mess with the other, dry-heaving in an attempt to vomit up the muddy tomato. “You just had to say something to him, didn’t you?”

“Sorry,” she apologized, still gagging. “I’m not usually carrying groceries while I’m being obnoxious.”

“You are obnoxious to the wrong people.”

She shrugged. “Can’t resist when it comes to Normand. He needs taken down a notch. I was hoping you’d use the opportunity to run off while I had him distracted.” Someone bumped against her as she stooped to collect their food. She turned, wary of pickpockets, but neither she nor her brother carried anything of value.

They ran all the way home, lungs sharp from heaving cold air, and deposited their bags in the scullery where Misha speedily got to work laying everything out on the cooking range to be rinsed off in the sink. It wasn’t long before the range was overflowing with black mud. Half the food wouldn’t be any good. Liesel was about to toss the satsumas and blood oranges into the bin when her brother rescued them.

“I can use these for blood moon candies! And this is why I don’t let you in the kitchen.” He threw his arms up. “If it were up to you, we’d toss our money straight into the trash! And the eggs will have to be boiled immediately if we want to salvage them.” He flapped around Liesel like a rabid pigeon until she scooted out of his way, feeding coals into the copper. “Why is this full of ashes? Am I the only one who knows how to sweep this thing out?”

Liesel shrugged unhelpfully, starting the process of heating water. It generally took at least five buckets to fill up the copper, and carrying the bucket from sink to copper was heavy work. Once it was hot enough, she prepared to drain it back into the bucket so that it could be transferred to a pot on the cooking range.

“No time,” Misha said, knocking the bucket aside. Instead he put the eggs straight into the copper using a pair of laundry tongs. “Why’d you get so many eggs?” he cried, pulling on his hair.

“I was reading off your paper!”

“You read it wrong.”

“Not my fault your handwriting’s so bad. You should’ve put in the wringing order yourself.”

Misha looked like he could cry. “Dresden’s allocated four queens and ten peons per month for the shopping budget. You blew through three queens in one day! He always knows exactly how much I spend on shopping. He’ll flay us alive when he sees these charges.”

“I’m sorry!” Liesel’s sense of accomplishment, fancying she could run her own household after doing such a good job today, shriveled to nothing.

Misha picked up a pot and looked for a safe place to bang it. He settled on banging the chimney. “Do me a favor and go stand somewhere else. Put the kettle on. Might as well have some tea. Never mind, we haven’t got any sugar. Probably won’t find more for another six months.”

“Loads of eggs, though. Eggs for days. We’ll be having eggs on Christmas still.”

“Shh. You’re distracting me.” He glanced at the scullery’s sloped ceiling, listening for creaks on the stairs. “You really ought to go open up before Ridley and Dresden come down and find out we—”

He was interrupted by five slow, loud knocks at Illuminate’s door.

Liesel saw Gable’s face through the door’s frosted window before unlocking it, one of his fingers tracing letters into the fog. He had a cone of twisted newspaper in his left hand, filled with sweets from Toscani’s.

“Oh, god,” she told him by way of saying hello. “Not you.”

“Hello to you, too,” he chirped, squeezing by to let himself inside. “What’s cooking? Do I smell sulfur?”

“You smell an exceptionally bad morning.”

“Forgot the confounded pint of oil!” Misha bellowed. His hands flew wildly all about his head, not sure what to do with themselves.

“Mind those eggs!” Liesel shouted back. “And don’t worry so much. I’ll get the confounded pint of oil.”

“Get a bundle of logs, too,” he shouted after her. “Small bundle. We’re not made of money.”

She threw him a thumbs-up he couldn’t see.

“The energy in here is right at my speed,” Gable observed, blowing around like a puppy in a room full of shiny things. “Why all the chaos? How can I make it worse?”

“Inspector Normand cracked all our eggs and now we’ve got to make a million boiled ones.” She popped one of his caramels in her mouth. “Which we don’t even particularly like.”

“Fits, that man is bizarre,” Gable replied. “Why didn’t you make a giant omelet?”

Liesel could hear Misha losing his mind in the scullery. Clearly, he had not thought about omelets. “Or scrambled!” he started to mumble. “Or fried! Cripes—I could’ve—agh! I needed one of those eggs to cook with today!” There was a sound of pot banging against chimney again.

Liesel dashed out the door with an oil can. When she was finished running errands, she came back to find Gable filling Misha’s head with his ghost gateway nonsense.

“—magic portal that might be in the jailhouse on Vasquez,” Gable was telling him, voice drifting out of the scullery. “We think we’ve found another one on the Spirited Away, but Friso needs another go at it before we can be certain.”

Liesel checked the front door to find that the sign still wasn’t flipped over to indicate they were open. She’d never been so thankful for Ridley and Dresden’s laziness in the mornings. She dashed in and out of the scullery, worried someone would need her help.

“Door!” Gable yelled from right next to her, as she crouched down behind the counter in search of the green crystal ball. It had quickly become a favorite among customers. Remembering that Misha had moved it to the table, she jumped up, bashing her head on the overhanging part of the counter. “Lady. Well-dressed. Looks like a Mary.” Gable winked at the customer. “Is it Mary?”

“Lydia,” the customer replied.

“So I was close.”

Woozy, Liesel said to Lydia, “How do—well, hello.” She held out a hand for her to shake. “What sort of fortune do you seek? Finances? Want to know how a loved one was tragically killed? Rakhsha knows all!” She patted her head. “Wow. Must’ve hit that harder than I thought.”

“Actually, I’ve been hoping to find out about my sister,” Lydia said, clasping her fingers tightly over her purse handles. “We had a falling out some odd years ago and I want to see how she feels about me.”

“No problem,” Liesel told her. As Lydia crossed the room to seat herself at the divination table, Misha hurled a coin-adorned headdress at Liesel and she ducked to catch it on her head. “My name is Liesel Juhl. Two coppers before we begin, please.”

The woman handed over two peons. Liesel slid them in her left pocket as she withdrew a knotted handkerchief from her right. She spread it out on the table, along with a moonstone. “If you would be so obliging, I’d like you to place that—” She stopped, the omens in her hand clattering at her ear.

They did not feel right.

She opened her fingers and it was just as she suspected—there were only seven of them. Liesel checked her pockets. “Misha, have you seen—?”

“Seen what?”

She rose from her chair, squinting under the table. “Have you messed with my omens? Polished them or something?”

“No, I’ve got thirty boiling eggs in here. Don’t exactly have time to polish your things.”

“You lose one?” Gable asked, frowning. “Here, I’ll help you look.”

They got down on their hands and knees, scouring Illuminate. “What color?” he called out.

“Pink.”

“The one for lovers!” he cried gleefully.

“That is not what I call it, but sure.”

Lydia tapped her foot impatiently. After a few pointed sighs, Liesel had to lure Misha out of the scullery on the pretense that she’d found a baby mouse under the photograph shelf. She then talked him into giving Lydia a reading. “So sorry,” she said to the woman, combing the photograph shelf while Gable hunted through bags and baskets from that day’s market purchases. “I’ll give you one, too. It’ll be free, soon as I’ve found my omen. Can’t do any readings without it.” She returned Lydia’s two of copper.

“What’re you doing?” asked a voice behind her. Liesel jumped. It was her elder cousin.

“Dresden! I can’t find my omen. You seen it?”

They both knew he hadn’t. He hadn’t even brushed his hair yet. “Why are you making all those eggs?”

“I … um … ”

“It’s just enough for a fifth party,” Gable inserted smoothly, appearing out of nowhere at Liesel’s side. “By the way, danke for the invitation to dinner, Misha. It’s been positively hours since I’ve had a proper egg sandwich.”

Liesel almost laughed, trying hard to find the situation funny. She had to resist meeting Dresden’s eyes, which were fixed on her with palpable fury. She could hear his words reverberating inside her head. Tell him to tread lightly.

And here stood Gable Petrovich right in front of him with a mocking smile, inviting himself to dinner.

Her ears felt like they’d been shut in an oven. Thankfully, she was given a reason to avoid eye contact with her cousin when Lydia abruptly stood up, eyes flooded with tears. Misha reached for her arm, trying to calm her, but she stormed out of the shop.

He flicked one of his omens at the wall. “Three years.”

“Why didn’t you lie?”

He shrugged. “She paid us, didn’t she? Sometimes you get what you pay for.”

Gable and Liesel resumed the hunt for her pink omen. An hour went by and they’d plumbed the entire shop by hand, then the sidewalk, then the gutter along their side of the street on Arcane Way. “Where all have you been today?” Gable asked.

“All over Black Magic,” she replied, pressing the heel of her hand into her chest to try to slow her heart rate. She was sweaty and dizzy. “I’ll have to make a completely new set.”

“How long does it take to make them?”

She scratched her head, trying to remember. She made her first set when she was eight years old, right after coming to live with her aunt and uncle. “Mine took a week, I think. They have to be just right. Same material, same weight, same size. I’d make them out of clay, but I used up my supply with the fake ones.”

“Could you use glass?” Gable inquired. Liesel stopped wiping her sweaty fingers on her skirt and looked up at him. “I could make some for you, if you’d like. My father blows glass for a living. Does it right out of our house.” He pointed northwest. “He helped me with your crystal ball.”

“I have to make omens myself in order for them to work.”

“I could show you how, then.” He smiled at her, and the warmth in her hands and face changed from flustered to pleasant. “We can even make them different colors, just like your old ones.”

She exhaled a sigh of relief. “How soon can we do it?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Fourteen

[]

ON NINTH STREET

 

That night after closing, Dresden turned on Liesel.

“I’m not feeling well,” she said immediately before he could start. “Going up to bed now.”

For a minute it looked like Dresden was going to argue with her. But all he ended up saying was, “It’s probably the eggs. I’m not feeling well, either.”

“Same,” Ridley chimed in.

“Really?” Misha rubbed his stomach. “I ate more than any of you and I feel all right.”

“Let’s turn in,” Dresden decided. “Fresh start tomorrow.”

Misha hung back. “It’s early yet. We could go to Cairn Park like we used to and listen to the carolers.”

“Did you not just hear me expressly say that I don’t feel well?” Dresden snapped, still climbing the stairs. Misha’s face darkened before he dropped it to gaze at the floor.

“Feel better, then,” he mumbled.

“That’s what I thought.”

Once up in their bedroom, Liesel pulled the covers over her head so that her view was restricted to a filmy strip of windowpane, dirtied and discolored with small orbs left behind from long-evaporated water. The creakings of Ridley and Dresden getting ready for bed faded, replaced by too-loud silence. Liesel was about to climb slowly out of bed, ready to go down and meet Gable like they’d planned, when Misha suddenly spoke.

“If Aunt Inge’s still alive—” he began, but she cut him off before he could get ahead of himself.

“The orange blossoms, Misha. She’s gone.”

“Yes, but if she were alive. She and Uncle Orrick, and they were both here. Do you think I’d be in school?”

“No. You’d be in bed because it’s nighttime.”

She felt him rolling his eyes at her. “You know what I mean.”

“I don’t know,” she replied uncomfortably. “I doubt they could’ve spared you and still made ends meet. We’ve been apprentices in this house for years and they could never afford to pay us. Here we are, nearly adults, and we’re still working for free. Providing your tuition would be impossible.”

Dwelling on whether or not he might have been allowed to attend school if their aunt and uncle were still alive was one of Misha’s favorite late-night amusements. He was convinced that he would have one day gone to university, and preferred this worldly, cultured alternate version of himself.

While Uncle Orrick was definitely deceased, they had no idea what had become of Aunt Inge. She disappeared in the dead of night a few months after her husband died and was never seen again. Dresden guessed she left because she didn’t want to contract wartpox. The epidemic was crippling Finnary, and perhaps she fled to England where a vaccination had been produced. Liesel suspected she was dead. The only thing they’d found amiss on the morning Inge went missing was that someone had straightened the portraits on the downstairs walls. Inge liked to keep them purposefully crooked because she thought it added character to the store.

“I think it’s better to focus on what life is like now,” she told him, and immediately regretted it.

“I know that,” he replied, blankets rustling as he rolled onto his other side. Then he buried his face in his pillow, muffling his voice. “Maybe it’s easier for you because you’re doing the same thing now that you would’ve been doing if they were here.”

“That’s not fair.”

His face moved out of the pillow. “It’s true, though. Your life wouldn’t be any different.”

“For all you know,” Liesel said coolly, also turning over, “they would’ve shipped us to that nasty second cousin Georgiana in Trésor Edge. I’d be married to some old pig farmer and you’d be helping Father in the spell trade, going door to door.”

“Inge and Orrick loved us. They would have kept us.”

“Our parents loved us too, but have we heard from them?” Liesel pointed out. “Uncle Orrick’s been dead for years, and probably Inge as well. But Mother and Father left us no address to write to, haven’t sent us any letters. The situation we’re in is the best possible scenario. Think of our sisters. They’re married to awful men and have awful children, scattered all over the world with no care about us or each other. Would you rather be them?”

Misha let out a soft breath.

“Good night, Misha.”

He didn’t respond.

It was a long time before his breathing fell into the natural rhythm of sleep. Liesel had to play games with herself in her head so that she wouldn’t drift off, and when she checked her brother and found his mouth to be wide open, drooling on his pillow, she got up at last.

Tiptoeing downstairs into the silent shop was a long, tiresome endeavor because the stairs groaned like a dying walrus and she had to open the creaky doors a millimeter at a time. They probably would have made less noise if she’d banged them.

The street was a cold wasteland of newspaper debris and whirling sleet. Liesel shivered, yanking the hood of her coat closer about her face, and trundled down the right side of the street past Winkel Shop, then the tailor’s, and finally the hospital. At the cross of Arcane, Eighth, and Lapis—the same place where Inspector Normand had ruined half their food that morning—Gable was lounging against a streetlamp. He tossed an apple up in the air and caught it.

“Ready?” Liesel asked, stopping short in front of him.

Gable whistled—a long feather of white breath floating up to disappear into the brightness of the gas lamp. “Yep.”

She knew by looking at him that he hadn’t had a good evening since leaving Illuminate. His hair was disheveled and his jacket was buttoned wrongly, tarred with mud. “What happened?”

Gable tossed the apple up in the air again, caught it, and hurled it straight at the cobblestones in the middle of the road. It splattered on impact, white flesh and seeds skinned open.

“I’ve been following Victor Kieve.” His voice had an edge to it. “It gets a bit dodgy where he goes.” He touched two clay omens to each other, frowning. “Keep hoping these’ll tell me something about Olivier. So far they’ve been secretive with me.”

“What does Kieve have to do with Olivier?”

He slowly lifted his eyes to lock on hers. “Could be nothing. Could be everything. But he’s one of the ones I’m watching.”

She moved closer. “Who all are you watching?”

His eyes flashed around the darkness, and Liesel copied him, as if she could see the people he referred to. Shadows played over his face, lengthening his eyelashes and making him appear older, less himself.

“Everyone,” he said finally.

She gave him a bemused look. If the subject matter weren’t so sensitive, she would’ve told him he was being dramatic.

They strode down the street for several minutes, Gable pointing out things that sidetracked him: a bench between two trees, embedded into the trunks that ballooned on either side; candles put up in windowsills along the left side of Ninth; a cat’s reflective eyes, lurking beneath a bush. Gable probed a locked garden fence with engrossed fascination until Liesel reminded him about her omens and he grudgingly pulled away. “I need to have Friso inspect that later,” he said. “I bet it’s a gateway.”

Liesel became aware of how close he was to her while they walked, his nearest hand not in his pocket but close enough to brush hers. She got jittery just thinking about it.

“Thank you for helping me, by the way,” she told him, as she wanted an excuse to look at him and talking was a perfectly reasonable reason to look at a person. “With the omens.”

He smiled. “Mit Vergnügen. You know, I—”. He stopped in his tracks, sliding in front of her while turning so that they were face to face. She almost rammed into him.

“What—?”

Gable grabbed her hand and laced his fingers through hers. She was almost surprised by this, except she was much more surprised by the sight in front of her, which wiped everything else from her mind.

It was Dresden and Ridley.

Not only them, but the Pohle siblings, too—Hiram and Isaelia. Foy Montego walked between Dresden and Ridley, swinging a revolver by a hooked finger. The cat Liesel and Gable had seen before charged into the road and Foy shot at it, laughing hysterically as it zigzagged to miss his bullets. They didn’t notice Liesel and Gable walking toward them.

“Let’s get some coffee down you,” Liesel heard Ridley say, his voice warm and sloppy. “You’re second crow’s drunk.”

“I am not,” said Dresden. “Barely first, if that. I’ll be fit as a fiddle by morning.” He produced a bottle from inside his coat and tipped its contents into the street. Bubbly brown liquid frothed out. He splashed some on Isaelia. Hiram threw his head back and crowed like a rooster, shelling peanuts as he walked.

The Graveyard Shift.

Dresden held out his bottle in front of Ridley, stopping him short. They both stared at Liesel and Liesel stared right back, fingers tightening around Gable’s. She wondered how many peons they’d wasted on beer.

None of them spoke. There was nothing to say. They passed each other and continued in opposite directions.

 

Mr. Petrovich was a small and friendly man, his puffy white mustache making him look more like Gable’s grandfather than father. The house was likewise small, still twinkling with oil lamps while Mr. Petrovich whittled away the early morning hours blowing glass.

Furniture in the sitting room was crammed so tightly together that most of it had been rendered useless, tools and books and knickknacks toppling into one another. A tangle of blankets on an old church pew indicated where Gable tossed and turned each night.

“Do you take yours teacloud?” Mr. Petrovich asked.

“Never tried it.” Liesel had seen teacloud before, but Misha couldn’t justify the luxury of teacloud over regular tea, and wouldn’t spend the money.

Mr. Petrovich brought her a cup. Liesel knew she ought to be embarrassed, going awestruck over a hot beverage, but she couldn’t help gawking. The small magic of teacloud was lovely. A foamy puff bobbed a few inches over the cup, dripping flavor into the tea. It was supposed to change flavor according to the drinker’s mood. Liesel tried a sip of chamomile and the cloud promptly wrung droplets of peppermint. It was the most delicious thing she’d ever tasted.

Warmed by the drink, Liesel happily allowed her eyes to stray and settled them on a row of books sitting on a high, isolated shelf.

“Those are Friso’s,” Gable explained, watching her closely. “He keeps some at Lars’s house, too, and Macall’s. Spreads them out like treasure.” Most of the texts were historical. Sandwiched between The Morteret Among Us and Phantasmagoria was a newer one: Wars of the Nineteenth Century. It appeared that Friso was something of a writer, judging by bound packets of paper and journals filled with crabbed handwriting.

“Now tell me about these omens of yours,” Mr. Petrovich said kindly, plunking down on the ottoman right on top of his stack of books.

Liesel showed him her seven omens. “I need something like these, with a pink one as well. They have to be the exact same shape and size. Consistency is important.”

With the pink omen missing, her set was critically wounded. It was already stunted from lacking omens she should have had, and for a moment she deliberated trying to add more emotions even though she didn’t know their corresponding spells. It would be a risky experiment.

In spite of the fact that she was supposed to have roughly double the amount of omens in her pile, her small number compensated for its missing parts brilliantly, each omen expanding to fit an umbrella of terms. Animosity attached to anger and resentment, which evolved into strongly negative feelings; love became true love, lust, and the layers in between, gradients of tone detectable through a sixth sense. If she tried to add more omens now, it would probably throw off the balance. Magic could be snobbish, slow to warm to new magical conduits that wanted a share of the pie.

The old man whisked a pair of spectacles out of his breast pocket and poked them over his nose. They magnified his eyes to three times their normal size. “I see … ” He picked up an omen and held it to his eye, tongue sticking out of his mouth. “Yes, I think I can use all the colors you’ve got here except for the pink you’re missing. I’m fresh out of pink, and there’s not enough white to mix another batch. Would red work all right?”

“That’s fine. And I’d like to help as much as you’ll let me. Omens work best if you’ve created them yourself.” She pulled Orrick’s cleromancy handbook out of her jacket and flipped it open to an illustration of a boy chanting incantations over a stone.

“You’ll be able to do pretty much everything,” Mr. Petrovich said. “This is lampwork, which is melting a rod of glass into beads with a regular old mandrel and torch. I’ve already got rods premade of the colors you’ll need. With rods, there’ll have to be holes in the beads. Perhaps you could string them on a necklace for easy keeping?”

“Thank you,” Liesel said gratefully, raising her voice so that he could hear her over Gable noisily blowing bubbles into his tea. “You have no idea how much I appreciate this. To have me showing up at this hour asking for help, and using your materials, no less—”

“Nonsense!” Mr. Petrovich cried. “I was hoping to meet you soon, anyway. Gable here absolutely cannot shut up about you.”

Gable smacked his face, pulling his eyelids down over his cheeks. “Please, Father.” Noting Liesel’s surprise, he added, “Don’t worry, when I bring you up it’s mostly to complain. 80-20 ratio of bad to good subject matter.”

“Not true,” his father sang.

Gable tugged at his collar, cheeks suddenly hot as he turned away, and Liesel automatically blushed as well. Yes, I’m definitely in trouble now.

A little bit of trouble was starting to sound quite attractive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

[]

THE ONE FOR LOVERS

 

Friso reeled his arm back and chucked an egg at Inspector Normand’s empty house. “Look at that!” he crowed, reaching for another egg. “Best window coverage I’ve ever seen. Properly genius projectile right there.”

“Why is Gable having us do this, again?” Lars asked.

“Because it’s Infector Normand.”

“So?”

“Do we really need another reason?” Friso threw another egg, this time aiming for a different window. “Hope you like it sunny-side up, pisshead!”

Macall ran down Rahat Lane to Braushaum, struggling to see between the buildings on Wohlstand. Noticing what she was doing, Cadrie called, “What’s it say?”

“I think one-fifteen?” Macall shouted, angling for a better view of the clock tower on Della Torre. The Bells loved that tower. It was sculpted into a deep green sea serpent with barbed wings, some of its scales plated in opal. An enormous carriage clock hung from the serpent’s yawning mouth, its numerals too far away to be clear. “Think they’re done yet?”

“Maybe,” Lars replied, standing between Cadrie and Macall. “It depends on what time Liesel left her house.”

Cadrie took an egg and smacked it against a tree, grinding the shell with her fingers so that yolk squelched through. A dog inside someone’s house barked and Friso barked right back until the owner opened his window, yelling at him to shut up.

Lars watched passively as Friso swung himself over Normand’s stone fence and landed in a crouch on the other side.

“Lars, m’boy, is it breaking in if he left the door unmanned?”

“Asking for it.”

Friso cackled as he picked the lock, vanishing inside the house. When he came back a minute later, all of his eggs were gone. He climbed the stone wall and stood on top, gazing imperiously down. Macall joined him; they clasped their hands together and slow-danced along its length. Lars observed them with some resentment.

Then they jumped down, not stopping once they hit the ground but instead streaking off in a spontaneous race. Lars and Cadrie rushed after them, the four friends cutting between buildings on Wohlstand in a competition to see who could run across Villa de Luxe the fastest.

Macall reached Castelo Street first, hopping up and down with her fingers wiggling high in the air. “Ha! I win!”

“Think again, starry eyes.” Friso wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her off the ground, carrying her back to the grass and dumping her there. She shrieked with laughter. “Now I win!” he declared, sprinting into the road. He cupped his hands around his mouth, booming, “Cadrie loses. Again.”

“Come on, Cadrie!” Macall cheered. “You can beat Lars!”

Cadrie huffed and puffed, the hem of her dress dragging with mud. Right at the moment she tripped, she reached out and tugged on Lars’s arm, forcing him into a face-first dive.

“Graceful dismount,” Friso said, applauding. “Such a creative way to stop moving.”

“Shut up.” Cadrie spit out a mouthful of rotting leaves.

“Seeing you down there, all helpless and worm-like on the ground,” Friso told Lars with a massive grin that showed every single one of his teeth, “reminds me of the time you got shot.” He keeled backward, rolling wildly in the leaves. “You shot me!” he howled in an imitation of Lars’s voice. “Ohmahgoddd, you shot meee!”

Lars helped Cadrie to her feet, then they brushed the dirt off each other’s backs. He gave Friso a dry look. “You did shoot me.”

“Don’t be a baby, it was only in your side.” Friso patted one side of his abdomen, then the other. Lars lifted his shirt to show him the scar. “Yeah, that one.”

Lars glared. “Ever since you did that, it takes me three days to digest food.”

“I’m sure that’s entirely unrelated.” Friso slapped Lars’s hat off and bounced away. “Pull your shirt down. You’re depressing the crowd with your mutilated body.” In response, Lars jerked Friso’s shirt up over his head and tied it in a knot. Friso flailed, trying to get his arms loose as he ran in blind circles. “My modesty!”

“This whole week has been a waste,” Cadrie said as they started walking toward Gable’s house, tucking her shoulders up about her ears and hugging herself against the cold. Her lips were purple. “Gable is one hundred percent worthless right now.”

“You know him,” Macall replied with a smile. “He can’t resist badgering people who are even remotely magical. This one happens to be a girl, so expect him to be worthless for at least another month.”

Gable’s house was the first building on upper Ninth.  A cat sitting on the porch railing stretched out at the sign of visitors, batting her paw at Friso. Friso scooped her up in his arms and wrangled the door open, pushing into the sitting room backward without knocking.

“Petrovich!”

 

When Liesel heard Friso entering the house, she and Gable were in the workshop room. “Why does he pronounce your name like that?” Liesel whispered. Friso overly enunciated the syllables in Gable’s surname, “Pet-tro-vitch”, rather than one smooth roll of the tongue.

“Yeah, he does that.” In turn, Gable called out, “Weisz!” He also mispronounced Friso’s surname, shouting ‘wise’ instead of the correct pronunciation ‘vise’.

Liesel crossed to the sitting room with a hot air balloon music box, Gable at her side. It was one of Mr. Petrovich’s toys, its balloon blown from red glass. The whole thing was about eight inches tall and floated when a key was wound into the skirt. Inside the glass balloon were the gears and cogs that enabled it to propel itself through the air.

Liesel twisted the key and opened her palms under the basket. The balloon click, click, clicked, gears puttering, and then whizzed around the room to collect applause.

“You like it?” Gable smiled fondly at Liesel. “Just a curious little project of ours from one summer when we were bored.”

Mr. Petrovich shooed him out of the way. “Oh, no, you don’t! You’re not going to take credit for my balloon. And we made it in winter, by the way. That’s why it took so long. My arthritis was acting up from the cold and my fingers wouldn’t work properly.”

“What do you mean, I can’t take credit? I helped make it!”

“Only the basket. Which took you less than a day. Took me months to get the clockwork right! I asked you constantly for help, but you kept disappearing on me, insisting you were no good with mechanics.”

Gable mashed his lips together. “I did more than attach the basket. If you recall, which may be challenging because you are approaching senility, I was always on call to hand you wrenches and screwdrivers and other pointy things. I told you a dozen times that you were entering in the wrong category at the art fair, but did you listen to me? No, you did not. And that’s why you lost to a painting of a bowl of fruit.”

“Approaching senility, my left eyeball,” Mr. Petrovich grumped, whacking his son lightly across the knee with a cane. “You can’t even train yourself to remember the lines for your plays.”

“Hey!” Gable cried, warming to their pretend spat. It was clear that neither he nor his father could resist an audience. “There’s nothing wrong with a little improvisation.”

“If you were any good at improvisation, certainly.”

Gable gasped. Liesel was amazed he had enough restraint to not slap a hand over his heart.

Remembering the reason why they were all gathered there, Mr. Petrovich sprinted out of the room and returned in a trice, hands cupped together so that the omens wouldn’t fall out. “They’re surprisingly durable,” he said. “Don’t let their being glass fool you. These things could drop off a building and not break.”

“Exaggeration,” Gable argued. “Do not drop them off a building, Liesel. I know that sounds like a dare, but … well, hmm.” He took them before Liesel could, examining the ceiling with sudden interest, and she hurriedly took them back.

“I can’t wait to use these.” She rolled them between her palms, identical in size and texture but already made distinct by the different tones they exuded.

“If you’re asking for volunteers … ” Mr. Petrovich’s fingers pressed together, whole body leaning infinitesimally toward her. His enormous bug eyes blinked hopefully behind their spectacles.

“Would you do me the honor, Mr. Petrovich?” she asked warmly.

Mr. Petrovich was all excitement. He dashed off to retrieve his next-door neighbor’s newspaper to serve as a memento, which sat atop a whole pile of them moldering on her porch. “I want to know what Ms. Jacobson thinks,” he said robustly, not looking at his son. “Of me.”

Gable’s eyebrows flew up. “The bird lady?”

Mr. Petrovich elbowed him. Gable moaned and clutched at his side, lifting up his shirt to look for a bruise. Liesel’s face flushed, and she made an industrious business out of getting her moonstone and omens together. If her peripheral vision wasn’t deceiving her, Macall was giving her a sly grin.

For a minute, Liesel worried the new omens wouldn’t work, that magic had changed its mind and rescinded the gift of cleromancy during the short span of hours in which she hadn’t practiced it. Liesel was devoted to magic, but she couldn’t help but feel like it had selected her with a shrug and a why not?—a little reluctant, a little uncaring of how she might turn out. It bestowed upon her a small, meek ability, only impressive in comparison to non-magical people with mundane aptitudes. If Liesel’s magic shriveled up and left her, she didn’t know who she would be without it. She’d spent half her life being Liesel: Fortune-Teller.

But Liesel’s new omens worked terrifically, their sound like a falsetto of tinkling gems.

Harmonious,” she declared. It was an apt emotion for her first reading with the omens, as the omens themselves felt friendly.

“What’s that mean?” Mr. Petrovich asked, and when he peered into her eyes she could see the same gray color as Gable’s. Liesel temporarily lost focus.

“It—means friendship,” she replied. “Ms. Jacobson’s feelings toward you are either content, admiring, or tolerant.”

Mr. Petrovich chewed this over. “I should’ve seen this coming. Ms. Jacobson’s a tough nut to crack.”

“Ms. Jacobson’s a nut, period,” Gable replied.

At that moment, Cadrie’s movement near the window snagged Liesel’s attention. Cadrie was stroking the lapel of a gray-and-purple-striped jacket with two rows of mismatched buttons.

The Bells began to trail out of Gable’s house, bidding Mr. Petrovich goodbye. Liesel built up enough courage to walk over to Cadrie and touch her shoulder. Cadrie whipped around, not angry but certainly not thrilled to see who stood there.

“Can I see that jacket?”

Cadrie’s nostrils flared, eyes wide. She clutched the jacket as if afraid Liesel would take it from her.

“Only for a moment,” Liesel said patiently. Behind them, Gable and his other friends waited on the walkway, Friso trying to singe the ends of his hair with a cigarette lighter. To Liesel’s knowledge, Friso didn’t smoke. He just liked burning things. “I’ll be gentle, I promise.”

Though fear flickered in her eyes, Cadrie wordlessly complied.

Liesel traced the shallow grooves of a three-holed brown button that was smaller than all the others. “Does this particular button mean anything to you?”

“Hurry up!” Friso shouted. He made to beeline for the door but Gable reflexively stretched out an arm, thumping Friso right in the breastbone.

Friso fell flat on his back. Macall dragged him off into the darkness by his ankle, singing merrily.

Liesel was still waiting for a response.

“Yes,” Cadrie managed. She made a motion with her hand, almost reaching for the jacket again but then deciding not to. “I gave that button to Olivier. I used to collect them.” She stopped talking and opened her coat. Sewn to the interior lining were seventy to eighty random buttons.

Liesel gave her a sad smile that stayed mostly in her eyes. “This is the memento Olivier used. I wasn’t going to tell anyone, you know, because it’s important for me to respect my customers’ privacy. But that’s a contradiction in itself, because my whole line of business is to reveal private feelings.”

Cadrie took the coat back with urgency, holding the wool to her cheek with both eyes closed. One of Olivier’s buttons was missing, ripped-out threads still exposed. The button, Liesel saw, had been in the shape of a small flower now surrounded by dried blood. Someone must have washed the jacket thoroughly, but the outline of a bloody hand still remained, the ghost of Olivier pressing into his abdomen and the preserved, missing flower.

Liesel wished for the first time ever that she possessed Ridley’s talent of divining exactly how a person died.

“I could read him, if you wanted,” she hedged, placing her handkerchief and moonstone on the floor. “I’ve done post-mortem readings before.”

Cadrie didn’t respond, but her face had gone very pale. She brushed the heavy black hair out of her face and touched Liesel’s moonstone.

“All right.” Liesel drew a deep breath, left hand on the button and her right clasped over the omens. “Here we go.”

Omens showered around the moonstone, some of them spinning as far as to the door and under Liesel’s dress. Only one of them remained close to the moonstone, and that was because it sat directly on top of it.

Red.

“The one for lovers,” Gable said softly, watching from the doorway.

Cadrie recoiled. “So he … he did.”

“He does,” Gable corrected delicately. “Do you think a petty thing like death could stop love?”

Liesel got the impression that Cadrie was dangerously close to crying but did not want to do so in front of other people. “Maybe you should take a minute alone,” Liesel advised.

She was almost out the door when Cadrie said, “Wait.”

Cadrie produced a familiar pink oval from her pocket. “I thought so,” Liesel said wryly. “What sort of pickpocket only takes one worthless omen?”

“Sorry,” Cadrie mumbled. “It’s just that you said it was the one he got in his reading. It might’ve been one of the last things he touched.” She thrust the omen at Liesel without looking at her.

“Keep it,” Liesel replied. “I’ve got new ones.” And then, because Cadrie’s eyes were bright and wet, Liesel quickly shut the door.

The sudden cold lashed at her cheeks as she trod the path to the road; she rummaged in her coat for a headscarf.

Gable joined her, taking one of the coins on her headscarf between his thumb and forefinger to examine its engraved symbols. Liesel wondered, heart beating erratically, if he was doing it just for an excuse to stand so close to her. A lock of hair slipped over his right eye and she fought the bizarre urge to slick it back.

Concentrating firmly on the fake coin, he asked, “Ready to give me my reading yet?”

She took her scarf and reached up to wind it around Gable’s throat. “Here, have this instead.”

He waited to speak until she met his eyes. They were unnervingly intense. “Liesel.”

She poked him in the chest, surprising him. “My feelings are none of your business, Gable Petrovich,” she told him sternly. “Find a different way to pry.”

Gable’s eyes widened, then he burst into laughter.

“What?” she demanded.

“So presumptuous! Maybe I didn’t want to have you read. As it so happens, I wanted to have … ” He cast his eyes around the street, then pointed at Ms. Jacobson’s house. “Her. She has a canary who might have it out for me and gives me the beady eye whenever I pass the window. I’d like to make sure they’re not plotting anything I can’t defuse.”

Liesel snatched her headscarf and flicked him with it. “Good night, then. I’m going home.”

“Oh, don’t be like that!” he reproved, tap-dancing.

“I’m not being like anything. I have work in the morning, you toad. I’m being like a person who has to work in the morning.”

“Now you’re being cruel. I am not even the ittiest bit toadish. I do have lovely long legs, but that’s more of the frog family.”

She shook her head and continued walking. When she reached lower Ninth, to the point where she could glance east and see the big boarding house on Eighth Street, he yelled her name and she turned.

He was standing in the middle of the road, night air sweetened with decomposing leaves, still grinning crookedly at his own joke. Biting his lower lip, he drew back the string of an invisible bow and released the arrow. Liesel clutched her chest, pretending to stumble and then actually stumbling when her foot caught on the cobblestones. “Lucky shot.”

“Put some ice on that and keep it elevated,” he advised. “If you experience any dizziness or shortness of breath, try not to fantasize about me too much. It’ll make it worse.”

Liesel winced as she yanked the nonexistent arrow out and cast it aside. “I’ll survive.”

“If you see an angel hovering over you, remember that you’re not dying. It’s only me.”

She laughed and dropped into a wobbly curtsy. “Good night, Gable.”

When Liesel eventually came to the cross of Lapis, Eighth, and Arcane, she saw a strange silhouette standing at the center of it. Walking closer, she perceived that it was a tree—a fully grown apple tree, growing straight out of the cobblestones, heavy with apples gleaming a poisonous shade of red.

The apple tree had not existed several hours ago.

Her mind buzzed as she locked Illuminate’s door behind her, gray dawn inching upward to blot out stars and space.

The prospect of waking up in an hour or so made her want to die. Was this how her cousins felt every morning, collapsing into bed with empty stomachs and sore eyes, thoroughly exhausted?

She smiled at Misha’s sleeping form in his bed across from her, chest rising and falling deeply. She could smell the homemade lemon wax he used on cabinetry. He smelled like hard-boiled eggs, too, and for some reason this made her feel horribly sad and horribly guilty at the same time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Sixteen

[]

TIP THE BALANCE

 

The next day, Liesel trimmed a scrawny pine tree with popcorn garland and walnuts while her brother and cousins crowded together at the divination table around a couple paying for three cleromancy divinations. They bickered back and forth as the omens were cast, the triple reading giving them little personal space.

“A small windfall in six years,” Dresden divined, examining a table full of Mr. Soates’s coins. Dresden used customers’ coins as omens, which meant he never had to carry his own omens around. Liesel thought this distanced him from his craft and prevented him from really knowing and loving it as much as he should.

Ridley didn’t have traditional omens, either. Instead, he had to use bones of the deceased person whose last moments and nature of death needed to be revealed.

“But you’ll experience a long period of poverty until that point,” Dresden went on, cocking his head. He tapped a copper piece. “Which has already begun. Two and a half months ago, am I correct?”

“Three,” Mrs. Soates sighed.

Dresden thumped the table. “Yep.”

Liesel frowned at the imprecise reading. If it was three months, he should have seen three months.

She was happy Mr. and Mrs. Soates didn’t ask for a reading with her as well, singing to herself as she decorated the Christmas tree. It was small and sparse, some needles already brown, but she hadn’t found any other trees in the woods she could kick down with her boot and drag all the way home. As a result of being badly hacked, the stump was uneven and leaned cockeyed.

Liesel pawed through a small box of old, handmade ornaments. Straw figurines of julebukk and wonky child-drawn frost elves were inside, but the singing star that once belonged to her grandmother wasn’t. Every year the Juhls used that star as a tree-topper. A few years ago Dresden cut their Christmas trees himself—his hauls were always tall, magnificent pines that filled Illuminate with aromatic evergreen, and running alongside him as they raced home was the bright spot of their week—but he stopped caring about trees when he got involved with The Graveyard Shift. At least he could still be counted on to settle the levitating star close to the ceiling over the highest point, a beautiful silver heirloom that twinkled just as brightly now as it did when Zofia was a girl and her own grandmother enchanted it to float and sing. Watching Dresden put up the star was one of the few family traditions Liesel was still able to look forward to.

“Anyone seen Zofia’s star?” she asked.

Ridley pointed at Dresden’s feet, clad in shiny new boots. “It’s right there.”

Misha’s jaw dropped, abandoning professionalism in front of customers. “You sold it? That was our best magic!”

“And it was as much ours as yours,” Liesel cried. “Zofia was our grandmother too.”

“I think she’d be happy to give her grandson warm boots,” Dresden replied, unruffled.

Mr. Soates craned his neck to sniff the air. “You smell that?” he said conversationally to his wife, who was trying to be invisible amidst the family argument.

“Shit!” Misha cried. Liesel dropped a tinfoil soldier in surprise. Mrs. Soates gasped as though she’d never heard anything so vulgar, and her husband clapped his hands over her ears.

“What kind of business are you running here?” he snapped. “Teach that boy some manners.” He jostled his wife out the door.

Liesel rushed to the scullery, grabbing a broom to fan smoke out a window while Misha slid a spoon under the blackened crust of his soufflé to check its insides.

“Ridley!” Misha yelled. “You were supposed to be watching this! You were supposed to get this out before those people came.”

“I was busy!” Ridley’s face was already red. Whenever Ridley was at fault for something, he blew up with excessive anger. He knew that when he was angry, there was no room for anyone else to be angry.

“Doing what, watching Dresden kiss our money?”

Dresden levelled a finger at Misha. “Watch it.”

Ridley slapped his thigh. “Are you crying? Are you actually crying about this?”

“Shut up.” Misha wiped a sleeve over his eyes and nose. “Our dinner is ruined. The ingredients are all wasted, the money’s wasted.” His arms flapped, hands taking turns pulling on his hair. Liesel hovered at his side, wanting to help but not knowing how. She looked down and noticed that she was still holding the broom, so she decided to sweep the floor with it.

“Get a grip, Misha,” Dresden snapped. “Look at yourself, you’re being hysterical.”

“You don’t get it!” Misha’s voice rose above the point where his cousins could tolerate it. Frustrated tears slipped down his chin, gray from soot swirling the air. “You don’t know how difficult it is to stick to such a small food budget with four people. The only part of our dinner you’re ever involved in is sitting down to eat it. You don’t know anything about rationing money or ingredients for our food, for preparing it—”

I don’t know anything about rationing money?” Dresden shot back, closing in on Misha. He towered over him by two heads. “You wasted three queens in a week and I don’t see our pantry any fuller! I had to accuse Mrs. Blethyn of trying to cheat us to get the charges taken off our account because of your carelessness, and now we’re blacklisted at the dairy.” He struck Misha across the face, prompting cries of pain from Misha and horror from Liesel. She stared in disbelief at the imprint of Dresden’s hand, his callused palm lashing a welt into her little brother’s cheek.

“Stop it!” Liesel separated the boys with her arms. “Don’t you ever touch him again.”

“Well, listen to him!” Dresden cried, turning quickly back to Misha and causing him to flinch. “Do you hear the tripe that’s coming out of his mouth? Saying I don’t know anything about money. I’ve done you a charity. I’ve kept a roof over your head. I’ve kept your ungrateful ass alive at my own expense, when I never wanted you here to start with, and this is how you talk to me? I don’t like our situation, either, you know! I don’t like fortune-telling, either! I don’t like living here, either! But you don’t see me whining about it. To hell with you, Misha. If you don’t like the way I run things, you can leave.”

“Sounds good to me!” Misha hollered. “I’d love to see how long it takes you to run out of money.”

“Then get out!”

“You think Liesel’ll stay here with you if I go?” Misha shot back. “She’ll come with me, and then you won’t get any customers. You’ll be out of business within a week. Give me a thousand kings for all my years of unpaid labor and I’ll walk away from this place happily.”

“Cook your own dinner,” Liesel told Dresden, grabbing Misha’s hand.

She pulled him up the stairs after her, retrieved several coins from a wooden box she kept under the floorboards below her bed, and led him outside while still yelling at Ridley and Dresden over her shoulder—“Ought to be ashamed of yourselves! Your father would be. It’s bad enough that you sold Zofia’s magic and ruined our supper, but then you had to go and be awful to your cousin. If living with someone you don’t like is charity, then I am a saint!”

Dresden picked up one of the hoax photographs and threw it at a wall. The glass and frame were so cheap that they didn’t smash. “Yeah, there you go,” Liesel added bitterly, slamming the door behind her. Through the display window, she shouted at them, “Keep breaking our stuff! That’ll really teach us!”

Misha gaped at Liesel as they hurried west, his face lit up. “I’ve never seen you yell at them like that before! That was great!” He considered their surroundings, rubbing his cheek. The skin there looked like a raw sunburn, each of Dresden’s fingers distinguishable. “Where’re we going?”

“Starlight Café. We’re taking the scenic route in case they come after us.” Her blood was pumping fast with adrenaline, wonderful and frightening and so very, very satisfying. It felt good to finally yell at her cousins and she wished she’d stayed a few minutes longer and yelled some more.

“What do they care?” Misha punched the air. “Starlight Café! Choke on your burnt soufflé, boys!” Liesel pretended not to notice Misha looking behind him every so often, checking to make sure they indeed weren’t being followed.

“Uncle Gene,” she said.

“Uncle Gene,” he agreed darkly.

Aunt Inge always used to say that Ridley and Dresden got their hot streaks from her brother Gene, who was so violence-prone that he first went to jail when he was only eleven. It was her way of shifting the blame, of explaining traits she certainly didn’t teach or encourage. Misha, she said, was full of Orrick’s mother Zofia. Even though he wasn’t her son, Misha was her favorite.

Liesel beamed at him. “I went by the café yesterday. Guess what this week’s special is?”

He looked at her expectantly.

“Soufflé cheesecake.”

Misha laughed, the air around him warmed with excitement. “Brilliant! We’ll share one, and then still have enough money left to split an onion soup.”

 

The sky was already dark when they left Starlight Café, buoyant in spite of their full stomachs. As the plain back side of Illuminate loomed closer, a dark splotch visible across Cairn Park’s expanse of dead trees, their cheerfulness faded into reserve, bracing for whatever might meet them once they went inside.

“Oh, good.” Misha pointed at one of the upstairs windows, which glowed faintly through a page of newspaper pasted over the glass. Most of the words on the newspaper page were fuzzy with mold, since not enough air circulated between the paper and the window’s moisture, and it lent an eerie greenish glimmer. “They’re already upstairs.  I give them an hour before they’re at Runaway Rail Yard, taking themselves too seriously and plotting cabali schemes that’ll never happen. Wonder what they’d do if I showed up there.”

“Freckles!”

They whipped around to see Gable strolling out of Mascarada. His hair was finely-tuned with pomade once again, striped coat replaced with a black trench number that made him look like a pale, bodiless head ghosting toward them.

Misha surreptitiously twisted to the side to run his hands over his cheeks, wiping away any evidence that he’d been crying earlier.

“Just finished your play?” Liesel’s eyes slid over a deck of cards in Gable’s hand. “The magician one, I assume?”

He saw where she was looking and jumbled his cards, tapping a fingernail along their uneven ridges to hear them whistle. “No, this is a personal bit of magic I’ve taken to messing with. Fridays are troupe nights, so we performed Up in the Night. Remember?” He winked. “I was the dashing one near the ceiling. You were the one who’d never been so spellbound by a man dangling from a cable.”

“I heard about that!” Misha said. “Do they give you a harness? How do you keep from falling off?”

“Magic.” Assessing Liesel’s bemused expression, he earnestly continued, “No, I’m serious. It’s magic. I’m getting much better at it. Want to see?” Without waiting for her answer, he spread his deck of cards in front of their faces.

“What are those?” Liesel asked. “They look like regular gambling cards.”

“They are. I’ve borrowed them from Friso until I can get better ones. Pick two, if you please. One for each. Slide them out of sight. Then take the other cards and shuffle them thoroughly, behind your backs so you know I can’t cheat.”

“I’m sure you have other ways of cheating.”

Gable didn’t deny it. He waited with his eyes closed, listening to Liesel and Misha mumble at each other as they pored over the cards. When they’d each selected one, Misha put them in his pocket while Liesel mixed up the deck, examining them closely to make sure he didn’t have doubles of anything.

“There you are,” she replied at last. “Let’s see you work your magic.”

Gable flipped the cards so that all he could see were the silver emblems on their reverse sides. He flicked a card and another card appeared between his opposite thumb and forefinger. “Five of spades for the lad. Well chosen. Spades are my favorite.”

“Nice,” Misha remarked.

“Aaaaaand … ” Gable’s eyes flickered from his cards up to Liesel, who smoothed out her face as best she could.

He snapped his fingers. A card levitated just above his hand, the Knave of Diamonds gazing down upon Liesel with an impish smile.

“How’d you know?”

“The knave told me.” He plucked the card from thin air and stowed it amongst its fellows. “I knew you’d pick something with a loud voice.”

Liesel felt a twinge of jealousy.

There were different tiers of magic. Witches and wizards dominated at first tier, as they were pure magic in human form. This was why their lifespans were so long. Witches and wizards could draw magic out of the air, the ground, a book, a painting, a person, a day, a concept, a dream. Their system of power came with its own checks and balances, but the things witches could do made Liesel’s cleromancy tricks laughable.

Fortune-tellers channeled magic only from themselves, which was a small and limited store. Gable, it seemed, was of a special breed that drew magic from magical people. Liesel had essentially become his personal supply of magical energy, helping him manipulate and tether magic without actually being magic himself.

Liesel was about to say goodbye and part ways when he asked her if she wanted to come to the belfry and meet up with his friends.

“I don’t think so,” she replied, glancing at her brother. Misha bunched his lips together, twisting them left and right. “I should go home.”

“No,” Misha interjected. “You should go.” He gestured to Gable. “With … you know. The weird cult that believes in time-traveling ghosts.”

Gable gave a soft snort.

“Are you sure?” Liesel asked doubtfully. “I don’t want you to be alone.”

They glanced at Illuminate. The candlelight from the upstairs window had gone out.

“I’ll be fine,” Misha assured her, ruffling her hair playfully. Liesel smacked his arm away. It was so easy to think Misha was younger than he was. Since when had he been this tall? Last she knew, she could still see right over his head. Liesel could see a softened mixture of her cousins in Misha. There wasn’t much of Liesel in there. Her face was too round and her lips too thin, like her father.

“All right,” she gave in at last. Gable grinned. “But only for a few minutes. Then I’m going home.”

“Yeah, see you at dawn,” Misha snickered. “When you’re sneaking back into bed.”

Liesel crossed her eyes at him. “I’ll make sure to be extra loud so that I wake you up.”

As Liesel and Gable headed to Witching Hour, Misha let out a gust of air to blow his hair out of his face. Walking as slowly as possible, he turned onto Arcane Way and saw a stirring in the shadows of Toscani’s Sweetshop.

He stopped short when a figure stepped out from under the awning, light breaking over a dirt-spattered head. It was Craven Talbot, one of The Knaves of Arcane. As the Juhls lived on Arcane Way, it was impossible not to run into a Knave on occasion. They liked being recognizable, openly scorning the secretive, exclusive vibes of cabals like The Hanged Men and The Dolls.

Craven’s leg brace shrieked, metal hinges oxidized with rust. Misha had never seen it up close, but he’d heard that Craven’s right leg was shriveled up under his trousers, shorter than his other leg. Polio.

“Hey, Juhl.”

Misha resumed walking, side-eying him. Out of nowhere, another boy cut him off. It was Craven’s brother Hugo, hands jammed into his pockets with a limp cigarette hanging out of his mouth. The tiny orange fuse at the end of his cigarette cast a blush over his lips and chin, illuminating the curly coarse hairs left behind after a careless shaving job.

“This you?” Hugo nodded his head violently upward to indicate Illuminate.

“Yes, but you already know that,” Misha replied tersely.

Craven laughed from behind him. Misha spun, trying to keep both boys in his sights. Hugo couldn’t have been much older than him. Craven was probably no older than fourteen. Before the rhizine wartpox outbreak, they lived in a mansion on Wohlstand with their father, a famous composer, and their mother, his cellist muse. Both boys were classically trained on the piano. Hugo kept an ivory piano key on him at all times for good luck, it was rumored, but hadn’t played the instrument since his parents died.

“You tell fortunes, don’t you? I know your sister does. Emotions, innit?” Hugo flicked his cigarette, ash burning bright on the cobblestones for a moment before fizzling away. “That ought to be lucrative. The heart is a goldmine.”

He examined Misha, eyes shaded by a flat-topped cap with bronze fastenings reminiscent of a soldier’s hat. His clothes were likewise in a military style, with many rows of buttons and several medals of honor that Misha presumed had been stolen. “Tell my fortune, Juhl.”

“Tell your own.”

Craven and Hugo grinned at each other. Craven pulled a switchblade out of his pocket and Misha gave a jolt that amused him. “Relax,” he said silkily. He had a lisp that made his voice hiss longer than it was supposed to. Relaxxx. He used the blade to smooth his hair back, smiling brutishly at Misha with a sewing needle between his teeth.

“What, this?” he lisped, appreciating the attention Misha paid to it. He flicked the needle on his tongue, ephemeral glimmers of silver in a rotting mouth. “Handy thing. Never know when you might need it.”

“To pick your teeth,” Hugo jibed. 

Misha eyed the front door of Illuminate, estimating whether he could make a run for it from this distance. The boys looked fast. He’d seen them running up and down Arcane enough times to know they were even faster than they looked. Even in a brace, Craven could notoriously still outrun patrols.

“Tell my fortune,” Hugo persisted. “What’s that you do—you find out when people die?”

“All right.” Misha took a breath. “Get out of my way and you’ll live forever.”

“Damn right, I will. I take the shape of darkness. Death can’t find me.” Hugo flashed a broken, discolored grin, holding out an arm to keep Misha from shoving past him. “My turn.”

“Oh? You gonna tell my fortune?”

“Yessir. And you better thank your stars, you lucky bastard. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

 

Liesel, Gable, Lars, and Cadrie were almost to Della Torre when a sewage grate popped out of the road, Friso’s mop of black hair spilling out. They could see at once that his left eye was purple and shiny, sure to be swollen shut by morning.

“What did you do?” Gable questioned, helping his friend out of the sewer.

Friso stomped his feet, wiping sludge off the soles. “Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You said you only go down there to play spoil-five,” Cadrie accused. She was still wearing Olivier’s jacket.

“I got bored of betting,” Friso replied, counting his small wad of kings. Liesel goggled; it wasn’t often that she saw paper money. Her whole life could be counted in coins. “Yesterday was a conquest, tomorrow begs to be won. I do most of my winning in the dark.”

“Looks like you lost this one.”

“I knocked a man out cold.” He tapped Cadrie’s nose. “Lose, my dear, I did not.” He turned to Lars and the latter automatically held out his hand, waiting for owed money.

“I’ve lost my way, by modern map, but I do not turn around,” Gable cried, finger pointing straight up in the air. “Though shadows have grown long and frowning on the furrowed sound. City peaks behind me glimmer. Trees ahead are losing day. But I do not hide from darkness, as new perspective lights my way.” He bowed at the waist. “The Expatriate of Wolfhound. Act Two, Scene Four.”

“I prefer the one,” said Lars, “about the mermaid who belches up live lobsters.”

“Don’t encourage him,” Cadrie warned. “His pathological need to be the center of attention throws off gravity, and besides, that mermaid one is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“That’s beside the point,” Gable replied with his nose turned up. “When you have perfected the art of giving speeches in a commanding voice as I have learned to do, it doesn’t matter what you say. It’s how you say it. I am acting profusely: I am therefore impervious to critique.”

“You’re a terrible actor,” Friso said. “Let’s see how impervious you are to that.”

“I am inclined to disagree,” Gable replied with a skip in his step. “But I fault you not, as you have no taste. Also, you can’t fight for beans.”

“I could fight for any beans I wanted!” Friso flew at him, tackling him to the ground. They rolled around in the road, pummeling each other.

“So what are we getting into tonight?” Lars asked, pinning Friso down with a foot in his stomach so that Gable could stand up again. “We never finished scouring the sewer under Hackney Drive for gateways. Macall reckons there’s loads of old ones down there.”

Liesel thought that Macall didn’t seem like the type of person who’d set foot in the sewers, but didn’t voice this. The version of Macall Kozma she frequently heard falling out of Charleston’s mouth was probably distorted in broad, rose-colored brushstrokes.

They didn’t see the five huddled figures until they rounded East First Street. Liesel struggled to conceal her horror so that Gable’s friends wouldn’t notice and think she was a coward.

The Graveyard Shift.

“Terrific,” Cadrie muttered.

Friso laughed, a dangerously savage sound that reverberated on the quiet street. A dog howled in return. “Excellent,” he said, then wolf-whistled. “Cheers! I’ve been missing your pretty faces all day.”

Friso!” Cadrie hissed. Lars kicked the back of Friso’s knee in a gesture to shut up, which he gleefully ignored.

“Yeah, I’m talking to you!” he belted. “Get over here, you beautiful tall drinks of acid.”

Liesel almost reached for Gable’s hand. After a second glance around their group she saw that none of them looked scared, only greatly displeased. Looking resolutely anywhere but at her cousins, she waited for the blood to boil up to her face.

“I’ve missed you, too, shitbag,” Foy Montego quipped, striding up with revolvers spinning in both hands. “Nice face. That happen at the factory or did your father finally start beating you to give your mother a break?”

Friso laughed, then took his left thumb and dragged it across his bottom lip, letting it fall in one swift, jerky motion. Liesel didn’t know what the gesture meant but surmised that its intent was to offend.

Foy snarled, a light sleet sugaring his shoulders. It rumpled his hair, collecting in his thick eyebrows. He pointed straight at Friso. “Come by the docks tomorrow and do that again. I dare you.”

“Calm down,” Dresden said tonelessly. “Looks like someone else already gave Weisz his comeuppance. I find the changes to your face a major improvement, Weisz.”

“I can improve yours, too, if you’d like.”

“Friso,” Gable cautioned, hand clenching in Friso’s direction. His other hand was brushing Liesel’s; Dresden hadn’t seen this until just then.

“Stay away from Liesel.”

“Or what?” Friso challenged before Liesel could assert herself.

“Or the tragedy that befell your friend Mr. Kraus might happen to one of you.” Dresden’s eyes traveled between all of them. “Any one of you. I’m not discerning.”

This was the wrong thing to say.

Gable moved so fast that to Liesel he had evaporated and materialized six steps ahead. His build was much slighter than Dresden’s but he made up for it with an atmospheric sort of intimidation that always made everyone else look smaller in comparison. “Is that a threat?”

Dresden’s eyelids drooped; he sneered disdainfully at Gable. “My, we’re astute today.”

“That sounds like a confession,” Cadrie said sharply. “Did you kill Olivier?”

“Jesus, leave it alone.” Foy shot the chimney of a house, then a letterbox. “We didn’t touch your boyfriend, so you can quit following me home every night.”

Gable shot her a questioning glance, which she dodged.

“This is a waste of our time,” Dresden said, signaling to his friends to go.

Friso’s face fell for a moment. “What’s the matter, sweetheart?” he sang. “Don’t like your odds?”

Dresden’s eyes snapped to Liesel’s, waiting to see how she was going to accept this. She stared evenly back at him, saying nothing. In her pocket, her hand balled around the moonstone so tightly that it cut off her circulation.

“Go away,” Isaelia said. Hiram gave her a look to shut up.

Friso grinned. “Oh, I go all sorts of ways. Just ask Montego.”

“Let’s not do this,” Lars said, backing away edgily with a grip on Friso’s wrist.

Friso shook off his hand. “Don’t spoil my fun, darling. I’ll leave one of these human kidney stones for you to crush as well. That what you’re worried about? I’ll leave you Montego. He’s everyone’s last pick.”

“You want to watch how you talk about me, Weisz,” Foy warned in a voice that was barely more than a breath, eyes wild.

Friso cackled. “You want to watch how you look at me. Judging by that smoldering gaze, I’ll surely be the leading man in your dreams tonight. I do hope you’ll imagine me in something more dashing, though. Maybe a new hat. I’m partial to the naughty sailor kind.”

“Are you drunk?” Hiram asked.

“Honey, I am just drunk enough.” Friso’s gaze flitted to Foy, tongue flicking the roof of his mouth. “Get rid of your guns and we’ll fight like dogs.” He whipped his money at them. “Whoever’s still conscious in ten minutes gets the spoils.”

“Shut your godforsaken trap,” Gable said, “and let’s leave.”

“Yes, you should do that.” Ridley stepped forward, snapping the strap of his suspenders so that they could see razor blades sewn into its underside.

“Ridley!” Liesel gasped.

“What, are you offering to shave me?” Friso asked, not making a move to fall back. “Everyone’s got their kinks, I suppose.” Gable seized him and Liesel both by the arms and hauled them away with him.

Liesel had never been more terrified in her life. Blood thumped in her ears. Her legs wouldn’t stop trying to give way. Lars, perhaps sensing this, grasped her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “You did all right,” he said in an undertone. It felt like an initiation. You did all right for your first time. But she hadn’t done all right. She’d stood there paralyzed, only managing to spit out one word.

Panic swept over her. This was worse than arguing with Dresden and Ridley over a soufflé. This was worse than when The Bells broke into her shop and scared the ever-loving hell out of her. She’d always sensed that her cousins were a dash dangerous, but she’d never felt this afraid of them before.

The Graveyard Shift stayed rooted to the spot, watching The Bells until each group became muddled shadows to one another. Friso was exhilarated; everything he said was too loud. They acted so normal, so blasé, and inside Liesel’s head she was falling to pieces. Where was the girl who yelled at Ridley and Dresden and told them to make their own dinner?

I’m such a coward. If The Bells only knew, they’d want nothing to do with me.

“You should use your winnings to pay off your debts,” Gable advised Friso.

“I’m not handing this over to Atalo, the brainless wonder,” Friso said contemptuously. “Fined me forty kings just for taking a leak in the woods! Do I look like I have forty bleeding kings? Tried to tell him homeless people don’t exactly own toilets and he yelled at me to stop resisting arrest. Gave me this.” He pointed at a scar on his scalp hidden by hair. “Told him I was happy to do my part so that he’ll meet his quota, and I hope he gets a nice fat bonus. Then I knocked him out with a fist to the nose.”

“You did not.”

“I did!”

“Friso, I was there. Macall made a diversion by throwing that fog spell and you ran away squealing.”

Liesel darted ahead of them, desperate for silence, desperate to be away from their strange behavior that insisted this exchange with The Graveyard Shift was nothing short of routine.

Once she got home, Liesel locked Illuminate’s door behind her. Only then did she allow herself to go over what had just happened. All she could see when she closed her eyes was Ridley’s arsenal of blades and Montego’s two revolvers, pointed aimlessly and cocked at all times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Seventeen

[]

OVER THE MOON

 

Every December, the Birch-Robillards held a gala at Sur La Lune. Macall often said it was to celebrate their own importance. As her parents ran in the same social loops as the Birch-Robillards, being one of the privileged few to live on Bouton de Rose, she had to attend these events whether she liked it or not.

This was why, across the city from where Liesel was lying awake in her bed with her heart still racing, eighteen-year-old Macall Kozma was gazing odiously at her reflection in a wall-to-wall mirror of the hotel’s opulent lobby.

All of the walls were mirrors to fabricate the illusion of there being more people all around than there really were, and to reflect the dazzling lights of a deer antler chandelier suspended from a frescoed ceiling. Velvet curtains spanned over the mirrors so that they could reveal or hide as much space as the Birch-Robillards desired.

Tonight, the curtains were drawn everywhere except for a narrow sliver near the lobby’s rose quartz fountain, right where Macall presently stood. The fountain had been built as an homage to the old orphanage that was torn down in order to construct Sur La Lune.

Macall’s blue eyes traveled over the thing in distaste. An inscription on a plaque was all that remained of Faultroy’s Orphanage. A few years ago when the Birches purchased the property, there were some questionable decisions made about what should be done with the children. Most of the younger ones were shipped to other towns. Anyone over the age of twelve was emancipated, resulting in the infamous Emancipated Twenty-Six; almost all of those twenty-six children thrown to the wolves became criminals. Had Friso and Cadrie not already run away, they would have been numbers twenty-seven and twenty-eight.

The younger orphans tried to stay close to Faultroy’s even after it was demolished, but they weren’t allowed to linger there anymore. Invisibles were banned from Villa de Luxe and surrounding avenues, as they made the elite class feel uncomfortable. Some kids tried to sneak in to beg wealthy Black Magicians for money and were subsequently beaten by patrols. Black Magic’s tourism angle took great pains to make it seem as though there wasn’t a problem with orphans and the homeless, trying to woo foreign visitors who soon realized their tastes didn’t extend farther than Della Torre. There was nothing to disenchant visitors quite like taking a stroll down First Street and having peasant children make bets on which of them could dislocate your shoulder with a rock.

A champagne flute clinked at Macall’s left ear, followed by the voice of her brother Malcolm, who lived on Isle of Majiel but had come over on the ferry.

“I heard a concierge talking,” Malcolm was whispering to his wife, “about how men down by the docks are having difficulty breaking up ice floes. They believe the Spirited Away will not sail again tonight.”

Gianna touched a gloved finger to her lips. “But then we’d have to stay in Woaring Cupboard overnight if they shut it down, wouldn’t we? Oh, Malcolm, let’s go find out more.”

“The concierge was over there—”

“Malcolm.” Her voice dropped to a crawl. “We’re not going to talk to the staff.”

Macall grabbed her brother’s arm before he could move. “You’re not leaving early,” she threatened. “Papa’s catering the event. You know how important this is to him.”

“You don’t understand,” Gianna cut in. Malcolm shot her a warning look that she didn’t notice. “They might shut down the ferry. We’d be stuck here.”

“In an expensive hotel,” Macall replied. “Oh, my, however will you manage?”

Macall,” Malcolm rebuked, sliding an arm around his wife’s shoulders. “Come along, Gianna. Let’s go see who we can talk to about arranging a way to get you back home.”

Gianna was relieved, but still threw a dirty look at her sister-in-law before she was pulled away.

Macall rolled her eyes and drained the last of her champagne before throwing the glass into a fern. From behind her, a mouth pressed close to a lock of her ruby hair, followed by a husky, “Good evening.”

“I knew you were standing there,” she said without turning. “I could smell your cologne. Do you drink it, too?”

Charleston smiled at one of the white sea stars adorning her hair. She had seven of them tucked into her curls. “You look like the Sur La Lune girl, sitting up there on the moon.”

“Oh, curses. I knew I shouldn’t have worn these. You’ll interpret it as another sign that we’re destined or something.”

“You knew you shouldn’t have worn them and yet you did. Forget destiny; this is another sign that you go out of your way to get my attention and then ignore me. Hard to know who’s resisting who here.”

“The only resistance happening here is in your head. Where your brain is resisting reason.” Her eyes strayed to the mural above them, soft ochers and admiral blues wavering in smoke and candlelight. “Not that I mind. Delusion is one of your better qualities.”

“Speaking of girls and moons,” he chattered as though he hadn’t heard her, “I saw you at Mascarada last week. Did you see me?”

“I don’t remember noticing you.” She took a sip of his champagne while he still held the glass, tapping her foot against the floor. “You are the only person in this room I do not actively despise.”

“Excellent!” He beamed. “Congratulations, self.”

She clapped. Several people turned to stare and she toasted them with Charleston’s champagne.

“That’s enough for you,” he said, thrusting the flute randomly off to the left. Instantly it was accepted by one of the many staffers disguised in formal clothing, hiding in plain sight and waiting for the opportunity to be of service to Charleston. “Let’s go to the roof.”

“I’ve seen the view from the roof a hundred times, Birch. You see one tiny house, you’ve seen them all.”

“I don’t care about the view. I want to get you alone.”

She made a face at him but didn’t stop walking to the elevator. “Your destination, sir?” a bellhop inquired, looking absurdly serious in his tasseled uniform.

“Anywhere over the moon,” Charleston ordered happily.

They made their way into the elevator cab as Macall’s mother waltzed by. Sorcha Kozma nodded approvingly at her daughter through the scissor gate. Macall cringed, then the floor wobbled and they took off.

“Blegh,” she said, watching the needle on the elevator’s meter tip between Floor 1 and Floor 2.

“She loves me,” Charleston remarked smugly, knowing what Macall’s groan meant.

“Blegh,” she said again.

“At least my mother still loathes you.”

This cheered Macall up. “Besides your mother’s undying hatred, the only other thing you’ve got going for you is your impeccable taste in women.” She fiddled with a bracelet on her left wrist, summoning cool composure as Charleston closed the distance between them.

“I agree.”

She didn’t respond, watching the meter’s needle creep toward Floor 3. A warning bell went off in her head. Don’t look so pleased. Make him wonder.

“It’s a long way up to the roof,” he whispered, breath tickling her ear.

“It’ll seem even longer if you’re lying in the fetal position, clutching your merchandise.” She gave up fiddling with her bracelet and decided to pick at one of the silver threads on her dress instead, but Charleston wasn’t deterred. He kept trying to angle himself so that she would be forced to meet his gaze.

“Go away,” she told him, fighting back a smile. He laughed in her ear and she bit her lip, dragging him closer by the collar of his shirt.

“See, now this is a prime example of mixed signals.” His mouth was an inch from hers, the air between them foggy and drunk.

“You love it.” She dragged a finger over his lips and he kissed them, then swatted her hand out of the way so that he could kiss her mouth. Macall pushed him against the rattling elevator wall, hands twisting in his hair as he wrapped his arms around her waist.

“I love a lot of things inside this elevator,” Charleston said, “but that’s not one of them.”

She kissed him deeply and then abruptly pulled back, their fingers intertwined. “You taste like rum.” Her hair swung away from her shoulders, exposing just enough skin to make Charleston’s chest release in a frustrated sigh.

“You should marry me.”

Macall laughed derisively. It was perfect, standing there with her body still touching him, laughing in his face. There was no question of who held the power.

“Is that a no?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m not marrying you, Charleston. I’m not ever marrying anyone.”

“I’ll give you the hotel. I’ll give you Black Magic and leave The Hanged Men.”

“I don’t want your hotel or this city, neither of which are actually yours. And I’ve heard you talking about your friends with such boredom that it wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice at all for you to give them up. In which case, what would that do for me? Honestly, my dear, you’ll be an old man before you figure out what I want.”

He pressed his lips together so hard that they turned white, pivoting so that she couldn’t see his face.

“But if that day comes, maybe I will marry you,” she finished pleasantly. Charleston spun to face her.

“What?”

She laughed again, and this time his face broke into a magnificent smile. “God damn you and your puzzles, woman.”

She pulled him closer, kissing his neck. “You love it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eighteen

[]

WINKEL SHOP

 

Liesel smiled nervously at Mrs. Van Parys and wondered how she’d gotten herself wrapped up in this mess.

“You have a long line for success, which correlates seamlessly with fate,” she continued, aware that her voice was growing louder by the second to hopefully block out noises from two floors above. “It indicates you’re motivated in your career.”

“I had no idea you knew how to read palms,” Van Parys said in surprise, staring at her palm. There was a scuffling noise coming from overhead, followed by a thump. Van Parys glanced up at the ceiling and Liesel quickly jerked harder on her hand, pointing.

“You’re also going to have a long life, judging by this line here.” She skimmed one finger along a rounded crease that ran closest to Van Parys’s thumb. “And if you notice this itty bitty dent up here, you have a natural, easygoing temper.”

She’d once listened in on David Clough from The Seven Chakras while he was giving a palmistry reading, and she quoted him now almost verbatim. Liesel had no idea what the wrinkles in Van Parys’s hand meant. Most of what she knew came from the giant ceramic hand cemented to the pavement outside The Seven Chakras. Years of weather had worn away the hand’s paint, making it flakes of white and tan with random dotted lines all over the palm. The only intelligible symbols remaining were Jupiter on the index finger and Mercury on the pinky.

“Easygoing temper?” Van Parys repeated, successfully distracted once more. “What would that line look like if my temper was different?”

“Shorter the fuse, shorter the Girdle of Venus.”

She had to hand it to herself, Liesel wasn’t half bad at lying through her teeth, or ‘winging it’, as Friso had asked her to do. Presently The Bells were rummaging through Van Parys’s attic in search of an ornate mirror frame Friso had heard (although he wouldn’t name his sources) worked as a ghost gateway. They’d asked Liesel if she would distract Van Parys while they set up a ladder around back and broke into the second floor where they could then access the attic, and she’d immediately agreed. At the time, it was her knee-jerk reaction to say yes, to impress them with her willingness to play a part in their schemes. Thinking back on it, it was humiliating to recall how enthusiastic she’d sounded, how desperate to be accepted she must have seemed.

She wanted to reach into the past and pinch herself.

“Ahh,” Van Parys said, studying her other hand now. “Old Walter Clough won’t teach me a thing about palmistry. Says I’m trying to steal his livelihood.”

Liesel and Van Parys had this in common, at least. Liesel frequently spied through the windows of Lucid Dream and The Seven Chakras to learn more about their trades. The most legendary fortune-teller in all the land couldn’t rest on her cleromancy laurels. To be worthy of the fame Liesel enjoyed in her visions of the future, she’d have to branch out. A little palmistry here, a little tarot there. All she needed was magic’s blessing, which she hoped would come any day now. She felt, with a smidge of bitterness, that she definitely deserved the blessing to have more, to be able to do more. A servant of magic more faithful than Liesel Juhl didn’t exist.

“He thinks we’re in cahoots,” Liesel said.

Van Parys laughed, drifting to the window to look out upon the street. “We should be. I keep telling you to come work for me.”

“And I keep telling you you’ll have to employ my brother, too.”

Van Parys made a face. “He’s a nice boy, but I don’t care to listen to all that death that fills up his magic. He might accidentally read me someday, and I certainly don’t want to know when I’m going to die. I got into this business for the money, not the truths.”

Liesel’s mind flashed back to when Lucid Dream was still Waxing Gibbous, and the previous owner Naunet Bayoumi had warned Aunt Inge not to get too chummy with Mrs. Van Parys. She called Van Parys a snake and a thief, among other names, and loathed that Van Parys was successfully marketing tea leaves and instructions on how to interpret them when she knew nothing at all about tasseography. Lucid Dream’s doorframe still bore the scar Est. 1871, written in Naunet’s magical hand, and no matter how many times Lucy Meriwether and Moira Winterton painted over it, the scar always bled through.

Naunet had a moon tattooed on her forehead, only the bottom of it shaded in to represent an upside-down waxing gibbous. Van Parys had seen it and drawn one on her own forehead with ink. She told customers it was an Egyptian symbol called ‘The Wandering Eye’.

“Five peons for the palmistry lesson?” Van Parys asked, unsnapping her purse. “Or perhaps a sack of grain?”

Grain. We need grain.

Liesel trailed along a row of items for sale, picking up a deck of cards called Prophetic Prints. She untied a black ribbon that bound the deck, revealing various illustrations. One card had an owl on it, one a diagram of the human heart, and another was a black and white picture of Jupiter that looked like the back of a bald woman’s head.

Each card beheld a different image. They were all mismatched in style, like cards from unrelated decks pooled together. “This,” she said, knowing it was selfish to choose something frivolous; knowing Misha would have chosen the grain.

Van Parys waved a flippant hand. “Sure! No one ever wants those lousy cards. Customers say they’re creepy.”

“I have a friend who would love—”

The door opened just then, and Gable swaggered in. Liesel didn’t finish her sentence. “Just looking!” Gable said before Van Parys could ask if he needed assistance.

Liesel sidled up to him, whispering, “What are you doing?”

“I’m the second diversion. You always need a second diversion. One must be at least twice-distracted in order to lose stock of one’s surroundings. For maximum disorientation results, use three.”

Thump.

Liesel couldn’t stop herself; she snapped up her head to look at the ceiling. Van Parys did the same, forehead bunching. Gable slid across the floor like it was made of ice, skidding to a halt inches from Van Parys’s long nose. “I love this establishment! You truly are a curator of the finest enchantments in Black Magic, you know.”

The lines in Van Parys’s forehead softened. “I’ve been collecting for years. It’s nice to be appreciated. I don’t think it’s bragging too much to say that my shop is aesthetically the most magical one in the neighborhood.”

“Not at all,” Gable purred. “The other Arcane Way shops are so boring. But this!” He gestured around him. “Such magnificent attention to detail!”

Liesel knew he was just saying whatever would be the most effective at sidetracking her, but implying Illuminate was boring did bump a sore spot.

The Juhls’ shop was on the tame side in comparison to other mystic shops. Illuminate didn’t have any exterior adornments except for the plain gold lettering on the display window that Liesel had to touch up every year. They had a crooked chimney and a crooked roof, and the eaves were draped with spider web. Liesel wanted cobwebs inside Illuminate, but Misha nearly had a stroke at the suggestion of it. If Sit a Spell ever became a real building that existed outside of her head, Liesel was going to paint fake spiders all over the walls. And dragons, too, just because she could.

Gable kept opening and closing the door. At first Liesel suspected he just liked hearing the bell jingle, but then cottoned on that he was trying to communicate with his friends upstairs to wrap it up. Friso was supposed to return to his shift at J.M. Soap Company soon, doing assembly line work, and Lars was twenty minutes late to his job stamping train tickets. You’re lucky you get to be your own boss, Friso had said when he recruited Liesel to be the lookout. Ours whip us like mules.

“These are for you.” She pitched the pack of cards at Gable, which he dove to catch but missed. They splattered over his shoes. “Consider it a thank-you gift for the omens.”

Vielen Dank for thinking of me. They’re just the thing.”

She shrugged.

He gave her a searching gaze that made her cheeks flame up before turning back to his cards, already infatuated with them. There was a final thud and snap from above, which Liesel recognized as a window closing, and felt a rush of relief. Her job was over.

“I think I left a window open and a raccoon must’ve gotten inside,” Van Parys muttered, heading to the stairs. “Be back in a jiff.”

Liesel and Gable held in their laughter until she was gone, then they tumbled outside. “Well done!” Gable said brightly. “Another gateway for the books.”

Liesel rolled her eyes, smiling. “You people are nuts. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to work.” She passed Cadrie and Macall, who were lingering on the curb outside Illuminate, and took care to leave the door wedged slightly open. She couldn’t help it. Liesel was an incurable eavesdropper.

She wandered a short distance from the door and picked up Orrick’s cleromancy handbook, listening in while she pretended to read.

“Have you ever thought,” Macall was saying to Cadrie, “about getting out of here?”

“Out of where?” replied Cadrie.

“Black Magic. Woaring Cupboard. Maybe the Isles of Finnary.”

Cadrie gouged a cobblestone out of the street with a stick, turned it over to expose its red clay underside, and replaced it. The Bells did this in specific locations all over Black Magic, speckling the streets with red to indicate that a member of their cabal lived nearby. Liesel’s heart constricted. Is that for me? Are they saying I’m one of them now?

“No,” said Cadrie. “Why?”

Macall looked uncomfortably down at her fingers, twiddling with silver chains crisscrossing over her green-and-white-striped corset. “I’ve finished school. When you think about it, this isn’t a friendly town. Why not see what else is out there?”

Cadrie grimaced. “There’s nothing out there for me. For you, maybe. You’ve got so much money … ” Her expression softened. “If you want to see what else is out there, you won’t hear anything negative about it from me. Friso, on the other hand … ”

Liesel heard the pain in Macall’s voice. “I know.”

“He’d never accept it.” They stood up and backed away. Cadrie whispered something Liesel couldn’t hear, and she tried not to stare out the window. Then again, it didn’t seem to bother them that she might pick up threads of their conversation. It was like she wasn’t there, or that her opinion didn’t matter. After spending so much time with them lately, Liesel had fancied they were all growing closer, becoming friends. Now she saw the truth. She was still just Juhl, the fortune-teller.

“Don’t say anything.” Macall gazed over the city skyline at the arches and drops of Bouton de Rose. “I haven’t made a decision yet.” Then, to change the subject, she called out to Gable, “When’s she done?”

“She insists on working a full day!” Gable answered. “How odd, I know!”

Liesel hurriedly ducked her head, shuffling items on a shelf with devout concentration.

“You two have a skewed perception of what working is like,” Cadrie said. “Work is different for people who don’t have family money to fall back on.”

Gable had told Liesel about Cadrie’s employment situation, so she knew Cadrie worked four months out of the year—June through September—shoveling elephant dung and playing the harpsichord for the Tour de Force Circus.

Now that Tour de Force had made its way south to the more temperate isles for the winter, and wouldn’t come back to Black Magic until June, Cadrie had to survive off her meager savings. Like Friso, she lived wherever she could. Most of the time she and Friso stayed at Lars’s house or slept under an old parachute in Bat’s Belfry. Sometimes, Gable said, she would help Friso with one of his get-rich-quick schemes that never amounted to anything: chimney-sweeping businesses, scissor-sharpening businesses, ice-delivery businesses. Friso didn’t have a head for money and customers didn’t like Cadrie, so their businesses usually caved within a week of opening. She could have gone south with the circus, but she refused to leave The Bells.

“I’m not sure how safe it is here,” Macall said presently to Gable, stealing a peek at Illuminate. Liesel glanced quickly away. “Those boys put my teeth on edge.”

Gable tossed his clay omens up in the air and let them rain down, monitoring their positions. “The fates say not to worry.”

Liesel shut the front door and sat at the divination table.

She inhaled a deep breath.

A small, insecure part of her that was gradually developing in size questioned if The Bells would ever accept her. Maybe their view of her would always be ground in the gloom and distrust that tainted her cousins, who may or may not have been involved—no, no, they definitely weren’t—with Olivier’s death. Maybe someday soon Gable would realize Liesel wasn’t going to be embraced by his friends, so to make things easier, his interest in her would fizzle as abruptly as it had sparked.

Even though she knew she should be focusing on cleromancy and Misha, paving the way for a better living situation, the desire for inclusion and friendship had been lit. She wished to belong to a group who valued her not as Gable’s new friend but as a person on her own merits, an equal member, someone to be missed when she wasn’t around.

The revelation was staggering. I want to be a Bell.

She wished she’d never realized she was lonely. She wished she weren’t so bothered by Cadrie and Macall not noticing Illuminate’s door was open. If The Bells discovered these secret desires of hers, they’d probably laugh. Friso and Lars wouldn’t care if she fell off the face of the earth tomorrow, and it was quite a masochistic situation to depend on Cadrie Singh’s approval.

To feel better, Liesel brought out her omens. Keeping one eye on the window, she touched the birthstones at her throat and cast for Misha’s feelings toward herself and their cousins. Strongly negative, strongly negative, harmonious. Dresden, Ridley, Liesel.

She cast for Dresden and it was mostly how she expected: Harmonious, anxious, anxious. Ridley, Liesel, Misha.

She cast for Ridley. Harmonious, indifferent

She stopped, staring wide-eyed at the yellow glass bead. She cast again, pressing harder on Misha’s sapphire and Ridley’s amethyst. Maybe the reading wasn’t correct because Ridley hadn’t placed the moonstone himself.

But she’d never had trouble reading her cousins before.

Cleromancers were easier to read than normal people. Omens wanted to work for people with an affinity for them, and Liesel’s particular omens could divine another cleromancer’s fortune even if they didn’t consult a moonstone first.

She cast again and again. The yellow bead always landed closest to the moonstone, confessing exactly how little Ridley cared about Misha. A horrible emptiness reared up inside Liesel. Her finger inched closer to the emerald, almost wanting to divine Ridley’s feelings toward her, but she was too afraid to try it. Being an outsider among Bells was hard enough. Confirmation that she was an outsider in her own home, a nuisance to be tolerated but never loved, was more knowledge than she was ready for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Nineteen

[]

GABLE’S MAGIC

 

On Christmas Eve morning, Misha shook Liesel awake. “Liesel. Liesel!”

She rolled sideways in a tangle of sheets until she fell to the floor. “What?” she yelped. “It wasn’t me!”

“It’s Christmas Eve. Get up.”

“Did they already put the fire out?” she mumbled, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Every Christmas Eve night, the Juhls blew out their fire in a show of solidarity with the Virgin Mary’s struggles. Inge was a devout believer even though she never attended church, which resulted in her believing a lot of things that may or may not have been gospel. She thought Mary gave birth in a blizzard and Noah was the one who got swallowed by the whale because he hopped off the ark too early.

“No,” he replied. “I did.”

“Pah.” She glared at him. “What kind of innkeeper makes a teenager have her baby in a barn? If he’d let her in, our aunt would have let us celebrate like normal people. I don’t care about bringing hope to the weary. I care about not getting frostbite in my own house.”

As Liesel threw on a robe, Misha bounced behind her from one foot to the other. “I heard that our grandfather’s grandfather started this tradition. Some uncle’s toes froze off on Christmas Eve but they still wouldn’t light a fire. Who’d I hear that from?”

“Toes freezing off sounds like a Ridley story,” Liesel grumped, pulling on her stockings. Her toes poked right through the fabric, riddled with holes. “This tradition business is piffle. Aunt Inge probably ran out of firewood one year and made something up on the spot to rally our spirits.”

“I think Inge made up a lot of stuff,” he said as they headed downstairs. “The premonitions, for example. They were always about us breaking our legs if we skipped our chores.”

“For cripes’ sake, Misha. If she’s dead, she might be listening in. Do you really want to take shots at someone invisible who could trip you on the stairs?”

“But think about it,” he persisted, although he did watch his step more carefully as they descended, gripping the handrail tight. “How likely is it that marrying Uncle Orrick truly saved the town from ‘horrible evils’, like she claimed? Everyone knows she had a rivalry going with the girl who was dating Orrick at the time she got the premonition and—”

No, Misha,” Ridley complained. He sat in a chair, laying his head against the counter with his eyes closed. Liesel’s heartbeat still skipped when she saw him. He was wearing suspenders, but she couldn’t tell if they had any blades sewn into their undersides. “It’s too early for all that blather. I won’t have it.”

“No arguing today,” Liesel warned as Misha floated into the scullery with an injured air. “It’s Christmas Eve. We’re all going to behave our holiest.”

“I’m only holy on Sundays,” Dresden sniffed. “Christmas or not.”

“That your rosary?” Ridley added, pointing to Liesel’s two necklaces—one containing Juhl birthstones and the other strung with her new omens. “Hail moonstone and glory be!”

Misha emerged from the scullery with a rolling pin in one hand. His face was dusted with flour. When he smiled, the contrast yellowed his teeth. “Nobody touch any food. Christmas cake with pecans and raisins will be ready in about an hour. But you only get it if you atone for all your sins first, because that’s what Aunt Inge had us do.”

“I would be praying for weeks,” Ridley mumbled into the countertop. Dresden patted his shoulder heavily. “What’ve I got to pray for, anyway?”

“Pray to have the grime scrubbed off your soul.”

“Can’t clean a soul that isn’t there,” Dresden laughed.

“Ridley still has a soul,” Misha said from the scullery. “Comes with the original packaging. It’s destined for the big oven now, but it’s in there. Probably screaming for mercy, hanging by a split hair.”

They heard the back door bang open and closed—which would be Misha fetching bottles of milk from a small cellar by the outdoor bread oven. He hummed as he broke up chunks of ice in the milk, happy that his cousins appeared to be playing their roles.

It was only pretend, but Liesel didn’t mind. Pretend was an improvement.

After Misha served the Christmas cake, it was time to exchange presents. Liesel had originally gotten a knife for Ridley and engraved his initials in the handle, but decided to give it to Misha instead at the last minute. She watched Ridley’s eyes flash with recognition when he saw the tiny R.J. whittled into Misha’s present, but he said nothing.

To Ridley, she gave the book first intended for Misha, which he cast aside after ten seconds of artificial interest. Dresden almost laughed when he received a money clip from her, as he never carried paper money. “My turn,” he said, disappearing upstairs to his bedroom for a minute. Liesel and Misha looked at each other, daring not to hope.

When Liesel and Misha came to live with Orrick and Inge years ago, their parents weren’t sure if they would live long enough to see them again and entrusted Liesel and Misha’s share of inheritance to Orrick. This inheritance was in a locked tea box. While Liesel and her brother were told they would only receive their inheritance upon turning eighteen, she’d assumed it was hers for the taking after Orrick’s death. Dresden had refused to hand it over, however. She’d lost count of how many times she’d tried to unlock the box when her cousins weren’t home. They kept it in Dresden’s bureau and it was incredibly light, with one small item rolling around inside. Misha suspected it was full of rubbish and their cousins had taken the inheritance for themselves long ago.

Dresden did not return with the tea box. Instead, it was a restored portrait of Orrick and Inge. It still wasn’t perfect but it looked a bit clearer now, having sustained water damage in a flood two years previously.

Misha hung the portrait near the till so that Orrick could count how much money they were bringing in (“So that he can remind us we’re doing everything wrong,” Ridley supplied). They all took a moment of silence to honor it. The moment lasted long enough for them to realize how cold the shop had gotten. Dresden promptly lit a candle.

“That’s cheating!” Misha cried, but decided to warm his hands over it, anyway.

“Mary didn’t have candles,” Liesel reminded Dresden, also warming her hands.

“Wonder if Mary had Christmas cake?” he shot back innocently.

Liesel flipped her hair at him. Her insides squirmed. She should have been overflowing with cheerfulness. It was nearly two in the afternoon and the boys hadn’t hollered at each other yet. But there was the nagging feeling of everything being clearly fake, smiles plastered over top of more destructive feelings.

In her mind’s eye, she could see the omens roll. Strongly negative. Indifferent.

Misha, who usually baked little pies for everyone’s gifts, instead presented them each with a silver queen. “I was going to bake them into the pies,” he chattered, “but was afraid you’d swallow them.”

Liesel balked at her silver. “Where’d you get this?”

“I’ve been saving for ages,” Misha replied. “The pies I sold at the summer fair were very popular.” Liesel heard his pride, knowing his secret wish to be a pastry chef, and gave him an extra hug.

Ridley pocketed his silver and began eyeing Liesel’s. She pretended to slide hers into her pocket but actually kept it curled under her fingers. She’d seen Ridley purposefully bump into people too many times to keep anything of monetary value on her person. She was also pretty sure he’d already dipped his fingers into the Christmas Box Misha made up for the dustman.

“Please tell me we don’t have to go to mass,” Dresden pleaded.

“We don’t have to go to mass,” Ridley complied at once.

“What?” Misha’s mouth dropped open, eyebrows clinching together. “Why not? We always—”

“Misha.” Dresden massaged his temples with the heels of his hands. “Don’t start.”

“We couldn’t, anyway,” Ridley pointed out. “Liesel has plans.”

They turned to stare at Liesel, who avoided Dresden’s heavy glower. By habit, she nearly offered to cancel her plans. It would be a way of appeasing her cousins, who didn’t care about spending time with her but certainly cared that she was spending so much time with The Bells—especially after that clash in the streets. A few months ago she would have automatically caved just to keep the peace, so they were likely surprised by her newfound stubbornness.

“See how your choices are affecting this family?” Dresden said quietly, gesturing to Misha. “Look how disappointed you’ve made your brother.”

“I’m not disappointed,” Misha replied, quick to defend her. “I’ll just find something else to do. It’s fine.”

Liesel was saved from the conversation by a tapping at the front door. A small glass hot air balloon floated right outside. It nudged the door as she opened it, then her arm, hovering in midair as it clunked and sputtered.

“What the hell is that?” Dresden asked.

Liesel hopped into her boots and went outside without answering him. Gable stood in the middle of the road, a blur amidst swirling snow. White canvassed everything, turning Arcane Way into a wonderland. The hot air balloon was warm in her hands, machinery still spewing.

“First snow of the year,” Gable declared with a smile, his face pink from the cold. Then he realized she wasn’t wearing a coat. “Freckles! I know you desperately want to be interesting like me, but pneumonia isn’t the way to go about it!” He wrestled out of his coat and was going to put it around her shoulders when she batted it away.

“Don’t be chivalrous. It’ll make you cold. I’ll only be a minute, anyway.”

Ignoring her protests (which were dimming now that the wind had picked up and she was getting snowflakes in her eyelashes), he tugged the coat around her, buttoning the top two fastenings. “There.”

“There,” she repeated, thrusting the hot air balloon at him.

His eyes slid to Illuminate. Misha stood at the window, making kissy faces at them. Liesel threw him a severe expression, which he responded to by beaming a megawatt smile. She turned back to find Gable looking particularly smug.

“I didn’t plan on you coming outside,” he said. “You were supposed to receive this mysterious message.” He nodded at the balloon. A folded piece of paper was tucked into the basket.

“I didn’t see that.”

“I can tell.”

She took it out and read aloud. “Don’t forget the play. Eight o’ clock. Do not bother to wear socks.” She frowned at him. “What? Don’t bother to—ahh.” She nodded wisely. “Because you’re going to knock them off?”

“They’ll be halfway around the world before you even know they’re gone.”

“Here.” She returned his coat to him. “We’ll pretend I found the note as soon as I opened the door and you were magically concealed by all the snow, and I was so impressed by the mysteriousness of everything that I lost consciousness for a little while.”

“That sounds like something that definitely happened.”

She trudged back to Illuminate, stockings soaked with snow. “See you later! Even though I don’t know you’re there!”

She was almost to the door when Gable stopped her, hand outstretched. The note in the hot air balloon’s basket tumbled out, tearing past Winkel Shop. Mrs. Van Parys would find it and think Mr. Clough was trying to make a move on her.

“I’m coming for you, Juhl!”

She extended both arms on either side of her in a dare. “Do your worst.”

Gable slipped as he made his way down the street, faltering twice. “Still coming!” he promised, arms flailing. “Possibly in snowshoes, or maybe crawling.”

“I believe you.”

He pointed, the wind tugging his cap off. It was the tartan one that used to belong to Olivier. Hair went whipping everywhere, including in his face. “Watch your back!”

“Watch your own back!” she advised. “You’re going to fracture it.”

She laughed as he faded into walls of white, tripping so ungracefully that she began to suspect he was doing it on purpose.

 

At a quarter to eight, Macall banged on the door of Illuminate while sitting up high on Lars’s back. She wore a crown of mistletoe on her head, wobbling precariously from left to right as Lars pretended he was going to drop her.

Liesel thought Macall wouldn’t be going around wearing an invitation like mistletoe if she knew the sort of ideas running rampant in Charleston’s head. Then again, Macall was probably already aware of them.

Cadrie waited on the sidewalk, peering curiously through the window. “Friso’s found something to keep him busy,” she explained before anyone could ask where he was.

They heard a shout down the street, followed by gunfire and Friso yelling, “Coward! Waiting ‘til my back’s turned, eh, scallywag? I could spit a bullet farther than you could shoot one!”

“Typical,” Lars groaned. Cadrie and Macall danced in the footsteps he scooped out for them, Liesel following after. She wanted to ask Macall if she had her ticket already or if she’d be expected to pay for one. Worrying about having to pay for a ticket had made her anxious all day.

“Weisz!” Lars hollered. “Give me back my gun.”

They reached Mascarada, Liesel panicking, but found Friso all by himself. He was holding a pistol and aiming it at a warehouse across the street. “Where’d they go?” Liesel asked, clutching Macall’s arm.

“Who?”

“The person shooting at Friso!”

“Oh.” Macall and Cadrie both laughed. “That was Friso. Idiot’s pretending to be Captain Blackthorn again.”

“Aye, mateys!” Friso cheered, running and jumping into Lars’s arms. Lars’s gun was left spinning on the ice. “Lars, you can be the ocean. Starring role.”

Lars dropped him.

“Rude.” Friso reached for the gun but Cadrie already had her heel on it, gingerly passing it behind her for Macall to grab. “Scurvy dogs! Scurvy dogs everywhere! Give back me cutlass, wench!”

“Why’d you bring a gun, anyway?” Macall asked Lars, giving him a disapproving frown as she deftly avoided Friso grappling to get the gun back.

He didn’t reply, but his eyes darted to Illuminate and that was answer enough. A part of Lars, however small, suspected Ridley and Dresden of having a hand in Olivier’s death. Or perhaps he simply didn’t trust other cabals.

The same uneasy feeling Liesel had felt bubbling up in her stomach earlier washed over her again, making her queasy. She saw the rest of them exchange meaningful looks, which made it worse.

“I don’t think they’re going out today,” she mumbled, touching her omens. Their friendly tones only made her feel mildly better. “It’s Christmas Eve, so … ”

“Of course,” Lars said with false enthusiasm, rubbing the steam off his glasses. “Not what I meant at all. Nothing to do with … ”

“Of course,” she echoed mechanically.

No sooner had they filed into the theatre than the lights in the audience dimmed, the ones onstage swelled, and the curtains parted. A very pale Gable Petrovich walked out. Friso sniggered.

“Oh, look at him,” Macall giggled under her breath. “He’s so nervous.”

“Hey,” Liesel said, staring around the theatre. “We’re the only ones here.”

“They’ve all got the right idea,” Cadrie whispered back. “Who wants to be stuck watching a loony magician on Christmas Eve?”

“I’d like to start tonight’s performance with some help from the audience,” Gable spoke, clearing his throat. His friends shut up at once. “Someone, anyone, from the audience, please.”

Friso reached around the back of their seats and pinched Liesel’s neck. She jumped upright, rubbing her neck and shooting him a dirty look.

“We have a volunteer!” Gable cried. Liesel made sure to step on Friso’s foot as she approached the stage.

Gable smiled down at her, holding out his arm so that he could help her ascend the steps on stage left. “Ahh, here is my lovely assistant. And what is your name, lovely assistant?”

“Countess Griselda.”

“All right, Countess Griselda,” he replied without batting an eye. “Would you by chance have anything on you that is small, clear, and shiny?”

“Mmm.” She narrowed her eyes. “No.”

He reached behind her ear and drew back, a moonstone in his hand. Liesel’s pocket felt suddenly a tiny bit lighter.

“Hey!” She patted her pocket. It was empty.

“Well done, Griselda.” His eyes danced with light. “Next, do you have any … oh, say … glass beads? Maybe something you call ‘omens’?”

She narrowed her eyes even more. “I feel like you have an agenda here.”

Out in the seats, Friso sniggered again.

“Ah! I see them now!” Gable exclaimed with gusto, the near-empty theatre snaking his words back at him. “Here we are.” He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a chain, each of Liesel’s omens appearing on the chain while simultaneously disappearing from Liesel’s necklace.

Quick as a flash, a small table appeared between them and the moonstone sat on top. Gable’s eyes rested on it, eerily hungry, no longer teasing.

“If you would please be so kind,” he said carefully, “as to take my hand in yours, and with your other … ” He held out the palm full of omens.

“Cheater,” she said, grasping his hand. He smiled in relief as they locked fingers. Liesel glanced out into the audience and saw that all of Gable’s friends were gone.

“Magic.” Gable’s mouth drew up at one corner, eyes not moving from hers. The shadows made them black, pupils drinking her in.

“This was an extremely convoluted ruse to trap me into reading you,” she informed him levelly.

“Get to know me better and you’ll come to expect these things.” He swallowed, eyes cutting to her omens. She still hadn’t cast them. His hand was hot and sweating.

“It’s warm in here,” she said.

The world shifted, theatre wavering away like a mirage. Seconds later, they stood at the edge of town, snow flecking their hair and shoulders. Liesel gasped. “How’d you do that? Magic?”

“Hypnosis to mimic time lapse,” he replied. “All I have to do is snap my fingers and you’re out cold. And that is all the explanation you’re getting, Miss Griselda.”

“You hypnotized me?”

“Several times.” He gave her a crooked grin that soon faded, eyes turning serious. Gable touched a red glass bead that had rejoined the other omens on her necklace. His finger slid down the bead on her collarbone; Liesel’s heart thudded against her chest as if it wanted to leap right into his hand, watching through drowsy, lidded eyes as he breathed in and out. Snow whirled all around, the constant blur of motion making her sleepy …  

“It’s all dependent on heart rate,” he whispered, jolting her out of the trance.

Liesel’s eyes flew wide open. Gable still grasped the red omen at her throat. Above them, the sky was frosted silver, snowflakes flaring into cinders wherever they passed lamps on Vasquez. They were close to Win’s Gate, snowy wind whistling as it sucked through the archway.

A muscle in his jaw jumped as he leaned closer. Liesel thought he was going to try to bewitch her again, but he looked rather bewitched himself.

His hand grazed her cheek and an involuntary shiver zipped up her spine. Liesel stopped him from getting any closer. He lifted his gaze from her mouth to her eyes, questioning.

“Do you want a reading?” she offered, her voice sounding unlike her own. Behind her, the black iron gate clanged open and closed, ivy blowing off the stones to make them shiver. It sounded almost like the green boughs were whispering amongst themselves, watching the two of them.

He grinned. “Don’t need one. You spilled your secrets while under the influence.” He tapped something on top of her head—Macall’s wreath of mistletoe.

“Cheat.” She took the wreath and tossed it on his head instead. He made small adjustments until it was the perfect sort of lopsided.

“You invited me to do my worst.”

Without waiting for her to respond, he moved in and kissed her, first gently, then with a huge smile he couldn’t hold back. With his lips constantly curling back into a grin, kissing him presented a challenge. After twenty seconds of awkwardly trying, Liesel burst out laughing.

“Shh,” he chided, also half-laughing. “Don’t ruin it.”

“Sorry.” She flung her arms around his neck and kissed him. She tried to pour all of her intensity into it, reflecting on every single moment over the past month he’d said something adorable and she’d felt a twinge of impulse to leap on him. However, Gable still could not stop smiling, too giddy for his own good, and he squeezed her tight to his body and lifted her off the ground, making her dance back and forth in a crushing hug. Liesel yelped.

Now it was his turn to apologize. “Sorry, I just really like you. Like, if you were in my head right now, it’s this.” He mimed an explosion of fireworks. “Please still be attracted to me and let me kiss you again. A lot. Right now. Please.”

“Okay,” she giggled. Liesel closed her eyes and inhaled sharply, readying herself. When nothing happened, she opened one eye. Gable was still grinning like a fool. “Are you just standing there staring at me?”

“Yes.”

Liesel giggled again. “Oh my god, Gable.” Gable cut her off abruptly, taking her face in his hands, and kissed her. There was a clumsy clinking of teeth, then suddenly neither of them were laughing anymore, and Liesel felt hot and bubbly. The shape of Gable’s lips on hers, and being in his arms, filled her up so completely that she stood on her tiptoes and almost floated away. The skin on his neck was flushed and warm against her freezing fingers. She started to drift backward, not on purpose but because she was so dizzy from the rush of emotion, and Gable’s fingers tightened briefly in her hair. With this small involuntary gesture, with his frantically beating heart and urgent closeness and the smiles that continued between kisses, he told her everything he was feeling.

The voice of Lady Win’s ghost pulled at her memory. He is the magic, and you are the fortune.

Finally, she drifted back far enough that the air grew colder, and her eyes slowly opened. Gable’s lips were swollen, hair in disarray. He was so beautiful to her that it made her heart ache to look at him.

They were not at Win’s Gate anymore, but on the sidewalk outside Mascarada. Gable was transporting her through hypnosis to make the world, the moment, a little more magical for her; expending energy so that she could be breathless.

He grinned savagely. “Socks off?”

“Oh, yes.” She felt his finger winding her necklace, toying with the omens. Their breath mingled together in a small cloud. “I’d be flipping them like a lasso if it didn’t require taking my shoes off.”

“Mine are in Spain. They’re lying on a beach getting a suntan.”

She laughed and kissed him again. Gable let out a blissful sigh.

“Merry Christmas, Liesel.”

Nearby, she saw a swatch of red lingering at the corner of a warehouse. At first glance, she thought it might be Macall, but then she recognized the springy, slippery gait.

Charleston.

He was waiting for Liesel to come home so that he could have a reading. He didn’t want to be seen by Gable.

Liesel gazed up into Gable’s eyes, their hands joined inside his too-large sleeves. “Merry Christmas, Gable.”

“Definitely,” he agreed. “Definitely a Merry Christmas to me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty

[]

A NIGHT FOR RED

 

In a darkened shop room, eight omens spilled around a moonstone.

“Let’s see what we have here,” Liesel murmured, a pearl rolling and rolling between her fingers. She leaned back, taking her shadows with her, so that they could properly view the cloth.

A red omen touched the moonstone. All of the others had missed the cloth entirely.

She and Charleston stared at each other over the pattern, speechless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-One

[]

FRISO’S GHOSTS

 

“You should come home with me,” Macall told Friso, threading through tombstones in Witching Hour’s cemetery. “No one should be alone on the night before Christmas.”

“I’m not alone. I’ve got the ghosts.”

She laughed.

“Seriously! I hear them all the time. A hundred witches and wizards toasting nicely as their refuge burns down. Do you know what they say to me?” He made his voice long and haunting, hand splayed over his heart. “Frisooo. Come with ussss. We have really good barbecuuuue.”

“Ha ha.”

They circled an austere gray sepulcher, its crown of stone angels and demons now formless lumps under all the snow. If they searched hard and long enough, they would find familiar names scored on many of the cemetery’s tombstones. Friso already knew where they were. Elizaveta Petrovich. Georgiy Petrovich and his mother, Clarimonde. Gable’s brother and mother had been buried together to save money on coffins. Georgiy was small enough to tuck into Clarimonde’s arms.

Ferdinand and Darra Weisz, and their daughter Siofra, another tombstone read. A whole family underground, all except for Friso. They’d been rotting down there for twelve years, but Friso could still envision his sister’s bright red cheeks, checkered with the way her veins laced. She’d radiated a wave of heat so powerful that he’d felt it from a foot away. After the fever came the green scabs all over her hands and face, the yellow blisters on her mouth that gradually ate their way down her throat into her lungs. At the peak of the rhizine wartpox outbreak, nearly every family in Black Magic lost a loved one. Friso and Gable each lost three.

His memory kept all of the nightmares he didn’t want in pristine, vivid condition, while the most treasured memories of his family gradually eroded.

Friso remembered coming to the cemetery with Cadrie when he was seven to look for his parents’ graves, on one of the rare days the orphanage let them out into the city. He’d found the Weiszes immediately, then spent the remainder of his free hour helping Cadrie search for ‘Singh’.

They didn’t find any Singhs. Cadrie was only three days old when she turned up at the orphanage. Her first and last name had both been invented by the orphanage’s headmistress to go along with a set of twins they’d received the day before, whose surname was Singh. They had no idea what her real name was.

“Maybe this is my mother,” she’d liked to say when they were children, running her mittens over an expensive statue of a seraph. anjali johar. “Look, she even has a family.” A whole plot of Johars entombed Anjali’s monument—Ishana, Dhaval, Yamir. A carving of Ishana’s face on her tombstone resembled Cadrie a little.

Cadrie liked the idea of that, of having a built-in family resting in peace and waiting for her to join the line. “Maybe this one’s for me,” she’d said, indicating a grave next to Anjali’s that read ‘Vasanti’. It was the only grave that didn’t include birth and death dates, or even a last name. “Maybe I’m Vasanti, and this is mine for someday.”

Cadrie was thoroughly convinced that Anjali was her mother for a long time, but Friso couldn’t remember the last time he heard her talking about it, or saw her visiting the seraph. For all they knew, her mother was still alive. Maybe she was someone they walked past every day. Or maybe she was dead and she’d been dumped into one of the unmarked graves behind the jailhouse on Vasquez.

Macall wended her way down one of the cemetery rows to the smallest grave, marked with the dead sapling of a peach tree. She brushed snow off a sad little nameplate, bolted into the earth with spikes.

Olivier Kraus. There wasn’t room for anything else: beloved son, generous friend, he will be missed.

“We need to do holly rounds again. His is going brown.”

Friso tilted his head onto Macall’s shoulder. She reached for his hand. They stared at the pitiful grave for an uncertain period of time during which the earth seemed to stop.

“I better go,” Macall sighed. “Our cooks have the night off to go caroling while Mother and I prepare tomorrow’s twelve courses ourselves. She’s probably waiting for me.”

“I’ll walk you home.”

“No, you won’t. It’ll take you three years to get back to Bat’s Belfry in all this snow. I can barely see my hands in front of my face.”

“Here, then.” Friso tossed her a brass compass. She caught it in the folds of her dress, pulled out like a bowl. “Take this. And take care not to spill any of your fancy-pants tea on it. That thing is an antique. I think.” He frowned. “I found it in the sewer when I was a kid, so it’s basically an antique.”

She blew him a kiss. “Happy Hanukkah, Friso.”

“Don’t tell me what kind of Hanukkah to have.”

“All right.” She laughed, fixing his shabby, dog-eared collar. He immediately wrinkled it back up. “I’m going to go light an eighth candle, just for you.”

He kissed her cheek. “Good night, starry eyes.”

Friso vanished into banks of snow gusting off the road from east to west, his back blurring into great white knolls. Macall tried to imagine Friso bundling up on the stairs of Bat’s Belfry, shielding himself with an old parachute from the Crimean War that belonged to an enemy spy who died upon landing. Several of the bell tower’s bricks had been switched out for enchanted ones he’d stolen from a witch, which burned hot as coals when it was cold out and helped keep him warm. He stoutly refused to stay the night at Lars’s house because he had a thing about spending holidays with his infernal ghosts. She knew that if Friso didn’t show up at Lars’s house by midnight, Lars would march over there and drag him home.

Macall waved even though he was long gone, lights from the train station near Witching Hour smattering oddly across the road as a train flashed behind the station’s windows. Smoke poured out of a mansion’s four chimneys on her right, situated before the tracks that signified the change from lower Meridian to upper.

“Nasty night to be out here all alone,” a voice called.

Macall stopped short, ears pricked. She swerved at the sound of the voice and saw a silhouette rippling in the thick snowfall, almost invisible until the silhouette strode closer. She wondered how they’d seen her there.

“Hello?” she called tentatively.

It was a paunchy middle-aged man in a bowler hat, holding a dog lead that wasn’t attached to a dog. “Hi there,” he replied, the corner of his mouth hitching up into a smile as his eyes pierced her from top to bottom. “My, you’re a pretty one.”

“You should see my mother. She’s gorgeous.” Macall shivered, tucking the hood of her coat more tightly about her chin and neck.

She waved to him, gave a small smile, and continued walking. She thought she might be somewhere between the jail and the livery, progressing at a snail’s pace with all the blustery weather making it impossible to see.

“You lost?” the man wanted to know, his voice creeping up behind her. Macall whirled on the spot, her compass’s needle spinning violently from north to south.

“No,” she said with a laugh. “Just a bit disoriented! I haven’t seen a blizzard like this in years. Came out of nowhere.”

“Funny how that happens.”

He matched her stride as she walked. “Having trouble with that?” he asked, reaching for the compass. “Here, I’ll navigate for you.”

“No, it’s fine,” she assured him, keeping her fingers clamped on the compass. Friso would blow his top if he knew some random man was trying to touch his stuff. “Thank you, though.”

“You sure?” He slid closer to her so that he could examine the compass, his arm brushing hers. “It looks like it might be stuck.”

“It’s not. I’m moving slowly, is all.”

“Mmm.”

Macall swallowed, made ill at ease by his closeness. “Have a lovely evening, then.” She smiled and waved again, hurrying a bit faster.

“Miss?” the man called. “Excuse me? You dropped something.”

Macall turned, searching the snow. She didn’t see anything in it. The man pointed at the snow near his feet. “You dropped something,” he repeated.

Macall waited for him to pick it up, whatever it was. He didn’t.

“That’s okay, I don’t need it.” She peered around his shoulder, waving both arms over her head. “Friso! Are you coming or what?”

The man surveyed the quiet street, then faced Macall with a slanted light in his eyes that made her stomach drop. “No one’s there.”

“I thought—I thought I saw my friend. He should’ve shown up by now. He’s going to meet me along the way. I hope he’s all right … he’s not usually this late.”

He regarded her strangely. “Am I making you nervous?”

“No, not at all,” she replied pleasantly, hurrying over. She scanned the snow, but the man merely pointed harder. A lump bobbed in her throat, so big she could choke on it.

“Sorry I can’t get it for you,” he apologized. “Bad knee. But it’s there—just there—no, to the left … ”

Dread flooded Macall as she reluctantly crouched in the snow out of politeness, and then she saw it. A chink of gold. She lifted it, straining her eyes to see. It was a thick, gaudy ring.

“This isn’t mine.”

“Oh.” The man laughed. “Wouldn’t you know it, that’s actually mine!” He took the gold ring from her. “Sorry about that. But while I’ve got you back here, might I persuade you to let me accompany you home? Like I said, it’s a hell of a night to be out here all alone, not to mention improper for a lady. And I still don’t see your friend … ” He made an extravagant show out of turning back around, gesturing at the snowy road. “Do you see your friend?”

“He’ll be after me any minute.” She shook her head. “You know what it is? It’s probably Lars and Gable that are holding him up. They’re my other friends. They’re always wandering in this area.”

“I’ll wait with you until they come. Wouldn’t want you getting lost in all this. A person could get sucked up in this snow and never be seen again.”

Macall backed away in what she hoped was a smooth, natural manner. “Thank you so much for the concern. Really, though, I know Black Magic like the back of my hand.”

She held up the back of her hand as proof, shoes crunching one behind the other in her hurry to leave. One of them lost its footing, sliding on the ice. White-hot pain shot through her ankle, but she didn’t allow herself to show it. “I think I see one of my friends now. Olivier.”

She tried to jump up and down but her ankle was twisted in such a way that applying any pressure to it at all brought on splitting pain. “Olivier! Is that you?”

“Olivier?” the man repeated, looking in the direction she indicated. “Olivier Kraus, the dead boy?”

Silence rang like bells. It took Macall a while to find her voice, staring at him and backing up a step. “I think you’d better go.”

“I don’t mean you any harm, I’m only wondering how—”

“Hurry up, Friso!” she called, still backing away. “We’re going to be late!”

“Now, wait a second,” he demanded. “I know you don’t know me at all, but I don’t think you understand how dangerous blizzards can be. I had a mighty bad experience with a blizzard myself, on a December night not unlike this one. You shouldn’t be on your own.”

“Sorry, I can’t hear you,” Macall shouted as loud as she could, cupping a hand behind her ear. “Thanks! Good night!” Friso. Please be listening.

“Wait!”

He was walking hideously fast for a man with a bad knee. He reached out to grapple for her, pinching her sleeve. Acid climbed Macall’s throat, eyes wide with fear, as she tried desperately to shake him off. He was determined to hold her still.

His eyes bore down into Macall’s, twin spots of brown like dirtied water. She fumbled backward and he fumbled with her, Macall not hearing him cry out, not noticing what was rushing up behind them.

There was an endless moment of screeching metal and waves of hot emerald smog that knocked them both sideways—followed, too late, by the warning scream of a train whistle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Two

[]

EIGHT FORTY-SIX

 

He wore his best suit and his best hat, sitting at the best table in the best establishment Black Magic had to offer. Sur La Lune crystalized in the early morning light, hymns from the clock tower striking eight.

Charleston stared at his reflection in a vase on the table. Fifty bright red poppies overflowed along the vase’s rim, just enough to overwhelm. It represented Charleston’s nature exactly.

He realized belatedly that he was holding his breath, and let it curl out in slow increments because, in his mind, every eye was currently turned on him, all of the breakfasting visitors watching and waiting to be vicariously swept up in the single most beautiful day of his life.

Romantic. Can be lust, love, or a conscious partiality.

That red omen nested in his skull, making sleep the night before impossible. He’d thought of nothing else as he clambered into his horse-drawn carriage after leaving Illuminate. His stallion was frightened of all the snow but Charleston had spurred him faster into blinding darkness, past some kind of chaotic scene unfolding behind The Seven Chakras; hurrying and hurrying, as there was no time to spare. The poppies must be found immediately, the cufflinks chosen, the shoes polished, the shirt and tails pressed.

He had forgotten nothing. Everything Macall wanted, secretly or otherwise, was waiting for her at this little table on Christmas morning at two minutes past eight o’ clock.

An assembly of men in boater hats and white morning coats sat close enough that they would have to overhear Charleston’s bliss, perfectly located. Plates cleared, they leaned back and flicked open gold cigarette cases.

A man ducked through the doors into the room, a booklet of sheet music tucked under his chin. He waved a bottle of milk at Charleston, who stood up unexpectedly, mouthing at him to go. Not yet!

The man retreated, apologizing with hand gestures. Charleston could hear faint whiffs of “Harmony Club Waltz” issuing prematurely from a grand piano behind the doors and sucked an irritated breath through his teeth.

It was a flawless morning. Sunrise played off the snow, transforming houses into candy-studded gingerbread and the little streets and carriages into toys. A horse drinking from a fountain far below wore red ribbons twisted in its fair mane, like peppermints. The sight of stripes warmed him, thoughts trailing almost at once to a pair of green and white stockings.

“Waiting for someone?” one of the men in boater hats said to Charleston, a chain of smoke unfurling between his lips as he spoke.

“I am, yes.” Out of the corner of his eye, Charleston spotted a drooping petal on one of the poppies. He yanked out the stem, crammed it into the middle where it would be less conspicuous, and turned back to find the gentleman giving him a knowing look.

“Don’t need three guesses to know what kind of meeting you’re having,” the man chuckled. “Good luck, son.”

Charleston, who believed in luck and superstitions, took this seriously. “Thank you.”

The man nodded and Charleston returned to his antsy silence.

Eight-sixteen.

It wasn’t uncommon for him to be kept waiting. She loved to make him squirm, make him exasperated. He was determined to rise above such frustrations this morning, and impress her with a steady patience that could only come from knowing with certainty that the wait was worth it, the perseverance ultimately fruitful.

That he had finally won.

At eight-thirty, the men near Charleston’s table heaved themselves off their chairs. “Going so soon?” Charleston inquired, palms red and sweltering. He wiped them against the knees of his trousers and it made his skin instantly gritty. He felt an overpowering compulsion to go wash his hands. “Why don’t you stay a while longer? Have some brandy on me.”

“It’s Christmas morning,” the man who’d spoken to him replied, cheeks already rosy from drink. “My family is missing me. Should’ve ferried over last night, but that weather … ” He whistled. “That was quite a storm.”

“You’re from Majiel, then?”

“Jewel of the Finnarian Isles!” he proudly exclaimed, doffing his hat.

“Woaring Cupboard is always along the way,” Charleston said to himself as the men pushed out the door. “Never the destination.”

At street level, a band of soldiers paraded in blue uniforms. They were doing their part in Christmas customs to supply toy tops to children—also painted blue, to show fealty to the empire. Elsewhere, bird seed was molded into the eight-pointed First Star of Bethlehem, the six-pointed Star of David, or the star and crescent of Islam and hung from trees, letterboxes, or eaves of anyone who worked a respected job—doctors, firemen, war heroes, teachers. They were surprise tokens of appreciation.

He was lost in thought when the double-doors banged open behind him, the powerful and unmistakable smell of Ruiseal’s drafting into the breakfast parlor: potato dough, żurek, sauerkraut, and hazel grouse.

Charleston whirled in expectation, but it wasn’t Macall. It was only her father, Bartek Kozma. Charleston’s grin gave way to confusion as Bartek strode toward him, bleary-eyed and trembling, holding what looked to be a crushed compass in his fist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Three

[]

WE

 

Liesel was cutting marzipan into quarters when Mrs. Van Parys ran over to tell her the news.

“Macall Kozma is dead.”

To Van Parys, it was just gossip. An excuse to come next door and visit the Juhls on Christmas, as she had no family of her own. Van Parys was bad luck. All four of her husbands had died under mysterious circumstances.

Liesel dropped her knife, staring. “What?”

Van Parys ogled the marzipan, probably hoping for an invitation to stay and have some. “Along with Abram Lafayette,” she gushed, hands balled under her chin. “He used to be a friend of Mr. Van Parys’s.”

“Lafayette?” Misha repeated, popping up from behind the shop counter. “We had a Lafayette in here not long ago. Large man?” He put his arms around himself, indicating a big belly. “Little bowler hat?”

“Lots of rings on his fingers?” Mrs. Van Parys finished, nodding. “Yep, that’s the one!”

Misha looked horrified. “It’s got to be him. I gave him a reading and his tombstone read December.”

“Funny.” Van Parys pondered this, not sad at all. “He didn’t mention that he was going to die this month.”

“He didn’t know. We told him—” Misha hesitated, glancing at his sister.

“We told him he was going to be extremely rich,” Liesel said dimly.

“And that a woman was going to admire him,” Misha added.

“Either way, his body’s turned up missing,” Van Parys informed them, gloating over the private knowledge. “One minute he’s in the morgue, next”—she clicked her fingers at Misha—“poof. Gone. They’re thinking thieves looking for pocket change, since he was known to be in and out of big money, always getting it and then going bankrupt. Bad gambling habit.”

Liesel ran her hands through her hair, pulling out pins along her scalp and combing the curls with her fingers. “It couldn’t have been too long after—I was out last night as well—are you sure it’s Macall?”

“Sure, I’m sure,” Van Parys confirmed. “Hit by a train and killed right along with Abram. I heard it firsthand from Robert Hills, who runs the paper, as you know. It’ll most likely make the front page tomorrow. Maybe in Majiel, too! Isn’t that exciting?”

“Did she die in the hospital?”

“Oh, honey. There was no need for a hospital.” She moved closer, bringing the wrinkles that hugged her eyes and mouth into sharp focus. “Tore an arm clean from its socket and knocked out all her teeth.” Liesel recoiled. “The train can hardly be blamed. She was standing right there in the road, after all. They couldn’t have seen her in all this snow and besides, they probably wouldn’t have been able to stop even if they knew she was there.”

Van Parys screwed up her eyes in thought. “It was that flying train, the one that doesn’t need tracks. The Graveyard Shift Express.”

Liesel and Misha looked at each other, eyes round. Their cousins hadn’t come downstairs all morning. They’d attributed this to Ridley and Dresden’s usual habit of sleeping in, but now the silence was growing stale.

“I’ll go check,” Misha announced without having to explain, and shot off upstairs. Not ten seconds later, he zipped back down, shaking his head. His face was pale as death.

Liesel grabbed her coat. “Let’s go.”

Mrs. Van Parys hadn’t expected this reaction. She was unceremoniously dumped onto the sidewalk, Liesel and Misha closing up shop behind them. Illuminate was still cold from foregoing heat the night before, now domed with snow and a mouthful of dark windows.

Liesel and Misha had never been deep inside Runaway, The Graveyard Shift’s nerve center, and hoped it could be avoided today.

“Maybe—” Misha pointed at a tavern on the east side of Meridian, sitting at the point where Arcane Way intersected.

Liesel had a sinking feeling in her stomach. “Maybe.”

Neither of them were surprised when they scoured the tavern and didn’t find Dresden or Ridley there.

They checked an alley between the town hall and a mosque on Della Torre, because that’s where Foy Montego was known to conduct some of his more illicit business, but all they found was a pack of stray dogs nosing through trash heaps. It smelled of rotting Ruiseal’s food. From Della Torre, Liesel could see the shining beacon of Sur La Lune. She wondered if Charleston already knew what had happened.

They turned and headed to Runaway, where they knew Ridley and Dresden would be, and the sinking sensation in Liesel’s stomach grew heavier when Dresden headed them off before they reached the freight station’s doors.

“Hello,” he greeted shakily, smiling wide. His complexion was pallid and his eyes were ringed with violet. Alcohol drenched his breath. “Merry Christmas.”

“Where’s the train?” Misha asked.

What little light was still in Dresden’s eyes extinguished. “What do you mean?”

“The train,” Liesel snapped, breathing down the collar of her coat where the air was warmer. “The Graveyard Shift Express. Where is it?”

Dresden worked his jaw, producing a dark brown bottle from inside his sleeve, where he’d been gripping it along his wrist. He downed two long gulps, bloodshot eyes lost in the sky. “Northeast train station. Inspector Normand’s got it.”

The three of them were quiet. Liesel tried to drum up something to say—how terrible it was that he’d killed someone, how it wasn’t his fault, how it was his fault—but the words wouldn’t come. She heard Misha sniffling beside her and thought he was crying, but he was just cold.

Without saying goodbye, Misha turned on his heel and Liesel followed, leaving Dresden drunk and alone in the snow. After a moment’s consideration, Dresden threw his bottle as hard as he could, lips still bright with beer, and it shattered against one of the tombstones in Witching Hour’s cemetery.

“I’m going to look for Gable and his friends,” Liesel said to Misha.

Her brother stood there, a sigh caught in his chest, looking suddenly not thirteen as Liesel often imagined him, or sixteen like he really was, but much older. Shoulders sagging, he went home.

Liesel dashed off to Witching Hour, which she found empty. Perhaps none of them knew about Macall. Then again, The Bells hadn’t chosen Bat’s Belfry as a gathering point on accident. They positioned themselves so that they could see everything.

A small voice in her head suggested that maybe Macall’s death wasn’t a coincidence. Maybe her cousins killed Olivier Kraus on purpose and came back for Macall.

No. Not possible.

Inge and Orrick’s two sons were many things, some of them terrible, but they were not murderers. Then, before she could stop it, Liesel saw Uncle Gene’s first wife stretched stiff in a coffin, wearing a high-necked blouse to conceal the bruises on her throat. Ridley had found it fascinating that her necklace never broke while she was being strangled.

Liesel passed the intersection of Arcane, Lapis, and Eighth. The apple tree was still there. Its branches were laden with snow, but the tree magically continued to bear fruit, blood-red and perpetually ripe.

Liesel picked one of the apples. It was warm to the touch, as though emitting its own body heat.

She had changed her mind about going to Gable’s house by the time she came upon it. Hurrying past, then rushing back only to hurry away again, Liesel debated knocking. She almost did, twice, but ultimately didn’t because she was reluctant to bear such awful news on Christmas. Someone would have to look Gable in the eyes and tell him Macall was dead. Selfishly, Liesel did not want to be that person. She’d rather be there for him afterward—the person to comfort.

She decided to go see Lars.

All Liesel knew about where Lars lived was that it was a shanty on Century Road, one of the residential blocks past the south-side train station. The buildings were whitewashed, with tin roofs and cracked walls. At the third door she knocked on, interrupting a game of hot cockles, a cheerful blindfolded girl was able to tell her where she could find Lars Zakari. “Don’t be surprised if he won’t open the door,” the girl cautioned. “He ain’t a friendly one.”

His face appeared at the window before she knocked. Liesel didn’t usually see him without his brown-and-orange-striped hat, but he wasn’t wearing it today.

He jammed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose while answering the door, ushering her in without a hello and locking up behind her. Liesel blinked in surprise, then surveyed the room.

It was tiny, barely larger than the bedroom she shared with Misha, but clearly Lars wasn’t the only one who lived there. Several nests of rags indicated where Lars, and often Cadrie and Friso, slept. The clutter was different from Mr. Petrovich’s cramped sitting room, as Mr. Petrovich kept his clutter tidy. There was no order to the shanty’s chaos. They all slept, ate, bathed, and visited in the same space, and it showed.

Someone had pulled down curtains from a window to use as blankets. A stack of unwashed dishes teetered over a slop bucket. The ceiling was cobwebbed; the walls were stained brown, plugged up with so much mortar to keep out the cold that it looked like a thousand bullets had been blasted into the house.

Everything smelled.

“Gable’s not here,” Lars said blankly, rousing to the curtain-less window and applying paste to the glass with a paint roller. “Hand me one of those papers, will you?” He snapped his fingers, pointing at a mountain of newspapers functioning as someone’s pillow. “He’s been arrested.”

“What?”

His finger jerked harder, impatient for the paper. Liesel handed one of the pages to him without being aware of it, continuing to supply them as he covered up the window with old advertisements and articles. Shrinking Violets now playing at Mascarada! Tickets available through 13 June. Come see Gable Petrovich as the famous Sergeant Thatcher Dorest.

“Last night after he left you, while he was walking home. Cadrie wasn’t even fifteen feet behind him. She couldn’t see or hear much about what happened, though.”

Liesel stared. “He was arrested? What for?”

“We don’t know.”

We. For some reason, it bothered Liesel that everyone knew about this and no one had thought to tell her. But why should they? She hadn’t known Gable or his friends very long. They operated as a small unit, carrying everything close to the chest. It probably never even occurred to them to consider Liesel.

“Does it have anything to do with … ?” She swallowed, unsure of how to raise the subject. “Macall?”

Lars paused with his paint roller in midair, paste dripping across his shoes. “No,” he replied in a thick voice, then continued with what he was doing.

Two other windows were also in various stages of being disguised. Ratty clothes, scarves, and bloody bandages—anything that remotely resembled fabric—were tacked to the walls over each window, limiting the amount of light that could be let in. Lars did not want someone to be able to see into his shanty. Who that was, Liesel couldn’t be sure. Maybe he wanted to remain hidden from everyone, paranoid about his safety after the deaths of two Bells.

“He doesn’t know we’ve lost Macall yet,” Lars said, wiping paste from his hands onto his trousers after finishing the job. “Neither did the rest of us until late. Cadrie went over to Bouton de Rose to be with the Kozmas. She said she’d be back soon, but I don’t know. She and Friso have both been gone all morning. Friso’s probably third crow’s in a ditch somewhere. He won’t cope well.”

All she could think about was Gable locked up in jail. And for what? What had he done to deserve being arrested on Christmas Eve?

“I’m going to get him out,” Lars assured her, able to guess what she was thinking. Liesel was once again reminded that she wore her thoughts on her face. “If he were in the normal jail I probably couldn’t do much, but they’ll have put him in the Cavoul. It’s always what they do with Invisibles like us.”

“I’m sorry about Macall,” she blurted, stuffing her hands in her pockets. “It’s so terrible.”

“Yes, it is,” he replied flatly. Then he turned, a peculiar gleam in his eye. “Friso reckons a ghost pushed her in front of the train.”

“No, I think it was more or less Lafayette who did that.”

His gaze shifted. Liesel followed it to a neat stack in the corner, protected with newspapers. More of Friso’s books. She wondered abstractly if he would ever fetch the ones he kept at Macall’s house, or if he wouldn’t remember them until months later, when to reclaim them would be awkward.

“Well, that’s Friso’s ghosts for you,” Lars said slowly, thinking it over. The house quaked as a train thundered over a viaduct that hugged Black Magic’s Rings, one of the town’s outer blue ridges. Liesel had to touch the wall to stay balanced. “He doubts Lafayette was ever alive to begin with.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Four

[]

MY WILD IRISH ROSE

 

The hours had turned into a cancerous mass, each of them marked on Charleston’s face. His mouth and eyes were twisted down, fixed in the same positions since eight forty-six on Christmas morning. He sat limp in a gilt chair in his reserved box at the opera house, staring down upon a stage he could not see.

Beads of sweat glistened on his forehead and temples, strands of ginger hair sticking to his neck. He was simultaneously empty and heavy, nothing inside him to weight him down except for intestines. A bunch of human parts. Other than that, he felt there was nothing else to him at all.

Macall would have told him he was being theatrical.

The opera singer’s song swam all around him without really penetrating, received by claps from people perched on the edges of their seats. Charleston’s eyes were glazed over as if dead, unmoving and immovable, the only physical sign of life being a restless tapping of his finger against the armrest that wasn’t even real. He only imagined that he was doing it, forcing the muscles in his hand to seize up constantly although that hand never actually flinched.

Bartek Kozma’s servant had been to the opera in the course of the morning. Charleston vaguely recalled being invited to Macall’s funeral, which was set for tomorrow, the twenty-seventh.

He was absolutely unfit to attend a funeral. Being seen by others was nothing; let them see how miserable he was. Let them try to take some of his grief for their own. His only object was to remember her as she was, and this would be impossible if he went.

He would want to see …

He wouldn’t be able to resist opening the lid.

Every time he closed his eyes, he envisioned what horrors would lie in Macall’s coffin, body stitched together like a rag doll to make her appear whole again. He loathed his overactive imagination, the morbid devil of curiosity forcing him to relive the moment of her death over and over again even though he hadn’t been there to witness it.

His brain wouldn’t stop trying to picture what she must look like now. It was the one thing he wished to guard his thoughts from, and was therefore the one thing he primarily dwelled on.

He alternated between heightened grief and hollowness, either completely numb or completely bare to all of his pain in overwhelming torrents.

Ruiseal’s, of course, would be closed for the rest of the week. If it had been Charleston to die, the celebrated prince of Black Magic, no one would have cared. It would have made every headline, sprawling from Trésor Edge to Gullrum to Eventide like fire. It would have been in black, bold letters taking up half a page, launched from every single tongue, and no one would have cared.

People—the ones that knew her—cared about Macall. People loved her. She would pass from the world without frills or flamboyance, quiet enough to be only a small scrap of news, but respected enough to be remembered and mourned. Last week the underground princess, tomorrow a princess underground.

The song wavered near Charleston’s ears, smoke-like.

This unprovoked attack from a rival cabal stunned Charleston into disbelief. There’d been threats always, but they were always met with laughter. A game. He’d forgotten that some people had nothing to their names but the threats they made with them.

But what had Macall ever done to anyone? All her cabal did was pick locks and jump fences. They didn’t hurt people. This was part of their pride; and the distinction between being a cabal and merely a group of friends was arrogance.

The atmosphere swelled with the singer’s crescendo, a massive wall of audience anticipation billowing up into Charleston’s box. He gasped in a sharp breath as it reached him, swallowing it all.

He was losing it.

He’d always wanted to be allowed to lose it.

Images of red hair adorned with white stars clouded his vision, but he knew he must channel his grief productively. With a jolt that didn’t feel like a movement his body was capable of making, Charleston’s left leg shifted for the first time in six hours.

The only funerals he planned to attend were for the people responsible. He would wear his best suit and his best hat and he would kiss their crying mothers on the cheek. When they heard later it was all because of Charleston, they’d recollect in horror that they’d allowed him to stand on their sons’ fresh graves.

They would remember and relive it forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Five

[]

ONE LESS LIGHT

 

Dresden and Ridley left before closing on the twenty-seventh and came home well after sunrise. After leaving at midday on the twenty-eighth, they didn’t come home at all. Liesel and Misha stood outside Illuminate and clanged bells, hollering up and down the street about ‘holiday specials’ and ‘double readings for the price of one’, trying to make up the difference.

Money was so scarce that Misha couldn’t do any shopping whatsoever, stretching a single bag of dehydrated beans to last all week. It made Liesel appreciate exactly how much of Illuminate’s income was dependent on herself and Misha. Meanwhile, the Juhl responsible for divining money was squandering theirs.

There wasn’t any promising news about Gable. Twice she’d been to see Mr. Petrovich, who wasn’t surprised to hear his son was in jail for unknown reasons; and four times she went to see Lars. The first three times, Lars only said, “Soon.” After that, he was less patient with her. “We’re trying to get The Raaf Ring to help but they don’t bail anyone out of the Cavoul until enough time has passed that the people liberated won’t be too conspicuous on the streets,” he’d explained. “If Kieve gets wind that prisoners are escaping, he’ll discover the secret entrance in the sewers where The Raaf Ring finds their way in.”

If Liesel knew the way into the Cavoul, she would have taken matters into her own hands. Once, she went so far as to scout the First Street Jailhouse, staring at the ground in hopes some secret entrance might be revealed. The day was cold and damp and she was eventually spooked away by two watchmen.

At a quarter to midnight on December twenty-ninth, Liesel stirred awake to the sound of something scratching.

Scritch, scritch, scritch.

Without opening her eyes, she felt foreign breath warming her left arm, which dangled off the side of the bed. She resisted the urge to jerk it back under her blanket, listening to the scratchings right next to her bed and knowing, from the smell of boot polish and mint snuff, that it was Ridley.

She focused on keeping her breathing even. She had the feeling that Ridley would do her no harm as long as she kept on sleeping, but if she opened her eyes, there would definitely be a confrontation. So Liesel’s insides boiled, trapped in an unmoving body, as Ridley eased the floorboards out from underneath her bed and robbed her savings.

The few peons and queens she’d managed to make from her Naveed Rakhsha side-business wouldn’t get her far in the real world, but they were sufficient for some lovely blue cloth she’d been admiring in an upscale shop on Della Torre. If she measured carefully, she could sew curtains for Sit a Spell and have enough scraps left over to trim a blouse. Something new and stylish to wear. Then she could finally throw out her ratty old hand-me-down blouse from Inge’s matronly great-aunt, with stained underarms and seams at her abdomen that threatened to burst and a faded flower that now looked more like a frowning face. It was distressing to wear it day after day in Gable’s presence, knowing he must notice how ugly it was, feeling all the worse because he was so nice all the time and pretended everything about her was beautiful. How she longed to wear something pretty for once!

Now she had nothing, and if she was honest with herself she knew she’d never had anything to start with. Her savings, while a source of comfort, was laughable; she’d never, ever have more than a scant handful of queens at any given time. Her dreams required kings. Sit a Spell would never happen. The curtains would never be cut and hung from new windows, and Liesel would never twirl happily in a shop all of her own wearing a blue shirt with lacy ruffles. The pretend life she’d spent years building up in her head slipped through her fingers like water, leaving Liesel cold and awake to a miserable future working for her cousins for years and years to come.

When she heard Ridley leave, she sat upright, flushed and fuming. Her heart was pounding. Half of her wanted to chase after him and take the money back—money she earned, money she worked hard for—but the other half of her remembered the scintillating edges of razor blades, his fascination with strangled necks, and it kept her rooted to her bedroom in terror.

Misha snored on.

She tried to fall back asleep, but couldn’t stop glaring at the ceiling. Sometimes it was very difficult not to hate Ridley, which she resented him for. She resented him especially since she put so much effort into suppressing her hatred for the sake of a peaceful household. If he were just a little less awful, it would be easier to keep her mouth shut and her head down, contenting herself with hopes for a brighter future even if all evidence pointed to things always staying the same. In times like this, when despair broke through the delusion she cocooned herself with, Liesel felt stupid and angry, and like a fraud for promising Misha their lives would someday change, somehow, good fortune falling into their laps magically without having to do anything to get it. Like Cinderella.

She finally leapt out of bed, so loudly that one of Misha’s snores caught in his throat, and examined her secret stash of money. Just as she thought, it was all gone, even the silver queen Misha gave her for Christmas.

Her hands clenched, knuckles turning white. I hate you, Liesel thought. If she were brave, she’d chase after him and announce she was leaving. And if she were lucky, she could scrape a few peons sweeping chimneys, while Misha …

She hesitated, heart burning with fury.

Best to let it go. You’ll get that money back eventually.

Oh, but how good it would feel to say the words at last! “I’m moving out!” Maybe she’d throw in a few insults for flavor. “So long, cheesebrains! It’s been tops!” Even in rags, even hungry and reduced to begging for crumbs—and beaten by patrols whenever she was caught doing so—it would be so glorious to watch Ridley and Dresden struggle to keep Illuminate afloat without her. Maybe they’d grow so desperate that they’d hire her back and pay a living wage.

Plunk.

Her head snapped to the window, the source of the sound. Fear prompted the returning smells of boot polish and mint snuff, so vivid to her senses that she almost believed Ridley was still next to her, scoliosis making him twist closer than intended.

It was only a pebble. One of the Invisibles had probably thrown it. Liesel settled back in bed, thoughts trailing to Gable. She felt useless, lying in bed while he was trapped in the Cavoul, and why? Because The Raaf Ring said the timing wasn’t right? Because watchmen were afoot?

She sat up, emboldened by her rage. Liesel was tired of being useless and she would be damned if she let Gable sit underground for another hour.

“To devil with watchmen,” she grumbled, flinging the covers off of her.

Liesel added layers of warmer clothing over her pajamas, then rummaged through Misha’s trunk for anything that might help her tonight. She spied the winking glass of a spell bottle and snatched it up, grinning. It was the last one she owned, as all the other spells were Misha’s, but she couldn’t think of a better reason for using it. “I’m coming for you, Petrovich.”

Slowly, she turned the doorknob. Creaking it open an inch, she saw that Ridley and Dresden’s door was ajar, the interior black and static. She scowled.

What are you out there buying with my money?

She hurried to Bat’s Belfry. She didn’t know if anyone would be there tonight, but it was worth a try and she needed a travel guide if she was going to navigate sewer tunnels. Liesel picked up a rock, tested its weight in her hand, and aimed it at the top of the tower. It barely struck the bell, glancing off the rim and calling up a throaty iron hum.

Friso’s head appeared at the tower ledge, untidy black mop obscuring his face. “Ahoy! What brings you to the crow’s nest?”

“Come on. We’re springing Gable from prison.”

“Really?”

“Don’t tell me you’re afraid.”

She caught the flash of a smile as he withdrew his head. Liesel heard him stumble twice as he ran down the steps, jumping the last few. “Fleasel’s feeling bold! Don’t know what’s got into you, but I think you should keep it there.”

“Yes, I’m full of wonders,” she replied impatiently. “You know the way into the Cavoul, I assume?”

“Absolutely.” He smacked his cheeks to get blood circulating in them, lips puffy and purple from the chill. For the life of her Liesel couldn’t understand why he’d purposefully subject himself to sleeping outside when he didn’t have to. “Shimmy down the sewage grate on Castelo Street, pop in the third tunnel on your left where First Street is, and if you’ve got a lit match on you it’s the fifth door in the wall. Fourth door, I’m pretty sure, goes somewhere else in time. Only nifty if you’re dead.”

“Swell. Let’s go.”

Friso held up his palm. “I like your ‘go get ‘em attitude’, but I might point out that one of the reasons why we Bells have not already rescued Petrovich is because we’re still working out which watchmen will take our bribes and which watchmen will cane us in the neck for asking. If you haven’t noticed, our city looks like one big greencoat conference. Not to mention the new curfew. On this wind of town it’s easier to get away with romping about, but that wind”—he pointed toward Castelo, making a face—“not so much.”

“Will a diversion help?” She showed him the spell she’d brought along.

Friso’s eyebrows disappeared under his bangs. “Swarm of wasps in a bottle? I’ve cooked up a dozen ideas far less stupid and Cadrie nixed them all.”

She matched his expression. “So are you coming with me or am I going to take all the glory for myself?”

“The odds are against us, dearie. I’m all sorts of in.” He leapt ahead. “Ought to fetch Lars. Oh, but I like surprises better. Let’s not say anything.” He turned around, delighted that he had outstripped Liesel by ten paces. She wasn’t much of a runner. “So are you keeping up or am I going to take all the glory for myself?”

“You can keep your glory. I just want Gable.”

“Aww.”

“Stuff it.”

They made their way down Meridian without incident; as they turned onto Della Torre Liesel saw three figures heading their way in the darkness, one of them coughing into his fist. Liesel grabbed Friso’s arm, slipping on the icy pavement. “Watchmen!”

“Wait.” Friso squinted, then his eyes popped wide. “It’s him!”

“Who?” She glanced at the three shadowy figures, utterly unidentifiable. Friso made something out of the shapes of their darkness that she did not and bounded forward. She had no choice but to hurry after in bewilderment.

“Petrobitch!” Friso cried joyfully, slamming one of the figures to the ground in a crushing hug.

The shape on the ground coughed and threw him off. “Weisz-ass.”

Liesel gasped, knocking Friso aside to get a better look. Gable offered up a forced smile when he saw her, eyes weary, but it was still him—still the same old unconquerable Gable with a spark no one could blow out. Liesel helped him to his feet, appalled at how haggard he’d gotten in just a few days. The hollows of his eye sockets were huge.

“Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes?” he said, coughing as he drained a canteen of water in six gulps and motioned for Lars to hand him another one. His coat smelled of sick and filth, pungent enough to gag on. “I must be looking pretty grim.” He drank so quickly that he choked on the water, wetting his cracked lips.

Liesel threw her arms around him, head burrowing against his chest to feel his hammering heart. “You look wonderful.”

He steadied himself against her, drawing a shaky breath. Then he vomited up all the water he’d just drank.

Friso was highly displeased with Lars and Cadrie. “I cannot believe you got him out without me.”

“We took a vote and you’re too loud, dummy,” Cadrie replied.

“The vote was unanimous,” Lars added. “All two of us.”

Friso tried to kick a rock at them but his foot slipped on the ice. “I’m not too loud! I am indispensable to this team. Juhl and I were on our way to bust him out of the Cavoul and rub your noses in it because you two kept going on and on about how breaking him out is impossible right now, it’s not a good time, blah blah blah, and here you back-stabbers are! Deliberately excluding me! Have you no shame?”

Gable smiled at Liesel. He probably still looked half-dead to everyone else, but to Liesel he was positively glowing. “You were going to bust me out? Why, Freckles! I’m touched.”

She was going to reply when Friso inserted bitterly, “Yeah, but you ruined everything.”

Gable rolled his eyes. “Aren’t you just happy I’m free?”

Friso frowned at him. “If you’d waited fifteen more minutes for a different rescuer, I’d be a lot happier. It’s not fair. I wanted to throw Juhl’s spell.” He grabbed the spell bottle from Liesel’s grip before she could protest and threw it without aiming. It sailed through a window into the music hall, where a late cello performance was still occurring. Seconds later, Liesel heard a tremendous crash followed by screaming.

“Scatter!” Friso hollered. The five of them bolted.

“Yeah, and you wonder why we can’t take you anywhere!” Cadrie yelled, panting and last in line. Her dress was too restrictive to permit free movement.

They didn’t stop running until they reached the belfry, Friso howling with laughter. “Wasps! Wish I could’ve seen their faces!”

Liesel glared at him. “You wasted my spell.” But she didn’t have time to concern herself with Friso, turning to Gable and nearly launching herself at him for another embrace before remembering his weakened state. He was putting on a good show of being fine, but he was breathing harder than the rest from the exertion of running. She guided him slightly away from the group, where they could speak privately. “Why were you arrested? What did they do to you?”

His face became slightly more recognizable with a genuine smile on it. “I did something stupid.”

She pursed her lips, waiting.

Gable dragged the toe of his boot in the snow, forming a silvery-blue crescent. “I was feeling a bit cocky after our … ” He glanced up at her through his eyelashes. Liesel’s heart skipped a beat. “On Christmas Eve, when you admitted that I rolled up red.”

Liesel reached for the red omen on her necklace. “What did you do?”

He rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment, looking away. “I was walking home—feeling pretty good, you know. I kind of … had a lot of restless energy. And, well.”

“Well?”

“There was a night watchman from First Street Jailhouse. Not doing anything, not looking at me, but he’s arrested me before. This man, Atalo Delis, once waterboarded Friso and Olivier for sneaking into the First Street Jailhouse because Friso wanted to see if the door to the Cavoul might also serve as a time-traveling gateway. I don’t know what came over me.”

Liesel’s eyes were wide. “What did you do?”

“Nothing!” he insisted. “Just a snowball. Stupid thing to arrest a person over. I thought he wouldn’t be able to see me because of the blizzard, you know. He was already covered in snow, anyway.”

She shook her head dismally. “Was it worth it?”

His chin jutted out. “Yes. I got him right in the throat. Friso’s going to be thrilled when he hears.”

Friso perked up, hearing his name. “What’re you saying about me over there?”

Liesel was still full of questions as Gable slung an arm around her for support, letting his head fall onto her shoulder. She felt him breathe deeply. “I wanted to get you out earlier but didn’t know how,” she whispered, feeling guilty that she’d waited so long to take action. “I thought about asking The Raaf Ring for help, but I doubted I’d be able to find them.”

“They’d say no. The Raaf Ring has a system. They don’t liberate someone until they’ve been locked up for at least a week.” He gestured to Lars. “He put up ten kings to bribe a watchman, and I was smuggled through the First Street Jail trap-door. Quickest way.”

Friso, who had roamed into eavesdropping range, gasped. “Zakari! You scoundrel! I know where you got those ten kings.” He patted his pockets, eyes narrowing accusingly when he discovered them empty. “This explains why you were so handsy last night. And here I thought I was simply irresistible.”

“You owe all of us money, anyway,” Lars shot back. “Better spent on Gable than what you would have done with it. More spells to make it rain trout, probably.”

Friso pouted. “If you’d let me and Juhl throw wasps into First Street Jailhouse, I could’ve gotten Gable out and kept my money. P.S. it wasn’t trout, it was moki, and I distinctly remember you appreciating my spell when it came dinnertime that night, you mean old stoop.”

Liesel tried to tune them out, focusing on Gable. He couldn’t stop coughing. “You need to see a doctor.”

He shook his head, unable to speak through the coughing fit.

“Why not?”

He cleared his throat twice, thumping his chest. “Right now I’m supposed to be in prison. The watchman Lars and Cadrie bribed promised he’d kill me if Delis caught me again. Doesn’t want to be found out himself, you see.” He shrugged. “I’ll be fine in a day or two.”

Liesel heard his stomach growl. “Come to Illuminate and I’ll fix you something to eat.” She didn’t know how to cook very well, as Misha always handled meals, but he was welcome to the last slice of bread on the cutting board and a molding wedge of cheese.

Instead of answering her, Gable addressed Friso. “I can’t go gateway exploring for a while. All of you out here trying to rescue me … you shouldn’t have done it. I don’t want you arrested.”

“We couldn’t leave you there,” Cadrie countered. “Another few days and you’d be a forced cannibal.”

Liesel shuddered.

Gable paused, acknowledging the truth of her words, but held firm. “At any rate, it’s probably not a good idea to be wandering the streets at night. After Olivier, and now Macall … we can’t be too cautious.”

Macall. So Cadrie and Lars had already told him. Liesel’s tongue curled around the word, casting for something consoling and helpful to say. Finally, she settled for taking his hand.

He licked his lips, gazing straight ahead. Friso, who had been in the process of trying to steal Lars’s wallet, stopped moving. His eyes clouded over at Macall’s name and he pushed away from his friends, suddenly angry.

Misha would have known what to say, if he’d been there. As the grim reaper of fortune-telling, he experienced loss vicariously on a daily basis. He could pull the right words out of his hat as deftly as one of Gable’s magic tricks.

Instead of finding food or going home to rest, Gable insisted they do one other thing first.

“Macall’s tribute,” he announced, leading them to Lars’s house to fetch five bottles of whiskey, a canister of gasoline, and some old newspaper.

They walked quietly, shoulder-to-shoulder, approaching the south-side train station. Friso held a bottle in one hand and his lighter in the other. His face was expressionless and his tone uncharacteristically dull. “Ready?”

Lars pulled Cadrie close. She leaned her head on his arm, as he was so tall that she couldn’t reach his shoulder.

Gable’s face was fixed and stony. “I’d rather destroy Runaway Rail Yard, but that would be a declaration of war. The station will have to do.”

“At least we can watch it burn from Bat’s Belfry,” Cadrie said darkly.

Liesel suddenly itched all over, uncomfortable. Her relatives belonged to the cabal that hit Macall with a train, and they all knew it. It was the reason why they were honoring Macall by burning the south-side station—it would hit The Graveyard Shift where it hurt, taking out one of the stations they used.

She knew she couldn’t be held responsible, and her cousins may have been innocent of any intentional wrongdoing, but the last thing she wanted was to be regarded suspiciously in another Bell death.

However, none of them seemed to hold her familial connections against her. They treated her like she was one of their own.

Friso stared at his lighter’s flame, mesmerized, as Cadrie passed out bits of newspaper. Liesel twisted hers, dripped gasoline over one end, and stuck the end tipped with gasoline into her bottle. They clinked their weapons together in a toast.

“I didn’t know her very well, but she was nice to me,” Liesel said softly.

Cadrie bumped a bottle against her thigh, alcohol swishing. “She came looking for us Bells on purpose. Wanted to get into some trouble. Wasn’t a witch, so that ruled out The Dolls. Didn’t like the look of those thieves on Arcane Way. She didn’t know about The Raaf Ring or The Graveyard Shift, and I think she wanted to piss off The Hanged Men. So that left us.”

“I took one look at her and said no,” Friso recalled dimly. His eyes were bloodshot.

“But Olivier said to give her a chance,” Lars added.

They were quiet. Cadrie proffered her bottle and the others followed suit. Friso dutifully lit the dry newspaper tips, which would act as fuses. His eyes met Liesel’s over the clicking lighter, the air surrounding her face instantly hot. “As one of our lights goes out, another goes up,” Friso said, the speech sounding rehearsed. “And that’s how we keep them alive.”

“As one,” Gable said. Liesel reeled her arm back and let the bottle go before it could explode in her hands. Five orange comets sailed through the night sky, most landing on the roof of the train station. When Liesel’s bottle rolled off, dead weeds bordering the building sprang up with fire. Cadrie chucked hers squarely through a window, and with a shriek of broken glass the station’s empty insides tore up in flames.

“Nice!” Friso roared. Liesel blinked at the damage they’d inflicted, not knowing whether she should be proud.

“How much coal residue do you think is in there?” Cadrie mused.

“Enough to blow the whole place up,” answered Gable.

They all considered this, unfazed. Macall’s death, to The Bells, justified the destruction of anything. The inferno would be visible from Runaway Rail Yard. Liesel searched the low-roofed entrance of Runaway for figures but saw none. Runaway’s structure was reminiscent of a mine, with a narrow, claustrophobic opening that descended into darkness. All she could distinguish were swinging lights through windows, lanterns battering in smokestacks that made her dizzy to look at and created twins of everything. She and The Bells were exposed and no one seemed to care, standing guard over their vandalism. Anyone could see the fire. Anyone could see them.

The Graveyard Shift would see the flames and know who they leapt for.

Liesel felt a chill descend over her body as she stood next to the young criminals, falling into alliance with them. When she threw her bottle, she wasn’t thinking of Macall but rather Gable, imprisoned for offending a watchman’s pride—Gable, who would have had to become a cannibal to survive if he’d stayed in the Cavoul a few days longer; Gable, who might have died over something petty, like he was worthless, like his life posed no value to the world simply because he posed no value to that single watchman. Liesel’s rage swelled with a deeper distrust of the world around her.

They stood in silence and watched the train station burn. Several vagrants came straggling over, attracted to the smoking skies. They rubbed their hands, grubby faces highlighted with scarlet.

“If it weren’t for you, I’d be the only girl Bell left,” Cadrie told Liesel in a lifeless voice. “Before Macall there was another come-and-go, like you. Rhoswen. Rhoswen ended up with The Knaves instead. Before Rhoswen, there was Kissa. I get to watch everyone leave … ”

In one swift move, Liesel had been pulled out of her orbit as an outsider and into their inner circle; not to replace Macall—that was impossible—but to help blot out the negative space where she was supposed to be. Liesel was choosing The Bells, a cabal comprised of the troubled, the poor, and the irresponsible. She was willfully choosing to live in the dark reality of today instead of the bright dream of tomorrow.

She didn’t recognize this new person who lived in her body, who didn’t want to keep her nose to the grindstone and work hard. She’d done nothing but work hard for years, with very little to show for it.

Liesel didn’t know exactly what she wanted anymore, which was an alien concept. Before The Bells broke into Illuminate, Liesel had known exactly what her ideal future looked like. What she wanted now was a blurry bungle of warring images: her contentment depended on more than a new shop, more than job security and a house and separate bedrooms for herself and her brother, something else. Something selfish and rooted in a shade of happiness that cleromancy couldn’t bring.

Liesel glanced at Gable. He had a way of reassuring her without moving or speaking, by simply being there with a magnetic presence that had grown on her until having him near became a gnawing need. Her fate was sealed as he offered the tiniest of smiles. I want to keep him.

Her fingers hadn’t memorized the new omens yet. She couldn’t tell their tones apart in her current emotional state, and the chain was too short for her to be able to look down and see them. This augmented her nervousness, and she found herself clutching Misha’s birthstone on her other necklace as Friso started to douse what was left of the wreckage in gasoline.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Six

[]

THE BONE DIVINER

 

When Inge Juhl was alive, she mended the family’s shoes. Dresden inherited this task along with all of his parents’ other ones after Orrick’s death and Inge’s disappearance, but had never quite gotten the hang of it. Ridley also tried his hand at repairing their shoes, but since Dresden had been allowed to give up without much deliberation, Ridley devoted even less time to his attempts.

It was deemed ordinary for boys to do a bad job of domestic work. When all of the household problems fell to Liesel’s shoulders and she found herself likewise bad at them, it simply wasn’t an acceptable excuse. She was a girl. She must do girls’ work.

On Tuesday, some of the shops were closed because it was New Year’s. Arcane Way shops couldn’t afford the luxury of closing when they’d just done so to celebrate Christmas, so Liesel found herself trying to jam tacks into Ridley’s putrid shoe leather between customers.

“Wish there was a cobbler around here,” she lamented, daring a glance at her brother.

Misha didn’t reply.

Liesel was hoping he’d suggest they take Ridley’s shoes to Dennison, the cobbler across the street. Dennison’s was a squat, dingy brown building fudged between The Seven Chakras and Lucid Dream, and even its exterior construction looked like a grimace. Dennison hated occultism and therefore hated his neighbors.

So far, she wasn’t having much luck getting Misha to agree with her. He expertly dodged all of her hints.

“You could at least help,” Liesel grunted, jumping as one of the tacks she was holding between her teeth dislodged and bit into her tongue.

Misha gave her an annoyed look. “I already do the cooking and the shopping. That not enough for you?”

“Be that way, then.” Liesel put the shoes under the table to give Annabel Green her weekly reading, then resumed her growling once Annabel was gone, head full of purple melancholic omens. “Dennison could have this repaired in two minutes.”

Misha couldn’t resist the bait. “Ridley and Dresden would be angry. You know they don’t want to pay people to do a job they think we can do ourselves.”

“What’s this ‘we’ business? Maybe Ridley should fix his own smelly shoes.”

“Do what you want,” Misha replied in a sing-song voice. “Don’t come complaining to me when Ridley and Dresden find the drawer shorted ten peons. You know they look at the customer ledger and match it up to profits. You’ll be in so much trouble.”

“Trouble. Pah! No one tells me what to do.”

Misha laughed. “Sure, and that’s why you’re sitting here waiting for me to tell you to go to Dennison’s.”

“So you think I should?” She sat up eagerly. “All right, you’ve convinced me. Let’s go.”

She tugged on his sleeve and Misha made himself deadweight. “Come with me, please. You know Dennison tries to cheat his customers.” She gave him a pointed look.

“What am I supposed to do?”

She tipped over his chair, dumping him to the floor. “Stand there and glare a lot so he won’t rip me off.”

“Why don’t you go? You’re glaring already.”

“Misha! Stop it with this whole getting-a-spine thing. You’re starting to make Dresden my favorite.” Liesel gripped one of his shoes and started pulling him across the floor.

“We’d have to close the shop,” he reminded her. “I know it would only be for a few minutes, but what if Dresden and Ridley came home?”

They stared each other down.

“That does not concern me,” Liesel sniffed. She was feeling deliciously foolhardy these days, bolstered by setting the train station on fire. It was fun to have a bit of nerve for once, to be a bit devil-may-care instead of stringently well-behaved and devoted to her work. Maybe one of these days she’d grab Misha and disappear to Bat’s Belfry for good.

“Sure, sure.”

She flipped her hair at him. Some of the strands got caught in her mouth. Spitting them out, she replied, “Come on. I took back one of my coppers from Ridley. He left it in his sock, the dimwit. We can run up to the bakehouse and I’ll let you smell whatever you want. You can even eat one of the dry little cookies that are always on sale.”

“We can’t afford to waste money on dry little cookies.”

“Of course we can!”

“Business has been terrible lately. We’re rarely all here working together. It used to be mainly just the two of us, and now it’s only me. You have no concept of money. Don’t try to make me feel bad about—”

Liesel held up a hand, cutting him off. “Never mind. Have it your way.”

Misha sprawled in a pathetic heap, one of his shoes still in his sister’s grasp. “Too late now. I’m already thinking about those cookies.”

Triumphant, she helped him to his feet and conjured a shiny coin from behind his ear. “Little trick I picked up from Gable.”

He patted his ears. “Look again. See if you can find any more back there.”

She grinned, tossed the coin high in the air, and slapped it onto the back of her hand. “Maybe we can haggle the baker into some discount cobbler.” She waggled her eyebrows. “Get it? Cobbler?”

Misha rolled his eyes.

She hugged Ridley’s shoes to her chest and almost pushed open the door when she saw a small piece of paper on the floor right in front of it, as though someone had slid it beneath the gap.

“What’s that?” Misha asked, peering over her shoulder.

It was a tarot card, illustrated with a young man hanging upside-down from the ceiling over the numeral XII. One of the painted man’s hands draped uselessly, fingers brushing the numeral, and his other squeezed his own throat. The eyes were clouded and staring.

The Hanged Man.

“Odd,” Liesel said.

“Maybe Gable left it.”

Liesel agreed that it did seem like the type of thing he’d do, skipping about town leaving tarot cards behind for the pure enjoyment of confusing people, but the significance of the card wasn’t lost on her. If she’d seen Charleston that morning, she would assume it was left by him. As it was, she’d only spotted Yeardley Kieve.

They set off out the door. They were on the cusp of crossing the street when Misha shook Liesel’s arm.

“What?”

He pointed behind them at a gap between the pawnbroker’s and Truman’s Exotic Birds where Cairn Park was visible.

Fog was thick on the ground, snow gusting in twirls up the base of an ancient oak tree. As the fog rolled, it distorted a large, dark mass hanging from one of the oak’s boughs. It swung like a pendulum, twisting tight a length of rope fastened high above. They probably wouldn’t have noticed the sight were it not for a cluster of journalists from the newspaper standing there, along with the coroner’s black wagon.

Liesel’s jaw dropped. “Is that—is that a person?”

They took off running.

The crowd was starting to disperse as they joined it, at the behest of the coroner. “Go home, all of you!” he cried. “Do not make this tragedy into a spectacle!”

Liesel stared at the body in horror, bloated and nightmarish.

Judging by their clothing, the person hanging upside-down from the oak tree was male, one of his hands in a frozen clutch around his throat while the other arm, swollen and blue with unnaturally dark veins, hung loose. His hair was stiff with ice, facial features grotesquely distorted. Someone had pried open his mouth and stuffed it with snow.

The coroner was using a metal instrument to extract a small scrap of paper from the dead man’s tight grip. It ripped in half when he finally tugged it free. Too curious to stay back, Liesel ducked between Robert Hills’s team of reporters and two disinterested patrols. She could only see one half of the paper, which, upon closer inspection, was a picture of a girl.

“Get back!” a patrol ordered.

Liesel lurked a moment longer, eyes widening as she recognized the girl, then allowed the crowd to jostle her to the back.

“Isaelia,” she told Misha. “It’s a picture of Isaelia Pohle.” And it had said, in big black letters stamped across her face, next.

“Identity confirmed,” one of the patrols said, examining a wallet retrieved from the man’s back pocket. “Foy Montego.”

Liesel and Misha gaped at each other, mouthing Foy’s name.

Her hand flew to her mouth. “Oh no. The card.”

Evidently Misha had made the connection the same time she did, as he dropped the tarot card that he’d been holding. It fell to the snow. They backed away several paces, then, meeting each other’s gazes, turned and fled.

Foy’s eyes haunted Liesel as she ran. They were wide open, pulled so that she could see the pink beneath his lids, eyelashes sticking to his skin as though glued there.

“What do we do?” Misha asked anxiously once they were back home. Liesel locked the front door for no clear reason, hands trembling. “Should we tell the patrols about the card?”

“We’d have to tell them where we found it,” Liesel replied. “They’d point fingers at The Graveyard Shift.”

“Good! We’ll finally get rid of them.”

“No, not good. The deed to Illuminate is in Dresden’s name. If he and Ridley go to jail, the house and all their assets become city property. Assuming Constable Carmen doesn’t lump us into the murder accusation as well, we’ll be homeless in a day.”

“Yes, but … ” He hesitated. “What if The Hanged Men did do this? Your friend Charleston?”

She kneaded her temples. “What if they didn’t? Can we live with pinning the blame on someone innocent?”

Even as she said it, and no matter how much she wanted to believe her words, Liesel didn’t see how this crime could have possibly been committed by anyone other than The Hanged Men. The overblown style was Charleston’s calling card. Soon enough the coroner would notice the tarot card in the snow, good as any confession, and everyone would suspect him. Whether patrols would take action against a Hanged Man, however, was anybody’s guess. It was reasonable to expect he would get away with it.

Late that night, hours after patrols visited the Pohles’ house to discover Isaelia missing, her bedroom door locked and her second-story window smashed, The Graveyard Shift brought their business home once more.

Liesel heard their murmurings as she was roused from sleep by the press of wind against glass. Wind was always stronger in Black Magic’s southwest, so it was no surprise when she gazed out her window to see that the house had moved to Fifth Street. Beyond, Sixth Street and Vasquez were quiet, but a storm rumbled at the roots of Win’s Gate. Bright green jets of lighting darted rapidly between the door’s curling wires, purple smoke singing off the stone arch. The storm was not a seasonal one, but one of magic. Such storms tended to gust up on full moons or at times of crisis, burning off high energy.

Liesel sucked in a breath as lightning illuminated a shadowy female creature, her skin absorbing an ethereal blue glimmer that echoed off the snow. Her black crown of braids was woven with white roses, and a long pearly cloak billowed behind her.

The ghost of Lady Win.

Liesel gasped, unable to tear her eyes from the scene. Lady Win let her dark fingers trail across the stones, lingering as though enchanting them somehow. She makes the stones whisper, Liesel thought in wonderment. Between blinks of lightning, the ghost vanished.

“No,” Liesel whispered, nose touching the windowpane. “Come back.”

She crept toward the door and inched it open a fraction, wanting to fly to Gable’s house and tell him she’d glimpsed a ghost, but the voices of Dresden, Ridley, and Hiram Pohle gathered downstairs stopped her cold.

“ … a call to war,” Ridley was saying.

With a glance at her brother, who was still fast asleep, Liesel slowly opened the door wider and tiptoed across the landing.

“ … boat found empty,” said Dresden. “Whoever took him knew his fishing routes. Silvain Gasque, one of Birch’s men, is a fisherman too.”

Liesel lowered herself down a few steps, peering through the banister rails. Ridley and Hiram were seated, Dresden positioned at the window. As he turned away from it, Liesel shrank further back into the shadows. His footsteps creaked. Sometimes Illuminate left bits of its stone foundation behind on Arcane Way when it traveled, and as a result the house stood slightly uneven. Tonight, the walls throbbed with nervous magic.

Hiram’s eyes were glazed over, trained on the divination table. Its lacquered surface was a giant swirl of purple and yellow, but the harsh glare of the lamp turned it white.

“The Bells have to be behind this,” Ridley insisted. “They think we hit that girl on purpose and they’re framing Birch for what they did to Foy.” He glanced at Hiram, an afterthought. “And Pohle’s sister.”

At the sound of something crackling, Dresden returned to the window. Liesel knew it was the magical storm brewing over Win’s Gate, but her cousin was paranoid, flinching at every noise. “It would make more sense. The Hanged Men have no quarrel with us.” Dresden peeked through the curtains, Adam’s apple bulging down his throat as he gazed out on the black street. “But that card speaks for itself.”

Liesel’s heart raced. Who had found it? The coroner? The patrols? The Graveyard Shift? Perhaps it was picked up by someone who didn’t pass it to authorities. It was a clear message, definitely meant for her cousins to find. She imagined them attacking Charleston as an act of revenge and began to sweat. Why did you have to let them know you did it, Charleston? she thought. Why invite their retaliation? This was bad. This was very, very bad.

“The only way to be sure of what happened,” Dresden said slowly, roaming back to the table, “is to see what Foy saw.”

Liesel was temporarily blocked from viewing Hiram’s face, but Ridley’s eyes grew huge with understanding at the same moment Dresden dropped something onto the table.

Hiram yelled, falling backward. He scrambled across the floor. “Is that—?” He ripped his fingers through his hair. “Christ!”

At first, Liesel didn’t know what it was. It was maybe two and a half inches long, a little brownish object dirtied at one end. Then she realized.

It was a finger.

Liesel clamped a hand over her mouth, holding back a shout.

Ridley examined the severed finger with a dispassionate air, one eyebrow cocked. “How did you get this?”

“With a knife.”

Dresden continued to circle them, silently waiting for Ridley to divine the finger. Ridley’s forehead scrunched. “There’s flesh on it.”

“Will that be a problem?”

“No,” he replied. “I’m just used to dealing with decomposed slivers that have been illegally exhumed months after death.”

Hiram scooted his chair closer, looking more than a little sickened. “What’re you doing?”

“Finding out who killed Foy,” Dresden explained.

As Ridley touched the finger, measuring it against his own and estimating the differences in the size of their fingernails, Liesel guessed what was happening in Ridley’s head, his body’s chemical reaction, the hallucination brought on by magic. She knew, from hearing about previous experiences, that when Ridley divined bones the images would swim blurrily from dark corners, revealed slowly and reluctantly. Ridley’s pupils pinned to nothing, dark brown stare engulfed by a scene only he could see.

“Whoever it is, you both know what this means,” Dresden said to Hiram. “Here’s your chance to leave, Pohle, if you’re afraid.” His eyes were a challenge, a lantern’s flame dancing in them. “I understand that your name’s been dragged through the press lately, with the train and all.”

Hiram looked small under Dresden’s flattening stare.

Ridley didn’t add to the discussion. He was oblivious of Hiram’s drumming hands, of the shadows Dresden cast as he circled the table and blocked Liesel’s view, and then he spoke in a dead, detached voice.

“I know who murdered him. You won’t be surprised. We’ve had this person on our list for a while.”

“Who?” Hiram demanded to know. “What about my sister? Did you see her, too?”

“Shh,” said Dresden warningly. His eyes snapped to the ceiling. In the space of time it took for his gaze to roam to the landing where Liesel hid, she stumbled backward, heart slamming painfully against her ribs. She disappeared into her bedroom, so overwhelmed with fear of being caught eavesdropping that she couldn’t tell if she was being too loud, and dove into bed.

Her eyes were large beneath her quilt, breathing ragged, sucking the blanket closer and closer to her mouth until she ran out of air.

Who? she begged to know. Which poor soul have they condemned to death?

Liesel couldn’t sleep. She lay awake for hours, sick with nerves, calmed only when she found a sheet of paper in Misha’s trunk and scribbled a message on it:

Stay hidden for a few days. Your name may be written in blood.

your friend L

She slid the message inside a bottle and dropped it from her window into the waiting arms of an Invisible child in Cairn Park. “One peon for the delivery,” she instructed the boy, tossing a coin. “Another peon next week for your discretion. Make sure you place this bottle in the hands of Charleston Birch-Robillard himself.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Seven

[]

ORANGE

 

“All cabal members are to be handcuffed on sight,” Gable read aloud from the newspaper. “Following the grisly murder of Yeardley Kieve, son of Commissioner Victor Kieve, groups of delinquent adolescents who subscribe to outlawed organizations will no longer be tolerated in Black Magic. Authorities are still hunting for Yeardley’s murderer and recovering”—he swallowed, making a face—“the missing pieces of his body.”

“Nothing at all about Foy,” Misha remarked.

Gable’s eyes were hard. “There wasn’t much about Macall, either, after the initial report. But Kieve gets a whole page. I’m not surprised they’re making cabal membership illegal. They don’t like us because people in groups are harder to take down. As individuals with no one to help us, we’re easy to pick off.”

“Anything about how he was killed?” Misha asked.

Liesel felt sick to her stomach. Her cousins had been out for the past two nights. When they came home yesterday morning, they were short-tempered and stayed only long enough to clear out the till and money box. When they came home early this morning, they were in much better moods, toting a ham bone for a nice soup and an expensive new gun. Their behavior was celebratory and raucous, Ridley responding to Liesel’s inquiries as to their whereabouts by shooting a hole through the wall.

It couldn’t be a coincidence that a Hanged Man was murdered shortly after her cousins learned the identity of Foy’s killer. She was in the horrendous situation where if she opened her mouth and told someone, at least two of the Juhls (more, if Normand and Carmen had the inclination) would end up in jail. Liesel and Misha would be out in the bitter, snowy cold warming their hands over coals with forty other Invisibles before sundown.

If she kept her mouth closed, it meant three murderers walked free.

“His head was bashed in with a brick,” Gable said. “Don’t know why they assume a cabal did this. Since when do we bash each other with bricks? They tied what was left of his body to a carousel horse in Villa de Luxe.”

What was left of his body.

Liesel stood to her feet so quickly that it startled the others, revulsion washing over her. Without a word she flew to the scullery, grabbed the soup bone, and hurled it outside.

“Hey!” Misha cried. “Why’d you do that? We need that for dinner!”

Liesel didn’t respond, running her fingers under the tap and gagging so hard she thought she might throw up. Gable lowered the newspaper, eyes fixed on her with a mix of bewilderment and something sharp, something that already guessed.

“What’re we going to eat now?” Misha complained.

Liesel couldn’t look at him. “I’ll go to the fishmonger’s later for some cod,” she muttered, wiping her hand so forcefully against her skirt to clean it of invisible remnants of Yeardley Kieve’s flesh and bone that it hurt. “We’ll put it on credit.”

He gave her a reproachful look. Both of them knew very well that they wouldn’t be able to pay their credit off, which meant they’d be blacklisted at another shop.

“Suppose I can’t wear stripes anymore,” Gable said. “Although if they’re looking for a reason to arrest Bells, they’ll fabricate evidence to fit their narrative. Hopefully we’re beneath their notice.”

“I’ll never stop putting up a fight,” declared Liesel, wound up and wondering if she was speaking too fast and too loud. Her hands were clammy. “Even if they take away every friend I have.”

“You’ll need that spitfire when we’re down in the Cavoul tempting allies so we don’t get eaten,” Gable replied.

“You know, I’ve given that some thought, and I don’t think Normand would send me to the Cavoul. He’ll want me somewhere more accessible where he can point and laugh.” She rattled her omens, one knee unable to stop bouncing. It kept hitting the table. “Maybe you and I will have adjoining cells. We can train rats to pass notes back and forth.”

She rubbed her omens between her palms and cast them upon the divination table. Mrs. Van Parys lurched in her seat, waiting to hear the results. She was wearing a jack-in-the-box hat today that kept catapulting a smiling clown out of her head every ten minutes. “Harmonious,” Liesel reported. “Congratulations.”

Van Parys rummaged in her pocket for more money. “Another one. I’ve got loads more mementos for you, so we should see a variety of emotions.”

“Try all you want to learn cleromancy, Mrs. Van Parys,” Liesel told her, “but you’ll never fool my loyal customers.” The reputation she’d established for herself with her clientele was the only accomplishment she was truly proud of, and the small bit of magic she was gifted with was her favorite part of herself. “I get customers in here all the time who lie about who their mementos belong to. Oh, this is my wife’s! No, it’s not. It belongs to your friend’s wife. And she doesn’t return your feelings, because she came to see me yesterday and she’s in love with her father-in-law.”

Gable wadded up the newspaper and threw it at Misha, who tossed it to Liesel. “I for one am feeling a bit orange about all this.” Gable swirled a finger at Liesel’s anxious omen.

“You should be,” Liesel replied. “You’ve broken into enough properties for most patrols to recognize your face.”

“They’d know my face, anyway. Got a lovely mug. You don’t forget a mug like this.”

Van Parys produced a pressed flower from her bag of mementos. It was black and crispy. “Here. Let’s see what you can shake of this.” She moved the moonstone in a half-circle.

Liesel rolled. “Romantic.”

Van Parys looked satisfied. “Just as I thought.”

“Did you? Because I lied.” She picked up the black omen and analyzed it. “This one’s strongly negative. Crispy Black Flower Person is not a fan.”

Van Parys’s smile soured fast. Misha laughed. Van Parys shot him a withering look and his laugh turned into a cough. He quickly decided to go dust the shelves.

The front door banged open and Cadrie waltzed inside. It wasn’t often that she came into the shop, and Liesel tried not to show her surprise because she had the peculiar impression that Cadrie was like a feral cat who would run away if someone paid her close enough attention. “Petrovich.”

“Yes?” he asked lazily.

She put her hands on her hips. Gable’s feet shot off the top of a stool, which he’d been using as a footrest, and he edged over to the door. Van Parys watched while pretending not to watch, suddenly deaf to all of Liesel’s loud questions about which memento she wanted to use next.

“Did you see the paper?” Cadrie asked through clenched teeth, eyes swerving to the back of Van Parys’s head every two seconds.

“I did. And then I read it.”

“All cabali are to be handcuffed and put on trial for inciting murder,” she replied as though he didn’t already know this. “Doesn’t matter which cabal they’re from. Doesn’t matter if they had nothing to do with Kieve or if they have alibis. No distinction between thieves, murderers, and trespassers; all of us tiled in together.”

“I know.”

“They’re starting to question family and friends of people suspected of having connections to cabals.”

“Then it’s a good thing most of us don’t have much family and friends.”

She glowered. “Gable.”

“I know.” He backed off, hands up. “I know, I know. What am I supposed to do about it?”

Cadrie jerked her chin at Illuminate as a whole, demonstrating that he wasn’t doing anything about it while shut up in a cleromancy shop.

“We need to lay low until all this passes,” Gable told her, leaning against the doorway and fiddling with the rusty metal hinge.

“Olivier would have wanted to do something.”

He gave her a sharp look. “That didn’t always work out well for him.”

They glared at each other for a while, Mrs. Van Parys completely ignoring Liesel by this point, and finally Cadrie sighed. “I don’t know what to do. Neither does Friso. It’s easier for you. You have … ” She was so tangibly uncomfortable about voicing these thoughts in front of the Juhls that Liesel tried to spiritedly engage Van Parys in conversation just to spare Cadrie from further mortification.

“So do you!” Gable almost cried. “I keep telling both of you—so does Lars—that you don’t have to sleep in the bell tower. If you’d swallow your pride—”

“It might be a bell tower, but it’s our bell tower,” she interrupted. “Sort of.”

“Bells, eh?” Van Parys piped up. “My condolences about Montego.”

“He’s not one of ours,” Cadrie said icily.

Van Parys must have already known this, but was testing the waters. “Mm. It’s a shame. He was only sixteen.”

Liesel blanched. “What? No, he wasn’t.”

“It’s true,” said Misha.

Liesel didn’t believe it. She’d always assumed Foy was at least Ridley’s age—twenty-four. He had a full mustache and a very elastic face. Learning that he was younger made her feel better about keeping her mouth shut, as though being younger gave his life more value. Yeardley killed a sixteen-year-old boy. Maybe he deserved what he got. It was an ugly new low for Liesel, rationalizing murder to keep her life from unraveling, to keep a roof over Misha’s head. If she didn’t have so much to lose and therefore didn’t have to delude herself, she would have sided with Yeardley instead. Foy Montego had been repulsive to her ever since she saw him attempt to shoot an innocent cat.

“Who do you think did it?” Van Parys continued slyly, still hemming and hawing inside her bag of mementos as if she actually cared about which one she wanted to use next. Liesel tried to peek inside the bag, but Van Parys shifted the mouth of it so that no one could see. “Raaf Ring? The lads running up and down our street, maybe?”

“The Raaf Ring boys are like gophers,” Liesel replied. “They live underground. I don’t think they come up for air long enough to kill anyone.”

“It wasn’t The Knaves,” Misha asserted confidently.

“I’ll tell you who’s gruesome,” Van Parys said. “The Dolls. Mr. Novak sold them a phial of cow’s blood and said it was the blood of some sister of a drowned girl The Dolls were trying to reanimate. It took a tremendously nasty turn. They resuscitated the girl, but instead of being able to talk, she could only moo like a cow. The Dolls turned poor Mr. Novak inside-out. He lived for a whole week like that until someone plucked out his liver.”

Liesel tapped her moonstone nervously against the tabletop. “Are we doing this or not? Come on, I’ve got other clients waiting.”

She definitely did not have other clients waiting, and Van Parys didn’t answer. “Everyone knows The Dolls buy the constables out,” she said airily. “Anything they need: deeds to houses, search warrants, falsified testimonies.”

“What would be their motivation to kill Yeardley or Foy?” Liesel couldn’t help inquiring.

“Maybe they didn’t pay.”

The Dolls were crafty witches. Their business model wasn’t buying and selling with money, but rather trading. They upheld their end of a bargain, and the other party was expected to do the same. If that other party tried to cheat them, they were asking to be hexed.

“They’re untouchable,” Misha shared. “They’ve already threatened to expose their client list if any patrols show up at their door for questioning or arrests. When your cabal’s headquarters is known by everybody, I suppose you’ve got to have leverage to protect yourself.”

“How do you know all this?” Liesel demanded. Misha smiled haughtily at her and went back to dusting a photograph of a decapitated man cradling his own head in his arm. Soon after, he began to whistle.

“I say it could’ve been them,” Van Parys went on. “Or those other people, even … the ones who’ve got their own train.”

Liesel and Misha instinctively glanced at each other and then swiftly away.

“Are you a spy, Mrs. Van Parys?” Cadrie asked abruptly. “For Kieve, perhaps?” Her shoulders were rigid, expression severe.

“Me?” Mrs. Van Parys pointed at herself, taken aback. “Of course not.”

“You speculate quite intently for someone who isn’t a spy.”

“She’s not a spy,” Liesel said uneasily. “Stop scaring my customers.” She turned back to Van Parys, hoping for another reading, but could see that it was out of the question. Van Parys snatched her bag and rose from the chair.

“Goodbye, Liesel,” she said stiffly. “Misha.”

Misha waved his cleaning rag. Right as Van Parys reached the door, the house began to groan and sigh. Seconds later, the view through the window no longer beheld Arcane Way. Instead, the people of Fifth Street glanced askance to see the fortune-telling shop taking up space between a mill and a second-hand hat store, Topper for a Copper. “Blast,” Van Parys muttered. “That’ll be a walk.” She set out down Fifth Street, marching with her head held high.

Gable rapped the divination table five times with his knuckles. “I’ll be back later.”

He and Cadrie disappeared out the door. Liesel’s gut twisted, halfway wishing she could go with them and halfway glad she had an excuse to stay.

 

Gable and Cadrie didn’t get far before they were waylaid by two watchmen. The patrols evaluated their striped clothing, one rubbing his chin in deep thought as he skimmed a calculating gaze over Cadrie. “I can deliver you to Commissioner Kieve for questioning,” he said, “or you and I can go somewhere with a little more privacy and enjoy a different sort of conversation.”

She jerked her arm out of his grasp. “I’d rather go to hell.”

He grabbed her shoulder, clenching more tightly than before. “As you wish.”

They were led to First Street Jailhouse, where Cadrie was deposited in a holding cell with fifteen other people in similar circumstances—poor, orphaned, and allegedly linked to cabals. Gable was taken to a small room in the back of the jail. It contained five milking stools that sat low to the ground, occupied by Ridley Juhl, Marquis Louque, Silvain Gasque, Lars, and Friso.

When Commissioner Kieve saw Gable, he pointed at Silvain Gasque, a Hanged Man. “Get out.”

Silvain hurriedly obeyed, passing Gable. The scent of blood wafted as the door closed behind him; he had chewed his fingernails until they bled.

“Sit,” Kieve commanded.

Gable took his time crossing to the vacant stool, using what little power he had to be an inconvenience. Friso was perched at the edge of his seat, drumming his fingers on the sides, dying to talk to him.

Gable carefully avoided eye contact, hoping that would lessen the chances of Friso opening his mouth and getting in trouble.

Kieve had evidently been in the middle of interrogating Ridley, which he resumed. He paced back and forth in front of him, tapping the forked end of a crowbar against his palm.

“You have absolutely no reasonable grounds to hold me here,” Ridley said in a bored voice. “I’m supposed to be cooking dinner for my family.”

“Your family can wait. Does the name ‘Strom Patak’ mean anything to you?”

Ridley looked up at him blankly. “What?”

Kieve’s cold eyes darkened. “Strom Patak, from The Raaf Ring.”

“Never heard of him.”

The silence stretched on and on, with only Kieve tapping the crowbar against his palm to puncture it. Slap, slap, slap. “And the name ‘Yeardley Kieve’?”

“Never heard of him.”

Kieve gestured to Gable. “What about this boy?”

Ridley threw Gable a sneer of disgust. “Don’t know him.”

Kieve watched him for a little while longer, then moved on to Lars. “What’s your name, boy?” he barked.

“Lars Zakari.”

“What can you tell me about Ridley Juhl?”

Lars stared back at him, quite at his leisure. “I’m sorry, sir. I don’t recognize that name.”

Something about Lars made the commissioner edgy. He didn’t want to get too close. “Hiroko Raaf? Fredek Dobrow?” Kieve studied Lars, the vertical stripes on his hat. “Are you cabali yourself, Mr. Zakari?”

“Cabali? Doesn’t ring any bells.”

A hush smothered the room, Kieve drawing it out to make them nervous. Gable and the others were a sea of the same face: all pleasantly inquisitive, all pretending not to know why they’d been summoned. Finally, Kieve said, “I am at a loss. Do you not despise each other? Are you not rivals? Make it easy on yourselves and confirm which among you belongs to a cabal. Tell me who murdered my son and I will protect you. I’ll reward your courage and duty to your empire with a silver queen.”

Friso smirked. “How generous.”

Kieve turned on him, nostrils flared. “You are Friso Weisz.”

“Why, yes I am,” Friso replied sunnily. “Have we met?”

Gable glanced worriedly at Lars, whose jaw had perceptibly tightened. He could almost hear Lars inwardly hollering at Friso to bite his tongue.

Kieve jumped right into business, hoping to catch him by surprise. “Do you know who Dresden Juhl is?”

“Sure, I do.”

Kieve froze in his tracks, neck snapping. “Is that right?”

“Sure.” Friso smiled, somehow finding a way to look dignified on the demeaning little stool. “He and I go way back.”

Ridley gaped at him with ill-concealed vehemence.

Kieve, however, was nothing short of delighted. “So you can confirm that he is involved with The Graveyard Shift.”

“Him? Oh, no.” Friso made a face to indicate that the possibility of such a thing was ludicrous. “Definitely not.”

Kieve’s temper returned. He moved to stand behind Ridley. “And this young man?”

“Ridley?” Friso exclaimed. “He’s afraid of commitment; he’d never join a cabal. It’s why we broke up. He said to me, ‘Now, Friso, I love you dearly but I am just not in a place in my life where I can be in a long-term relationship and satisfy all your needs.’”

“You are revolting,” Ridley snarled.

Friso grinned. “Miss you so much, sweetie.”

Ridley sprang from his stool, ready to attack. Friso’s grin grew bigger. “Shut up,” Kieve snapped, glaring from one to the other. “Sit down.” When Kieve wasn’t looking, Friso flashed a brilliant smile at Ridley and winked.

“So,” Kieve said, focusing on Ridley. “Still going to tell me you don’t know this boy?”

Ridley glowered at the floor, shoulders shaking. “No, sir.”

Relief flooded Gable. For a second he thought Ridley might break the code among Black Magic’s cabals. Even in the face of Friso’s taunting, Juhl held firm. They might beat each other in grubby alleyways with gaiety, but selling one another to patrols was a forbidden violation—the lowest thing you could do. There was no honor in it, and cabals always excommunicated members who ratted.

In spite of that, Gable would name Ridley as Yeardley’s killer in a heartbeat if he tried to out Friso as a Bell.

Kieve unexpectedly struck Friso across the left kneecap with a crowbar. He cried out, plunging forward with his hair in his eyes. Kieve addressed Gable. “Tell me Friso Weisz is cabali or I’ll hit him again.”

Gable and Friso locked eyes. You know what to do, Friso’s expression said, rising to the challenge.

“He’s not cabali,” Gable replied.

Kieve struck Friso’s right kneecap, but Friso didn’t yell this time. He absorbed it with a soundless full-body shudder. Kieve waited for Gable to change his mind. When he didn’t, Kieve hit Friso again. Friso’s chest heaved, mouth falling open with his chin jutting out, jaw locked. The veins in his throat bulged. Gable checked his horror, not allowing it to show. He chanced another glance at Lars, who was staring resolutely ahead with fire burning in his eyes.

Friso coughed, struggling to gasp out words. “I’m—I’m—”

“Yes?” Kieve prompted expectantly, tapping the crowbar against his palm.

Friso threw up. Vomit spilled across the cement floor, the acid stinging Gable’s nose. “I’m honored to be the first person you’ve ever hit,” he rasped. “Your touch is softer than Ridley’s make-up kisses.”

Lars’s face fell into his hands.

Kieve revolved and hit Marquis Louque for no discernible reason. Marquis shrieked in pain.

The door opened, preventing the frustrated commissioner from doing anything else. A greencoat stood there, eyes roaming from the mess of vomit to Marquis, who was trying not to cry. “Sir, we’ve found Birch. He’s in the holding cell.”

Kieve swung his crowbar toward Gable, bringing it around to indicate all the others as well. “Move. Get out of here.”

Gable and Lars immediately flew to Friso’s aid, helping him up from his chair. He shrugged them off and insisted on walking by himself. Kieve stormed ahead of them, sizing up the amount of detainees in the holding cell at the end of the hall. Gable noticed how everyone in the cell granted Cadrie a wide berth and wondered what she’d done to scare them away.

Charleston stood alone in the middle of the cell, utterly terrified, peeking left and right at the other detainees and looking pitifully out of place in a crisp suit.

Alonzo Meriwether jammed his hand through the iron bars of the cell to get Kieve’s attention, then rolled his eyes into the back of his head. Hannelore Skultety laughed in the corner, a rickety sound that chilled Gable’s blood.

As Lars opened the door to walk outside, a piano melody splashed through it into the jailhouse. Officials were still puzzling out where the sound originated. Whenever they combed a building, sure they’d pinpointed the source, the winds changed and suddenly the song would be coming from a different direction. Ghost music.

“You hear that?” Kitty Fluet asked, tapping her toe to the beat. She whistled along to the song, “Harmony Club Waltz”, and the other inmates did the same.

“Shut your mouths or I’ll throw you all down there,” Kieve threatened, dropping his eyes to the floor. Below, Gable could almost feel the infestation of people writhing in the Cavoul. Their screams slithered upward, numbed by the thick cement separating them but not snuffed out entirely. Those screams had made sleeping nearly impossible during his multiple incarcerations, and sometimes the memory of them still kept him awake at night. “Maybe I’ll do it anyway, just to make my life easier. None of you have any respect for the law.”

“Of course we don’t!” Fluet cried. “What’s the law ever done for us?” In a synchronized gesture, she and all of her enemies dragged their left thumbs across their bottom lips.

“Arrogant, self-entitled maggots,” Kieve spat. His complexion burned crimson. “Do you realize how worthless you are? You’re a waste of government resources. You cripple our tourism economy, rob our citizens, destroy every life you touch—including your own—and force the brave law enforcement officers of this city to work too hard, preventing them from being home with their families while they clean up your messes. You spread poisonous ideas and crime to younger generations, tempting them to follow your paths that lead nowhere. You regularly commit arson. None of you will ever be anything.”

“We’re more than you,” Friso shot back.

Kieve didn’t hear him. Outside of the interrogation room, Friso had turned invisible to the commissioner once more—unwanted and ignored.

Gable, Lars, and Friso lingered outside the jailhouse, waiting for Cadrie’s interrogation to be over. Gable heard the teenagers trapped in jail whistling to “Harmony Club Waltz”, loud enough that Kieve would have no choice but to listen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Eight

[]

CABAL CONNECTIONS

 

On Sunday, the sixth of January, Liesel was the only Juhl to be found in Illuminate. Ridley and Dresden hadn’t bothered to give any excuses for going out, and Misha was next door at Winkel Shop painting occultist symbols on regular playing cards in exchange for ten pounds of flour.

Liesel let her omens clatter from one palm to the other, pouring them back and forth. The movement of omens and their rainfall of tones, constantly touching skin, didn’t soothe her. They didn’t paint a layer of detachment between Liesel and her worries like they usually did. Change was everywhere in the wind these days, blowing from all directions. She could taste it, could feel the world pulse orange with anxiety.

Cadrie sat on the countertop, hugging her knees, and Lars stood ramrod-straight against the wall, so still that Liesel often forgot he was there. Friso buzzed from the back door to the front door, denying accusations that he was doing so. Gable was the only Bell seated normally. He surveyed his friends with a smug air of I do this all the time.

“I don’t like this,” Friso said. He was supposed to be working, but had convinced one of his coworkers to trade shifts because he hated the idea of The Bells planning anything without him.

“Well, I don’t feel safe out there right now with the green team permanently taking up residence on every sidewalk,” Cadrie said, jerking her head at the snowy street beyond Illuminate. “And Lars’s house is a sinkhole.”

“Hey,” Lars said defensively. “You didn’t think it was such a sinkhole last night when you didn’t want to freeze to death.” He thought for a moment and added, “Mr. Finch.”

“It’s a useful sinkhole,” she allowed. “But it might fall apart if five people tried to fit inside all at once. And if anyone’s Mr. Finch, it’s you. You’ve even got the same hat.”

“Shut up, finches,” Friso interrupted, picking at the loose threads of his black-and-gold-striped trousers. Gable had offered him a more low-key set of clothes, but Friso told him he’d rather go to jail than borrow something from Gable’s boring wardrobe. “I’m trying to remember what I was going to say. Liesel, you haven’t seen Charleston lately, right? You used to see him regularly, right?”

“Not since Christmas Eve,” she replied sadly. “He doesn’t have a reason to come by anymore.” She missed Charleston’s midnight visits, his poetic declarations of love for Macall. Liesel admired his courage to follow his heart, so certain of himself and what he wanted. She’d hoped their friendship was durable enough that he’d visit her even without wanting to have his fortune told, but apparently the friendship was stronger on her end than on his.

“Right,” Friso plowed on. “I was at Ruiseal’s yesterday, and I noticed there was a light on in Sur La Lune, up on the thirteenth floor where that veritable hemorrhoid Birch lives. Got me thinking that if we sneak ourselves up there, Liesel can talk sense into him, make him confess to killing Foy and whatever it is he’s done to Isaelia, since her body hasn’t been found. It’s got to be him. Who else would leave that specific tarot card?”

“He won’t confess,” Cadrie groaned.

Friso ignored her. “If he confesses, maybe Yeardley Kieve’s killer will put this to rest. Cabali will leave each other alone, patrols will leave everybody alone, and boom! The madness dies. We go back to exploring.”

Gable didn’t look directly at Liesel, but she sensed him testing the air around her, feeling out her reaction. He’d undoubtedly deduced from her behavior that The Graveyard Shift killed Yeardley, but hadn’t shared this with his friends. She thought she knew why: He was concerned it would blemish The Bells’ opinions of Liesel. It might even renew their suspicions that The Graveyard Shift killed Olivier.

They probably assumed The Graveyard Shift killed Yeardley anyway, as they had the most motive, but she was grateful for Gable’s silence, and touched that their acceptance of her mattered so much to him.

“Sur La Lune doesn’t have any rooms on the thirteenth floor,” Gable pointed out. “It’s unlucky. They use it for storage.”

 “But Friso’s right, the thirteenth floor is where Charleston’s bedroom is,” Cadrie confirmed, biting down hard on her thumb and staring at the opposite wall. “He renovated it himself. You walk through a bunch of plastic sheets hanging from the ceiling and the door to his bedroom is hidden behind a moving cabinet.”

“How do you know that?” Friso asked sharply.

“Macall told me.”

Friso, Lars, and Gable all grimaced.

“She’d be horrified if she knew what he was doing,” Cadrie said quietly. “I always knew Charleston was crazy. I told her to stop messing around with him.”

“I hate what he’s doing,” said Lars. “Dragging her memory into some personal fantasy of being a gangster. He’s using her death as an excuse to behave like a lunatic.”

“She died and he thinks it’s for him,” Cadrie spat. “So that he can play soldier and have his war.”

“If anyone should avenge Macall,” Friso cut in with mounting fury, “it’s us. Birch has no right to mourn! He was nothing but her plaything—he didn’t really know her.”

“It’s because we knew her that we won’t avenge her,” Gable said. “She’d be the first person to say this whole ordeal is stupid.”

He’s not playing soldier, Liesel thought defensively. He’s just having an emotional breakdown. He needs help. She was about to voice this when the door slammed open.

Inspector Humphrey Normand stood in the doorway, dark and heavy-lidded eyes roving intensely over the five of them. He peeled his gloves off and tossed them aside onto the divination table, making Liesel and Gable flinch.

“I need to speak with Miss Juhl,” he announced, a tremor running from his lip to his temple as he turned at the waist to survey every inch of the postcard selection. “Alone.”

Liesel tensed. “If you want to speak to me, you can speak to me in front of my friends.”

Normand snapped his fingers twice near his ear, irritated. “Out,” he said shortly to The Bells. “Now.”

“This is my shop,” Liesel persisted. “You can’t tell anyone to leave.”

“This is my city, and oh yes, I can.”

Cadrie, extremely leery of authority figures and Normand in particular, seemed to shrink into the wallpaper as she skulked along the wall closer to the door. She slipped outside and shot off as fast as she could. Normand watched her through the window, thumbing his nose. “Hmm.”

Lars and Friso looked to Gable for direction on what their next moves should be.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Gable informed Inspector Normand, gazing insolently at him.

Normand studied him. “You’re the Petrovich boy,” he mused, half-smiling and pointing vaguely. “Yes, I remember you now. Your father blows glass on Ninth Street. I do believe he’s on the list of people to monitor for disloyalty to the emperor. Before he did glasswork, your father ran his own newspaper. Propagated some interesting ideas, if memory serves. Liberal ideas.”

Gable’s expression didn’t change, but his fury was unmistakable.

“Had to put him in the military to straighten him out,” Normand went on, appraising Gable’s painted soldier’s jacket. “You look like you’d be right at home in the military. How old are you?”

Gable didn’t answer.

“I don’t like to repeat myself.”

“I don’t think anybody likes you to repeat yourself.”

Young men in Black Magic were required to report their eighteenth birthdays to the War Office for mandatory training and a twelve-month deployment. Dresden had tried to worm out of his obligation, to no avail, and Ridley had positively cherished his time in the army. Would’ve permanently joined the regiment if they’d deemed him physically fit enough.

Judging by Gable’s defiant scowl, he had already turned eighteen and must have decided his time was too valuable to be frittered away in a uniform.

“Just go,” Liesel told him, trying to sound nonchalant. “I’d like to see what kind of insults this dingbat can possibly rehash.” She cupped her hands around her mouth and whispered loudly, “Not very imaginative, you know.”

“Test my patience and I’ll start a more methodical examination of your shop,” Normand warned. “I see at least three city codes being broken from where I stand.”

“I haven’t seen you in days, and this is how you say hello?” She gave Gable a sidelong look but he was paying attention to Friso, who used his hand gestures to communicate something behind Normand’s back.

“I’ll be back in ten minutes,” Gable announced, jumping to his feet. He thumped Normand on the shoulder blade on his way out, so forcefully that Normand had to catch himself before he stumbled. Normand’s flaky skin flushed with anger, but it was too late to do anything about it. Gable, Lars, and Friso had already emptied out the door. Liesel saw that they went right instead of left.

Winkel Shop. They were warning Misha not to come home.

The way Normand looked at Liesel made the hairs on the back of her neck curl. It was the same look he’d always given her aunt—sneering, disgusted, but with undercurrents of something far more unsettling. She cursed her sharp tongue into oblivion for taunting him, always trying to convince herself and The Bells she was witty and daring. Trying to impress them. Liesel was defenseless, vulnerable, and poverty-stricken—exactly the type of undesirable citizen that patrols were famous for getting rid of—and she’d purposefully crawled under his skin.

I have had it up to here with your big, dumb mouth, she thought.

“Not such a smartass with your friends gone,” Normand began softly, circling her table with his hands clasped behind his back. Liesel glared daggers at him, not moving, not speaking. He walked behind her and she heard his footsteps stop. Seconds later, cold fingers felt their way down her shoulders. They rested at her collarbone, slightly digging.

Her breath hitched.

“I have some questions for you,” he resumed, “about purported cabal connections within these walls.” His voice was prepubescent, cracking and reedy. It whistled through his teeth, blowing the gold medallions on Liesel’s headdress. A chill vibrated down her spine, hurting so badly that her back bowed.

“Isn’t that what regular patrols are for?”

“Lower ranks are questioning people, too … ” His cold finger slid upward to tuck under her chin. His fingernails were short, but he pressed hard, the nub of his finger searching for a pressure point. Liesel’s eyes widened, and she became a statue.

“I think your family has been awfully busy with illegal practices,” he said. “Would you happen to know anything about that?”

All of Liesel’s senses were excruciatingly heightened. “No.”

“If you lie to me, I’ll have you mutilated by dogs. We keep a pack of them just out of town. And we feed them, yes, but not enough. They are always just a little bit starving … ” His finger searched beneath her jaw, stopping when it found her pulse. She felt her heartbeat jumping against him, trying desperately to get away. His tactics were cheap and uninspired, using physical harassment to intimidate her mentally.

“My cousins and I keep to ourselves,” she heard herself say. “We’re like any other business. We spend all day working, trying to make an honest living.”

“Honest.” He chuckled darkly, twisting strands of hair at the nape of her neck that had fallen out of her chignon. “I wouldn’t call your living honest. Or you. If your family spends all day working, then why aren’t they here?”

“They’re out looking for customers,” she replied quickly. “Winter’s our slowest season. People don’t want to come all the way over here in the snow, so we go to them.”

“Home visits? Must be a new policy.”

“It is.”

“Right here,” he murmured, finger cutting into her pulse. The back of her chair was warm; he was pressing himself against it. “The barest prick and you’d be dead in seconds.” He smothered his nose in her hair, inhaling deeply. “Your aunt smelled like oranges. You smell like something metal buried in the dirt. Maybe a casket.”

Liesel closed her eyes, forcing her body not to shudder.

She wanted to be plucky and valiant, show him he couldn’t bully her, but knew that would ultimately end with her in jail and Misha running Illuminate alone. She bit back every contemptuous thought that entered her head, also biting her tongue. Hot blood steeped in her mouth, making her want to gag. If she coughed, she would spit blood all over Normand’s fingers.

She swallowed it.

He abruptly let go, circling her table again. Liesel flew up against the wall, clutching her throat. Normand didn’t acknowledge her movements, still addressing the chair.

He stopped walking, eyes trained on the ceiling. He looked inebriated. “This house crawls with cabali activity. And you know it.”

Her insides turned to ice. Normand had seen her with The Bells, of course. She wasn’t officially a Bell, or at least she didn’t think she was, but she was in their company often enough to draw reasonable suspicion.

“We’ve done nothing wrong,” she finally said. “Yet you are always harassing us. It’s not our fault you went and got your magic blown up. All the jealousy and punishment in the world won’t bring it back.” She instantly regretted saying this, ramming her mouth shut. But it was too late to take the words back, too late to be sorry. She was so used to regarding herself as better than him, writing him off as a moronic tyrant, that she often forgot he was a moronic tyrant with the power to ruin her life if he so wished.

It looked, for a minute, as though he was going to charge at her. Liesel’s body tensed for fight or flight—which one, she didn’t know—but Normand swallowed whatever he was about to say. “I’ll come back,” he promised stiffly. “Next time, it won’t be for you. It’ll be for Misha. Charges for Knaves don’t come lightly these days.”

“My brother isn’t a Knave,” she replied hotly.

He laughed. “Oh, Miss Juhl.” His voice was soft. “You naïve, stupid little girl. How much you seem to miss even when you profess to be psychic.” He paused at the door. “You don’t want to antagonize me, thinking yourself so clever, thinking me a fool. And I can promise that you do not want to underestimate me.” He chose not to explain himself any further, leaving her in stunned silence.

Gable and his friends poured inside the second he was gone, followed soon after by Misha.

“Everyone out,” Liesel growled. “I need a minute with my brother.”

“What for?” Misha asked sheepishly.

Her glare hardened. She crossed her arms over her chest and didn’t respond.

“Err … we’ll be next door.” Gable hooked a thumb at Winkel Shop, backtracking out of the store. Lars and Friso followed suit.

Misha eyed water spots on the floor, lips pursed. Liesel knew, just by looking at him, that it was true.

“The Knaves of Arcane,” she said with a dreadfully insincere smile. “Nice, Misha. Nice choice. After putting up with Dresden and Ridley’s awful treatment of us for years, keeping our heads down because we don’t want to be like them”—she gestured outside, where two beggar children were imploring Mr. Clough for peons—“it’s all for nothing because you’re going to end up in jail. You know how this goes. We’ve watched it happen to everyone else. They take away your opportunities. They keep you poor and they keep you hopeless. They make it so that you have no choice but to resort to crime to get by, and when you’re at your most desperate they lock you in a tomb underground.”

Misha hung his head. “Being a Knave isn’t all bad. They’re all right, really. The Talbots are kind of dense, but Sidney’s hilarious and I think you’d get along with Rhoswen.”

She gave him a frigid look.

“Hannelore likes me a lot,” he added feebly. “It’s better than what I had before, which was no friends at all. All I had was this place.” He gestured furiously at the walls and ceiling.

Liesel’s frown softened. “We won’t be living here forever. I promise.”

“How’re we going to leave?” His voice was higher than he meant for it to be, cracking off the ends of his words. “I don’t see how we’ll ever get out of here. I’ll have to tell fortunes until I die because it’s the only trade I’ve ever been allowed to learn. I’ve tried getting a job at a bakehouse and they wouldn’t give me one because they were afraid of my last name—”

“You tried to leave without me?” Liesel gasped.

“No! I tried getting another job.” He was frustrated to the point of tears, which only amplified his frustration. He despised being an easy crier. “Without any savings, we’ll be stuck in this house forever.”

“Running with those goblins isn’t the way out,” she retorted.

He picked up a crystal ball, debated throwing it, and put it back down. It wobbled precariously before stabilizing. “You’re such a hypocrite! You run with The Bells, and they’re a cabal. Dresden and Ridley have their purpose with The Graveyard Shift. Why should I be any different? Do you think I don’t want friends, too? Do you think I don’t want anywhere to go? You leave me here by myself.”

“Don’t compare The Knaves to The Bells. The Bells might be delusional myth-hunters, but they’re harmless.”

“So are The Knaves!” he shot back. “Don’t talk about them like you know anything about them. Whatever you’ve heard, they only pickpocket rich people. They’re like Robin Hood.”

“Do you hear yourself?” she yelled. Mrs. Van Parys could probably hear her next door. “Misha, have you forgotten about Constable Carmen?” Fear crept into her tone, overriding anger. “He’d love an excuse to arrest you, so please don’t give him one. Patrols don’t take The Bells seriously, but they definitely feel different about The Knaves of Arcane. I don’t want you thrown in the Cavoul.”

“I haven’t stolen anything,” Misha insisted. “Initiations are only on full moons, so I’m not a full-fledged member yet.”

“I thought you wanted to further your education. I thought that’s what you wanted. Right? University?”

“I can’t get that!” He wiped tears from his face with angry motions. “It is how it is. I don’t have the funds to go to school. Even if I did, Ridley and Dresden would take it all. That’s why I joined up with The Knaves! This way I can finally get some money. This way we can do what we’ve always talked about doing and open up a shop of our own.” He kicked the divination table but missed, knocking over the chair instead. “I’m done. Everything is over for me, and I didn’t get a say in how the rest of my life is going to play out.”

“Yes, you do,” she said. “You’ll have more. Somehow I will pull the money together. I’ll get it the right way, in a way that won’t make us Carmen’s next targets.”

“You know why you can say that?” He took a step closer, towering over her. “You know how you can have any kind of hope at all? Because you do what makes you happy. You like telling fortunes. You’re content right where you’re at. On the days you’re not, you have somewhere else to go. Other people to talk to. So don’t give me your holier than thou lectures. Who are you to take that same happiness away from me?”

A woman entered the shop, bells jingling. “Hi,” she said, jarring the atmosphere. Neither Misha nor Liesel turned to look at her, locked in a dead heat. “My name’s Anne Kerns. I think my best friend’s keeping secrets from me and I’d like to talk to the fortune-teller who does emotions.”

“How ‘bout you talk to Misha instead?” Liesel suggested, stalking over to the door. “He knows all about keeping secrets from best friends.”

She left, and her anger didn’t abate for hours. While standing in Bat’s Belfry with The Bells, she ranted that she’d better not find Misha’s bed empty when she went home. Some time later, Gable gently reminded her that her own bed was currently empty.

“I have to go,” she said, stomping down the tower’s stairs. He called out something but she didn’t stop to listen. She stomped all the way to Castelo, where she found the bakehouse black and silent.

A month ago she never would have contemplated breaking in. But now, emotionally drained, she felt a little bit careless, a little bit like she wanted to push back at the world and prove it couldn’t crush her. Inspector Normand was probably going to find a reason to lock up her family anyway, member by member, so why should she care about the law? Why should she obey patrols who only served their own interests and regarded the lower class like they were subhuman?

But seventeen years of being cautious, of straining to glimpse silver linings from the bow of a sinking ship, of craving a normal life for herself and her brother free from bullies who didn’t want to see her succeed, did not go away easily. As she hesitated, she spied a glimmer of metal on the pavement.

A queen.

Liesel felt a rush of cold along her skin, eyes darting through the darkness. It could be one of Constable Carmen’s tricks, baiting children to take lost change unlawfully theirs.

“Wring it,” she said, and seized the queen.

To her surprise, and to the prickling of her conscience, the door was unlocked. Trusting.

She left the queen on the counter and took an apple turnover, worth only two peons, stone-cold in its crumple of wax paper. She told herself breaking in didn’t matter since she technically wasn’t stealing. Surely the baker wouldn’t mind when he saw the queen. He probably wouldn’t notice the missing turnover, wouldn’t guess what had happened. And she was paying a higher price, so Liesel was basically doing them a favor, taking this single apple turnover that probably would have been thrown out in the morning.

Probably.

Head throbbing, Liesel returned home and found Misha sleeping in his bed. He was facing the wall, a precaution in case she’d come in to check on him while he was still awake, so that he wouldn’t have to look at her. She wondered how long he’d waited like that, staring determinedly at the wall, tears splattering his pillow, desperately hoping she would enter the room so that he would have the opportunity to ignore her.

Liesel placed the turnover on his nightstand and sank onto her mattress, feeling unbearably sick with herself because a good sister never would have left. A good sister would have known he was a Knave, would have been present enough to prevent him from ever becoming one. It was her fault that he felt compelled to seek out friends in seedy places.

They’d always been enough for each other until suddenly they weren’t.

And hadn’t she been just as careless as Misha, disobeying the law after haranguing him for doing the same? She could have been caught sneaking into the bakehouse and sentenced to death by Cavoul, and he’d never know what happened to her, forever wondering why his sister never came home.

If arrested tonight, her thoughtlessness might have abandoned him to the coldness of Ridley and Dresden, who would have no problem watching through the window as he lost himself to The Knaves, to Carmen; shifting from troubled youngster to adult felon with no trust for a judicial system that had no interest in giving him a second chance. Misha’s bright future forfeited, Liesel rotting in a cell over a pastry, and all he would have to remember his sister by was a sermon undermined by her hypocrisy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Nine

[]

WITCH HUNT

 

The sun was unusually bright the next morning, glaring off what was left of the melting snow and blinding Liesel. She stood at the window and observed Gable’s familiar shape running up the road, cutting across an alley to avoid a patrol and emerging with dark spots on his shoulders. Shirts and trousers frozen to clothing lines between alleys dropped icicles on him, making his path slippery. Patrols of all ranks were everywhere.

Liesel held her breath, expecting him to be stopped as patrols were halting all passersby for questioning. It was by some miracle that he wove through the thin crowd without notice; anticipation made her stomach clench as she waited for one of them to cuff Gable’s arm, but they never did. Townspeople out doing the morning shopping were a hazy blur, their sounds watery in Liesel’s ears, as she threw open the door and let Gable tumble inside. She quickly locked it behind him.

“This is not good,” he mumbled, sliding past her. He went straight to the scullery and poured himself a cup of weak, sugarless tea, then sat down at the divination table.

Liesel seated herself opposite, alarmed by his behavior. It wasn’t even seven yet and it appeared that he’d already had a rough morning. How was it that Gable always seemed to fill a short amount of time with a lot of action? Liesel was barely awake. She imagined to herself that he never slept, simply went on new adventures whenever he left her at night. “What’s not good?”

He was already disconnected from the conversation, glancing from ceiling to wall to her forehead, not quite meeting her eyes. “How are you?”

“Concerned. What’s not good?”

Gable’s knee kept jumping, knuckles rapping the table in a rhythm of five beats, then falling still, then five more beats.  “Right.” He slammed his cup, wiping tea off his mouth with one sleeve. Liesel’s eyes zeroed in on his left hand, still convulsing. “Oh, I wish Friso were here. He’s at work and I can’t find Cadrie … she sometimes gets lost on the circus grounds when she’s feeling gloomy … ”

“What’s not good?” Liesel repeated, a mite frustrated now.

“What? Oh. Yes.” Gable abruptly stood up. Liesel, who didn’t know what to make of this, stood up too. “Yeardley Kieve’s glasses have shown up on his father’s doorstep, covered in fresh blood. Not Yeardley’s.” Liesel placed her hands on his shoulders to keep him still. Her touch had a mild sedative effect. Gable stopped worrying a thumbnail between his teeth, eyes clearing until they focused on her at last.

“It sent Commissioner Kieve over the edge,” Gable finished. “They’ve made twenty arrests this morning. Anyone who’s brought in on the slightest suspicion of being involved with Yeardley’s murder may be publicly executed by firing squad. It’s a rumor, but I don’t know.”

Liesel clutched the collar of her blouse. “Are you serious?”

“And it goes for any cabals at all. You know Desmond Twill, one of The Hanged Men?” Liesel nodded, even though she had no idea who Desmond was. “Gone. I heard a greencoat telling Mrs. Twill to shut up about her son’s disappearance or she’d be next. They’re scraping the streets for cabali and taking them in for questioning, but some of the people being questioned have stopped coming back out.”

“The Cavoul?”

“Probably. They’re detaining Knaves and Hanged Men alike. We Bells are hardly a cabal in the traditional sense, but I doubt Kieve cares enough to differentiate.”

Her hands trailed from his shoulders down his arms, gripping them tight. “You shouldn’t have come here. You should have stayed home.”

“I’m on my way to Mascarada for rehearsal,” he explained.

“Forget rehearsal! What if someone finds out who you are, that you’re a Bell? You could be shot. Atalo Delis might see you and realize you’re not in the Cavoul anymore.”

“I don’t have anything else,” he contended weakly. “If I don’t show up today, the cast will think something’s happened to me. And I’m sure Delis has arrested so many people between Christmas and today that he’s forgotten all about me.” Liesel wanted to argue, but he didn’t let her speak. “No one’s safe. Not in a hotel. Not on a train. Not in the sewers. The Dolls have the best odds, but it’s hard to tell. Kieve’s frightened. There’s nothing more dangerous than someone who’s jittery and terrified and has weapons at his disposal and no other power to check him.”

Liesel drifted to the window. Mrs. Van Parys was across the street with Mr. Clough, hunched next to the giant ceramic hand. When they caught Liesel staring, they retreated inside The Seven Chakras.

“What should I do?” she asked without turning, hearing him approaching behind her.

“You still got that curtain rod?”

She nodded.

“Keep it handy. If the time comes when you should run, don’t be brave. Attack if you have to. Run if you can.”

He swept her cheek lightly with the backs of his knuckles. Liesel sprang back, knocking into the wall.

He stared in surprise. “I was going to … kiss you? If that’s all right?”

“Oh.” Liesel felt stupid. She was still jumpy from Normand’s visit, skin prickling where he’d touched her. “Sure, then.”

Gable laughed, drawing back so that he could view her in full. “‘Sure’ is not quite what I was looking for.” He smiled wistfully. It was tricky to notice the less conventional parts of Gable when he was smiling—the lingering kielbasa smell, the baggy coat, the distended scar that ran behind his ear to show where a prisoner in the Cavoul had once bashed his head in. His hair was windswept and somewhat dirty: not because it had to be, but because he felt he owed it to Lars, Cadrie, and Friso to be almost as unkempt as they were. “I’ll come back to collect when I can be sure my mouth will be sufficiently appreciated.”

“That’s probably for the best. I just ate some Brussels sprouts and trust me, you don’t want your tongue in there. I don’t even want my tongue in there.”

He gave her a swift peck on the cheek, distracted again by the view through the window. One of his hands was at work in his pocket, rummaging through the Prophetic Prints she’d given him.

He showed her his cards. “Pick one.”

She scanned the cards’ illustrations: a dead rabbit with stones over its eyes, a teapot with a human arm sticking out of the spout, and a woman in black who held a cloth over her face so that no one could see her. It reminded Liesel of Uncle Orrick saying that people weren’t supposed to have their picture taken if they were in mourning. They had to hide their faces from cameras so that spirits of the deceased couldn’t travel through the camera lens to possess them.

Before she could pick a card, there was a thundering on the stairs and she revolved to see Misha coming down, apologizing vociferously for being late while simultaneously yelling at Liesel for not waking him.

A blast of wintry air bit the backs of her arms and legs. She whirled to face Gable, but he was already gone. She grumbled to herself while flipping the sign from go away to well, don’t just stand there.

“Who was that?” Misha asked.

“First customer. You chased him off.”

Misha pressed his face to the window, smashing his features from left to right. “Then why do I see Gable sitting on a bench outside the barber’s? Got a newspaper up his nose, like that makes him invisible or something.”

“For heaven’s sakes.” Liesel yanked the door back open. “You!” she hollered across the street. A small figure on a bench outside the barber’s, which was next door to The Seven Chakras, lowered his newspaper. He pointed questioningly at himself. “Go home!”

“Mascarada!” the figure yelled back. “Ten minutes!” He tapped a broken fob watch, then waved his arms in a flurry of gestures that meant nothing. Liesel shut the door on him.

“Where’d he get that paper so fast?” she wondered to her brother, who was about to slink away. Before he could do anything about it, she pounced on him with a hug. “I’m sorry about all that stuff I said,” she told his shoulder. “I was much too hard on you. I never know the right thing to say.” She smoothed his hair, the ends perpetually uneven.

He shrugged. “It’s okay. You were only saying the same things Aunt Inge would’ve said.”

“Yes, but I’m not Aunt Inge. I think I was mostly hurt because I didn’t think we had any secrets from each other. It caught me by surprise.” Guilt flashed across Misha’s face. “And you’re right about me being a hypocrite. I wouldn’t be messing with The Bells at all if it weren’t for the fact that Gable is so abominably pretty. He grows on me daily. Like a fungus.”

“I want to hear you say that you’re a hypocrite again.” Misha closed his eyes. “Nice and slow, so I can relish.”

She mussed his hair to disguise the toothed ends, grinning. “I’m physically perfect, you see, so it’s only fair that I be given loads of invisible flaws.” Then she pulled him close, using her pretend serious voice that always made him laugh. “I love you, Misha Mikkel.”

He ducked away, mumbling a quick “I love you too.” Liesel bit her lip.

“Say the word, and I’ll be done with The Bells. Gable too. You matter more to me than anyone else in this ugly world. It’s you and me always.”

He gave her a glowing smile. “You and me.” He watched her walk behind the counter. “And I know you mean that, but I’d never tell you to leave them. They’re your friends. We deserve a little room for friends.”

As Liesel unlocked the money box, bracing herself to find its contents emptier than she left them the night before, there was a knock at the door. “That’s for you,” she said without looking up.

“If it is, then I’m dead.”

Her eyes jumped to him at the note of panic in his voice. Then she followed his gaze to the door, where the blurry, frosted features of Inspector Normand waited outside. His top hat made him appear taller, one long silhouette that seemed to slither even when immobile.

“Shit.”

“I have to hide the money,” Misha whispered. “Normand may take me to jail, but he’s not taking everything we have.”

“He’ll take you to jail with my finger in his eye socket. You’re not going anywhere.”

The doorknob twisted but met resistance. Liesel couldn’t remember locking the door after Gable left, and didn’t know how it had gotten that way. She tossed the money box into Misha’s open hands. He stole upstairs as Liesel took her time heading to the door. Normand didn’t knock again. He knew he didn’t need to.

When she opened it, she subtly checked the barber’s and saw that the bench was empty. A newspaper tumbled along the sidewalk, puddles of ice water blotting all the pages black.

“Good morning, Miss Juhl.”

Good morring, Miss Juhr.

She mentally commanded Misha to stay upstairs. Keeping the door as closed as possible and using her body as a barricade, she beamed at him. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Normand stepped back and gestured to two men outfitted in green uniforms, shunted off to the left so that she wouldn’t notice them right away. They each had two blue stars on their caps. Sergeants.

“I am here to give you notice that your business is to be shut down,” one of the sergeants said carelessly.

“On what grounds?” Liesel demanded.

Normand replied this time, savoring the pleasure of it. “Fraud.”

“Fraud?” She heard the stairs rumbling again—Misha coming back down—and she cringed, closing her eyes for a moment. She tried shutting the door more, pressing it into her ribs, but it was useless. Normand could easily see right over her head.

“Ahh. Misha.”

He pushed Liesel aside with one arm, removing his hat. In the deep hollow of his hat, Liesel saw a flash of white—the card of a woman with a cloth over her face.

Liesel’s cheeks colored. Here was Gable, facing either the Cavoul or a firing squad for his lifestyle choices, and he still felt compelled to pull little stunts like this. Normand replaced the hat to his head without observing what was inside.

Liesel tried to step in his way, but Normand continued to knock her aside. Go upstairs, she thought as hard and loud as she could, praying Misha would hear it. Climb out the window.

Instead, Misha stepped forward. He had a cocky body language that certainly wasn’t his own—perhaps he was borrowing it from Craven and Hugo. “There are no frauds here.”

Liesel had heard this before.

There are no frauds here.” It had been when she was around eight or nine years old, and a real gypsy woman came to Illuminate. The gypsy didn’t like Orrick and his family impersonating gypsy culture, and said she was going to report them to the commissioner for fraud. But patrols ended up arresting the gypsy for unknown reasons.

Liesel was surprised Misha remembered. Or maybe he didn’t remember, and it was a coincidence. Liesel was finding it increasingly difficult to pay attention to the scene playing out before her even though she knew how important it was to be alert to her surroundings. When Liesel was afraid, she had the tendency to disappear inside herself.

“There was a woman who came here yesterday,” Normand went on, and the gypsy’s face again flashed in Liesel’s mind. “Apparently, she was given a prognosis for her mortality that does not match the one given to her by a doctor.”

“Miracles happen every day,” Liesel cut in. “Hallelujah. We’re not frauds.”

Normand’s eyes were riveted on Misha. Liesel didn’t like the way Misha was looking back at him. Clearly, Misha knew what Normand was talking about.

He also knew that he was trapped.

“Anne Kerns,” Normand continued at length, truly enjoying himself as he toured their shop and smirked at ornaments falsely advertised as occultist artifacts. “Anne Kerns, did you know, isn’t her real name?” He smiled, skipping a few beats to let that sink in. “Her name is actually Seraphine Rome. She is dying of consumption.”

Misha’s mouth dropped open. He quickly rammed it shut, fingers splaying at his sides. Liesel’s heart lurched, knowing her brother’s fretful tells and wishing there was something she could do to protect him.

“So you can see how it would be interesting, to say the least, to hear from a fortune-teller that she isn’t going to die for another thirty-eight years.” He twisted to the side, regarding Misha keenly. “Do you know what kind of financial penalty comes with fraud, Mr. Juhl?”

Mr. Juhr.

“Juhl,” Liesel corrected irritably.

Normand’s eyes fixed on her. “That’s what I said,” he replied, tone serrated.

She glared at him and he turned back to address Misha. “But the fines are nothing compared to the jail sentence. You’re looking at five years minimum.”

“That’s ridiculous—” Liesel began, but Misha had already beaten her to it.

“I know she’s going to die in February,” he revealed earnestly. “I saw that, I knew that—but she didn’t give any signs like she knew she had a terminal illness. I didn’t want to … ” He trailed off, staring at his hands. His fingers couldn’t release from their spread-and-locked positions unless he concentrated on them.

“It was a mercy reading,” Liesel supplied, stepping between Misha and Normand. “Sometimes we’ll have customers who are going to die very soon, so we give them good news. It’s the only way to make sure their last few days won’t be miserable. If we told them the truth, it could be catastrophic for everyone.”

“So this is a common occurrence, this fraud?” Normand responded. “Your confession will certainly speed things along. On top of these charges of fraudulence, we also have cabal activity within the premises.”

“No, we don’t,” both Juhls answered at once.

Normand grabbed Liesel’s arm and spun her so that he could breathe directly down the collar of her dress. “Liars.”

Misha made a small noise of revulsion, staring hatefully at the inspector. The two assisting sergeants strode forward to remind everyone of their presence, and to caution Misha against trying anything dangerous.

“You set us up,” Liesel growled.

“I did my job.” She twisted against him, but he was much stronger and kept her rooted to the spot. “According to the law, each household must supply the Chief Inspector with a spare key to their front door so that I may randomly inspect whenever necessary. The lock on your front door does not match the key in our registry. That is yet another law you have broken.” He waved a hand. “No matter, as your lock is faulty. I visited three nights ago, looking for proof that you have no psychic abilities. No one here. Faulty lock. So very unwise. Would you like to know what I found in your home?”

Her mind instantly flashed to the soup bone that might have been Yeardley Kieve’s flesh. Did she miss something? Had her cousins brought home other body parts as well?

His breath was moist and disgusting on her neck. She realized that he smelled like oranges. Her skin contracted as she pictured him trawling through her aunt’s tiny glass bottles kept in a steamer trunk at the foot of Misha’s bed. The orange tree where Inge’s signature fragrance originated was now dead, its withered stalk still potted in one corner.

With his other hand, Normand showed them a triangular gold pin. “Recognize this?”

Liesel glanced fearfully up at Misha, hoping he wouldn’t but knowing he would. Misha was staring at the pin like it was the most terrifying thing he’d ever seen.

“Hand-forged by Hugo Talbot,” Normand answered softly, so pleased to divulge this final damning piece of evidence that his grip on Liesel loosened. She oiled her way out of his grasp and Misha reflexively reached for her, tugging her behind his back. Liesel stared at him in surprise, then tugged him behind her back. “One of their fake medals of honor. Every Tier One Knave wears a triangle.”

Liesel felt Misha’s strong, sure pulse, his wrist running alongside hers with their fingers joined. Guilty or innocent, they were united. Whatever end Misha met, Liesel would follow him there.

Normand’s grin was obscene. “Which means you’re going to come with me down to visit Victor Kieve, and he’s going to put a bullet through your—”

There was a crack!—an applause of shattering glass—followed by a sound that was a cross between a thump and an exhale. Inspector Normand staggered forward, smacking his head against the counter before splitting his lip open on the floor. Blood dripped from his mouth, running along cracks in the tiles until it reached Liesel’s shoe.

A magic card resting close to Normand’s ear shimmered, sucking backward into nonbeing. It left a small, dark hole behind in the inspector’s head.

The sergeants turned, batons drawn, and another crack! crack! split the air, louder than the previous shot. Liesel screamed; Misha hollered unintelligibly, trying to push his sister out of the way. The sergeants fell down dead, one of them knocking Misha into the wall and smearing his clothes with hot blood.

Illuminate’s display window was gone, except for a fringe of broken glass clinging to the edges. Friso Weisz stood on the other side, eyes narrowed vindictively, pointing Lars’s smoking gun at the place where a man’s head had just been.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty

[]

DEAD MAN

 

Mrs. Van Parys came running out of her shop as soon as she heard gunshots. “Help!” she shrieked, arms waving. “Help!”

Men in green stood outside the dairy at the far end of the road, smoking cigarettes with faces blotchy from the chill. One of them turned on his heel as he saw her approach on swift feet. “What?” he asked lazily. A northern accent clipped his voice, and his cap was studded with the gold yew leaf that distinguished Majiel constables. Imported patrols.

“Gunshots,” she rasped, hands wringing. “Right next door to me at Illuminate. Didn’t you hear them?”

“Illuminate?” repeated the constable to his colleague, troubled. The other patrol’s cap had no pins or badges, only a red brim to indicate he was a peace officer, Majiel’s version of watchmen. “Isn’t that where the inspector … ?”

He swatted Van Parys out of the way with his baton and they bolted, Van Parys trailing behind.

“Look!” The peace officer pointed at the pulverized front window, still puffing on his cigarette to keep it aglow. Van Parys caught up with them, although they didn’t notice her, eager to peer inside Illuminate now that she was properly guarded.

Dead bodies and blood on the walls were easily visible from outside. The constable fingered his gun belt to make sure his weapon was there. “Oh, hell.”

They kicked the front door in just as Dresden and Ridley Juhl descended the stairs from their apartment above. They stopped when they were two steps short of the bottom, taking in the scene with enormous eyes.

“I don’t know anything about this!” Dresden started to sputter, but the constable cut him off, brandishing his gun. It was nothing to quiver at: a derivative, generic pistol owned by any common crook and rarely used because of its reputation for failing to discharge.

“Don’t move!” the constable commanded.

“He shot him,” the peace officer cried, ogling Normand. “He killed Black Magic’s Chief Inspector.” He raised his gaze to Dresden, dumbfounded. “You’re dead. You’re a dead man.”

Dresden held up his arms in surrender, movements slow. “I didn’t shoot anybody. I don’t know how—”

“Be silent.”

Ridley’s eyes roved around the room, settling on the broken window. Van Parys, still watching from the sidewalk, shrank to hide on the side of the building for a moment before curiosity got the better of her and she chanced another peek.

“Come down here,” the peace officer commanded. “Show us your hands.”

So quickly that there wasn’t enough time to react, Ridley grabbed a pistol from the waistband of his pants and shot three times. The constable fired his gun at Ridley; but the constable had been shot, too, and as he dropped to his knees his lowered aim struck Ridley’s leg rather than his chest. The house, panicking at the violence, groaned as it blinked and shifted to its twin address on Fifth Street.

Van Parys caught what happened next in snatches, as the house dissolved in and out of being as it tunneled between Arcane and Fifth to escape bullets: The Juhl brothers tore out of the shop, Ridley shooting behind him for good measure, and neither of the patrols stirred from where they lay strewn over three already-dead men.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-One

[]

BLACK MAGIC BURNING

 

Liesel learned that when Gable was sitting on the bench outside the barber’s and saw Inspector Normand approach Illuminate with armed sergeants, he’d raced as fast as he could to the factory where Friso worked. “Illuminate,” he’d burst to Friso as soon as he found him, pulling him aside so that products bumped down the assembly line and piled up in a belching, unsupervised mess of soap flakes. “Normand’s there.”

There hadn’t been need for more explanation than that. Everyone in Liesel’s family was involved with a cabal. Cabali were being rounded up. Friso ran off, his boss hollering at him that he would be “Fired this time, and I mean it”, and Gable went to find Lars and Cadrie.

What Gable hadn’t known was that Friso was still carrying Lars’s gun. He’d assumed Friso would wait in Cairn Park for Gable to find him again, and then they would come up with a plan of action.

“I’m not the planning type,” Friso said later. “I’m more into the action part, as you can see. Besides, I think subconsciously you knew exactly what I was going to do.”

“We’re going to die,” Lars said presently, head in his hands. From that angle, Liesel could see a scar that cracked his scalp in half. Hair didn’t grow over the seamed skin.

“What was I supposed to do?” Friso shot back. “You guys weren’t there. You didn’t see how—he was like this.” He put Liesel in a headlock that she wrestled out of.

“Friso!” she yelled.

“I was just trying to illustrate what Normand was doing!”

Cadrie whacked him upside the head, which Friso tried to avoid by falling off his chair.

“We’re not questioning the necessity,” Gable said, lowering his voice so that Mr. Clough wouldn’t overhear. Liesel and Misha were staying with David Clough, Misha’s friend, for the time being. Gable had originally tried to persuade them to stay at his house, but Liesel thought it would be too conspicuous there. Surely Mr. Petrovich’s house would be searched at some point in the near future, due to Gable and his association with The Bells. The last thing they wanted to do was put Gable’s father in danger.

They all hushed up, staring at the storeroom door. Walter Clough wasn’t happy about harboring the fugitives. He only let them stay because David begged him, citing that Misha would be killed otherwise. Mr. Clough didn’t care for Liesel, but everyone liked Misha.

“Walter doesn’t want us here,” Liesel told the others. “And this is not ideal.” She gestured at the cramped closet they’d been stuffed into. Every time footsteps sounded outside the door, Friso jumped a foot off his seat and wielded Lars’s gun.

“This is bad,” Gable whispered worriedly. “Can’t stay here. Can’t go home.”

“Not a problem for those of us without homes,” Cadrie replied, digging dirt out from under her fingernails with the tip of a knife.

Friso waved a hand to indicate that his response was the same, scribbling in a blue leather notebook he kept in his pocket.  Liesel observed that the soles of his shoes were slathered with mud. It wasn’t muddy outside, but he’d somehow managed to find some. She thought he must go out of his way to be filthy. “We’re Bells, love,” he reminded Cadrie. “Our homes are made of stronger stuff than bricks and furniture, cheap things that can be burned and destroyed.”

Liesel was about to speak but was interrupted by the sound of gunshots. Arcane Way had been erupting with gunshots all morning long. Patrols were so scared they would be killed next that they were now preemptively killing or threatening to kill others.

“It doesn’t feel right to hide and do nothing,” Liesel said. Sitting still since witnessing Normand’s murder at close range was becoming problematic. She repeated the refrain ‘at least he didn’t have a family’ frequently to herself, as though his life were less valuable because he was alone. It shouldn’t have brought her any solace for what happened to him, but it did. She wished she could hush her conscience and not be sorry for him at all. She reminded herself of all the ways in which Humphrey Normand was terrible, preferring to believe he deserved what he got, but nothing helped. The guilt ate at her whenever her brain was given an unoccupied moment to slide away into darker thoughts. And what had the sergeants done to deserve death? They’d only been performing their jobs. “If I have to sit here for another second, I’m going to lose it.”

Gable touched her hand, his skin frozen. The shop’s heat refused to sieve into the closet and they were all growing stiff and cold.

Gable’s lips were a blue stain. “We’ll have to leave.”

“We’ll have to leave,” the other Bells simultaneously echoed.

Misha shook his head. “How can we go? Don’t you hear that?” He reached across Cadrie to point at the wall. “People are getting shot out there!” To emphasize his point, another bullet exploded from a gun beyond the wall.

“Yeah, and none of the right ones, either,” said Lars. “That’s the whole reason we have no right to be hiding out.”

The other Bells were in agreement. “It’s cowardice,” Gable concluded, chewing on his hangnail in the same way Cadrie habitually did. He gazed significantly at Liesel. “So is this it? Are you ready to leave?”

“I’ll take you to the cathedral on Braushaum where you’ll be safe,” Liesel told Misha in reply to Gable’s question. “I don’t know what we’re going to do, but I want to help.”

Misha gaped at her in disbelief.

“While you’re doing that, we’ll go on up,” Gable decided.

“Up where?”

“Under the stairs there, I think, we have enough … ” He cocked his head, ticking off numbers on his fingers. “Yes, we’ll have enough for one person.”

“Ammunition?” Friso guessed, looking at him in a mildly curious way.

“Wonder who that’ll be,” Cadrie said dryly. Liesel didn’t understand what they were talking about. She didn’t like the idea of The Bells going anywhere without her, but she refused to take Misha along and risk his safety. He was a Knave. The bullseye on his back was bigger than anyone else’s. Surely patrols wouldn’t open fire in a house of worship, so that was Misha’s best bet.

“Wait,” Misha said. They were already on their feet, pushing for the door. “What use am I if I’m stuck in a church?”

“Loads,” answered Liesel. “I like you best when you’re alive.”

“You can’t come with us, Knave,” Lars said matter-of-factly, opening the door. “You’re not seeing our war chest.” Walter Clough was counting coins behind his counter, bushy eyebrows raised over a pair of glasses. His mouth moved silently and rapidly as he counted to himself, then he noticed movement and turned his attention to them.

“What are you doing?” His gaze dove into the street, hand slamming air as he signaled for them to get back in the storeroom. “Move before someone sees you!”

No one listened to him. David made identical sweeping gestures at Misha to retreat, but Misha was too busy glowering at Lars.

“Listen,” he said, angry and insulted, “I’m not just Liesel’s little brother, you know. You can’t tell me what to do.”

Lars looked down at him. “As far as Bell business goes, I most certainly can tell you what to do.”

“I’m not a Bell.”

“Precisely.”

Liesel dragged Misha outside before he could argue further, yanking her hat lower over her forehead and making sure none of the strands of her bun could escape. Friso had stolen clothes for them that would hopefully keep them from being recognized, but this was risky because the nature of their clothing was inherently noticeable. They all wore expensive menswear pilfered from a big manor on East Second. Not only was Liesel presenting herself as a boy, she was presenting herself as a rich boy with a preference for velour smoking jackets.

“Meet us at the bell tower,” Gable yelled to Liesel before splitting down an alley with Lars, Friso, and Cadrie.

Liesel nodded, then took one look at the street before her and froze.

The crossfire was worse than it sounded from behind the wall of a closet. Patrols were turning people out of shops all along Arcane Way, shoving them into a crowd that ran along the center of the road. One watchman collected their personal weapons in a tray. Others were subjecting households to invasive searches. Those who lived closest to Illuminate received the most questions.

The early January cold chafed Liesel’s cheeks. Patrols muddied the air with strongly negative and uncertainty, raring to use the weapons they’d been holstering in peacetime for years. Those newest to the badge were jumpier, and therefore more likely to shoot without thinking.

Liesel forced Misha along, squeezing his wrist harder than intended because she’d lost sensation in her fingers. The brim of her hat kept stabbing his neck. She looked up at him and all she could see were the shadows his hat cut into his face, making his features harsh and angular.

“Stop!” a voice hollered. Both of them stopped mid-stride, then ran for it. They didn’t need to, however, because the watchman was hollering at Rhoswen Van Boxtel, a Knave of Arcane.

“be quiet!” someone roared. “By order of Black Magic’s Constable for Impoverished Districts! You must do your national duty and respect your officials. We don’t want to shoot you but we will if we have to!” A bullet fired, ricocheting off Winkel Shop and into an upper window of Illuminate.

A horse tethered to a coach branded city property: criminals whinnied and stood on its hind legs, pawing at the air. When it dropped back to the ground, it crushed the foot of a woman who jumped out of the coach to run away, her wrists broken and bleeding from contorting them to get the handcuffs off.

Daisy Leifson rose over the horde, someone lifting her up on their shoulders so that she could climb onto the roof of Lucid Dream. “Are we going to let them continue to silence us?” she shrieked, and a rallying chorus released deafening shouts. “Are we going to let them take away the people we love?” Cries rang out again. Daisy pointed a gun at the sky, holding it awkwardly as though she’d never touched one before, and squeezed her eyes shut as she fired it. “I say we remind our authorities who they work for!”

A dark boy with a shaved, bristly head appeared at the forefront, producing a knife from his shoe. He fixed his eyes on a slovenly old drunkard who was trying to yank Daisy’s dress up above her knees.

“Sidney!” Misha called to the boy without thinking.

Liesel yanked on her brother’s arm. “Let’s go!”

Misha couldn’t move. They watched helplessly as people milled around them, panicked bodies pressing together in their agitation to escape. Sidney Patak broke the crowd easily with his girth and made toward the drunkard. An observing watchman saw his knife, buffeted aggressively in a tide of bodies with no control over his direction. Over heads, shoulders, and faces disfigured with terror, Liesel saw him raise a stick.

A hand reached out, baton fisted in it, and the baton connected with the temple of Sidney’s head. Liesel screamed again, her throat raw from the force of it.

Sidney crumpled to the ground, dead before he hit the ground. Misha released a pained wail that was the worst sound Liesel had ever heard, his hand lashing for Sidney as if he could prevent him from falling, prevent him from something that had already happened. Someone tried to attack the watchman from behind; the watchman stabbed him with Sidney’s knife but was quickly knocked down by two more attackers who snapped his arm bones in half.

“Let’s go!” Liesel pleaded desperately. In her mind’s eye, she saw Misha at the other end of the baton, Misha’s body folding in on itself in a lifeless heap. “Please!”

The noise on Arcane Way exploded, dozens of exhausted protesters now invigorated by the sudden injustice, and Misha didn’t seem to hear her.

“You son of a bitch!” Hugo Talbot screamed, writhing against his handcuffs. Blood trailed out of a gash on his crown, the backs of his legs marked with coal dust. A constable had him pinned against a black wagon, ready to be hauled off to First Street with the other protesters. This, at least, was a positive sign. They were going to the Cavoul instead of the town hall and immediate death.

Hugo threw himself to the ground, blood gushing out of one ear. “I will kill you!”

Several more shots fired, so loud that Liesel and Misha both sank into crouches with their fingers plugging their ears. When the commotion settled, they stood up and saw that Hugo was gone. Rhoswen was gone. So was Sidney’s body. Patrols stared in confusion, not knowing where The Knaves had vanished.

Then, there was a quieter disturbance—duller than a gunshot, but growing louder and louder. Its strange clangs sounded like someone was crying out Now! Now!—the iron resonance devouring Arcane Way.

Bat’s Belfry was tolling.

 

Everyone stopped what they were doing, listening to the heavy bell peal.

Lars was the only one in the belfry. Gable, Cadrie, and Friso were in the sea serpent clock, watching the masses spill over into the luxury district. Friso stood at the helm, pointing his index finger like a revolver. Wherever his finger landed, Cadrie took a shot. She had the best aim of any of them, and they didn’t have enough ammunition to supply bullets for three guns. Friso, however, was the best at blocking out distractions and selecting the next target rapidly. Cadrie could shoot the eye out of a crow, but she was indecisive. There wasn’t a hesitant bone in Friso’s body. Together they were the perfect weapon.

Friso’s mouth turned down grimly at the corners, one eye squinting as he pointed and feigned shooting, pointed and feigned shooting. Their intent was to help, not to hurt. Cadrie blew the wheels off coaches transporting prisoners destined for the Cavoul. Most of Friso’s chosen targets were government-issued vehicles. If patrols didn’t have coaches to cart away citizens, then those citizens might have a fighting chance at getting away. The street was alive with the searing heat of bullets and a collective reverberation as people dove to avoid them.

“We are not killers,” Gable mumbled. “We are messengers. We are not killers.”

He grabbed a gun that was resting casually against his shoulder and took aim, eardrums throbbing from Cadrie’s impeccable shots. Gritty hair hung in his eyes, rendering his vision unreliable. He chewed over his options, discriminating victims, a single silver bullet bit between his teeth. Scanning the crowd, he loaded the gun and waited.

“We are messengers,” he continued mumbling. “We are not killers.”

Friso pointed at a caravan of white coaches with red wheels, which rocked from side to side to indicate that someone within was giving a constable hell. “There.”

Cadrie shot.

He rotated ninety degrees and pointed at a green-clad man strangling a woman. “Ankle.”

The man dropped instantly, gripping his foot in agony. The woman he’d been strangling filched a gun from his belt and ran off.

Boom.

Friso and Cadrie jumped at the blast, having not expected for Gable’s gun to go off. Half a second later, Commissioner Kieve faltered backward from the force of a blow. Liesel and Misha ran past Kieve, who had a hole pierced right through his hat: a circle so perfect that a patch of drab gray sky was visible through it.

Kieve took off his hat and gawked. The hole still breathed balmy gunpowder fumes. Boom. He made a movement that sounded like a wet gulp, arm jerking back. When he could stand upright again, he looked down and saw that his silver commissioner’s badge had a dent in it, a mutilated shield that prevented a bullet from driving into his chest. Gable’s eyes lifted to darting shadows upon Toscani Sweetshop’s roof.

Craven Talbot had done it. His missed shot wasn’t a portent of warning, like Gable’s, but rather compromised aim due to anger.

“This is our street!” Alonzo Meriwether screamed, concealed from view. “This is ours, this is ours, this is ours!”

 

As the sun swooped lower in the sky, darkness chased people into whatever buildings they could enter, while the ones looking for trouble only got more riled up. They were inspired by darkness, convinced of their invincibility now that they were more difficult to see.

The riots moved from Arcane Way to Meridian, merging down Della Torre onto Castelo and Lapis in a hemorrhage of men, women, and horses. They all thought they were being led by The Knaves of Arcane, but The Knaves weren’t there. Every single one of them, including Misha, had vanished into thin air.

Charleston watched the tiny, faraway lights of exploding gunpowder and swinging lanterns from his hotel room. From this height, the Strait of Espello looked like a string of gleaming Tahitian pearls. Or perhaps it was a noose, cutting off the circulation between St. Noire and Black Magic.

His eyes were wide and wandering, tinged red to match his snarled hair. He backed away from the window, far enough that his reflection would take precedence over the scene outside. His brain was strangely calm but his heartbeat erratic, his resting state a panic attack.

It was too surreal.

Charleston’s fingertips played against each other. “I didn’t mean for any of this to happen,” he whispered.

“This hotel doesn’t have enough floors to hide you,” he thought he heard someone say. He whipped around.

The room was empty.

He moved toward a sheet of plastic nailed to the ceiling, ducking into the portion of his apartment that was perpetually undergoing renovations. The square of space was dim and yellowish from the glare of faded plastic partitions, containing nothing but a bare mattress on the floor, a black-and-white miniature of Macall Kozma, and a pocket-sized, red leather case that resembled a small book.

The photograph of Macall stared up at him. Her shading was too dark, and she regrettably wasn’t smiling. Do you know this girl? Commissioner Kieve inwardly asked him on a loop.

Denying he knew her had stolen at least ten years from his life.

Charleston wearily unsnapped the red case and removed a deck of cards from inside, then laid them out. His stomach slithered and flared like a den of snakes as he saw which ones continued to crop up even though he’d thrown them away many times over. 

He’d tried to read the tarot for years without success. Two weeks ago, all that changed. Magic had spontaneously decided to grant him a taromancer’s eye, stoking the dormant ability within him to read cards not with technical skill that came from studying them closely, but through intuition.

The tarot gave him nothing but consistently horrific results. His own personal omens were written out in flourishing script so that there was no way he could possibly interpret them toward his favor. He continued to flip them, a plague of the same faces staring back at him, over and over in doubles, triples, tens. They had eaten their way through the minor arcana, now consuming the major as well.

The Fool.

Judgment.

Death.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-Two

[]

ILLUMINATE

 

Later that night, Liesel crouched amongst Witching Hour’s wreckage, a coat of rotting leather draped over herself and Gable both. The sky was a single cold breath, paler than the charred vault ribs of Witching Hour that stood out in contrast.

Farther south, they could see stars floating over Espello—ferries whisking people to safety. The Spirited Away wouldn’t rest all night.

Gable’s eyes were two barely-there glimmers under the coat, watching her while compulsively synchronizing his breathing with hers. “Are you all right?” he whispered.

Liesel touched the eight omens around her neck. Their touch brought her no comfort. Now more than ever, she felt the gaps in their emotions, the invisible unmade omens that would have made her set complete. The famous Liesel Juhl in her dreams who was known throughout Finnary always had a complete set, although the details were vague as to how she’d gotten the other omens. That Liesel wasn’t real, and at the moment Liesel didn’t feel real, either. She was so stunned and out of her element that everything she said and did felt like someone else was in her body, taking over so that she didn’t have to be fully present. “I wish I knew where Misha was.”

Gable’s hand brushed her jaw, startling Liesel because she couldn’t see any movement under the coat. Nearby, Lars, Friso, and Cadrie had formed a tent of sorts with an old parachute. Cadrie and Lars had to keep reminding Friso to keep his voice down and sit still. The tent rustled nonstop, Friso constantly checking to make sure no one was about to ambush them.

“He’s with his Knave friends,” Gable said. “Patrols will never find him.”

“What if he’s not with them, though? What if patrols took him away in one of those wagons?” She shuddered. “Tell me how to get into the Cavoul. I’m going to rescue him.”

“Knaves don’t get caught,” he assured her. “I’ll say that for them. Their whole appeal is that you only see them if they want you to see them. Rumor has it that the pins they wear are bewitched to enable the environment around their bodies to pull over them and change shape, so they can hide in plain sight. Undetectable. Wherever he is, he’s not down here with the rest of us.”

Liesel peeked out from under the coat, analyzing the city skyline for bits and pieces that were only painted to look like stars but were actually attics and tunnels, towers harboring society’s cast-offs. Air under the coat was stifling; she crawled a few feet away and propped herself up on what looked to be the bust of an ancient sorcerer, features burned past recognition. Gable followed.

She strained her eyes, trying to distinguish Illuminate’s shape from the rest of Arcane Way’s craggy buildings. For a second she thought she saw a light burning in Illuminate’s upstairs window, but when she moved her head, the speck of white glare moved along with it. It was refracted light coming from the other side of the street. Probably Dennison, burning the midnight oil to mend shoes.

Human shadows rippled out from bonfires in the road and strolled to and fro past Illuminate, Toscani’s, and Winkel Shop, so huge that their heads disappeared over the roofs. Liesel could tell by their rigid postures that they were all chief constables. Protesters now lay drunk in the gutters, which the patrols took as a victory. Bottles of beer clinked, laughter rumbling down Meridian with gusts of sleet. Whenever there was an opposing voice, it was always alone, and always swiftly quelled.

Liesel rummaged in her pocket for the moonstone, which had been a source of comfort since she was a child.

“We can sneak out to get a better view of what’s going on. Hide behind the graves,” Liesel heard Friso whisper. “That would be a great place to shoot from.”

“You used up all my bullets,” Lars whispered back. “We need to get to the snake and find some more.”

“None there, either,” Cadrie said.

Liesel’s hand closed around not only the moonstone in her pocket but many small shapes. She brought them out, peering in the bleak light. Little black lumps sat in her palm, peppered with lint. She turned them this way and that way, moonlight catching silvery grooves carved into their surfaces. Numerals.

“These are his omens,” she told Gable, who scooted closer to see.

“Misha’s?”

She stared at them, confounded. “He must’ve slipped them in my pocket.”

Gable took the omens, funneling them from one hand into the other so that the light played off their angles and cast a slippery, oily gleam. Liesel knew he was thinking about Misha’s dislike of fortune-telling and thinking that he would never give up cleromancy if he possessed such a talent. He handed the omens back to her and began playing with his cards, stretching out on the dead grass.

And Gable probably wouldn’t give it up if the roles were reversed and he could do what Misha did. Misha’s branch of cleromancy was an eye into the beyond. He saw the future, when people would die, how many numbers they had left. He was, of sorts, a gateway to the dead.

 

Liesel awoke with a start, seemingly jerking at the sudden noise but actually not moving at all except to blink her eyes. The weather was crisper, more cutting, than it had been when she fell asleep, and her eyes smarted from the sleet. Her pulse jumped, ten paces ahead of her stuporous mind, and it took a handful of seconds to remember that she’d woken to a sound.

“Liesel.”

Her eyes swept Meridian. To the east, there were tombstones and the sepulcher, and the great looming giant of Bat’s Belfry whose bell still hummed from use. To the west, there were the scorched remains of the south-side train station—and behind that, railroad tracks and Century Road.

“Liesel.”

The voice carried just close enough so that she could hear it, then it was yanked away and eaten up by the wind.

Hovering between ashy slats of the train station, she could see a familiar silhouette. Misha. Liesel glanced down at Gable, who was pale-faced and dead to the world, then covered him up with her share of the molding leather coat.

Her legs were stiff. She was so cold that she was insensitive to it, not even shivering. A distant corner of her brain wondered if this was what it was like for Friso and Cadrie all the time.

She hopped over a heap of melted lanterns in the station, all grotesquely liquefied and re-hardened like something one might see in a funhouse. Powder under her shoes made her gait uneven. There was foul-smelling powder everywhere.

She began to turn at the sound of something shifting in the powder behind her, and a hand clapped over her mouth. The hand was small and sweaty, too small to be Misha’s. A handkerchief—Liesel’s own—was pried into her mouth and something soft looped down over her eyes so that she couldn’t see.     

“Mmmmmph!” she screamed, bending and kicking. Her foot collided with the person’s shin twice, making them curse, but they kept spinning her so that she kicked the beams instead. When her wrists and legs were both securely tied with twine, dense canvas dropped over her head, catching her inside of it as she fell sideways.

She was in a bag.

It was feverish inside the bag, rough fabric scratching her skin. Every time she struggled it gave her new abrasions along her legs and up her back. She wished she could pull her jacket down to protect her skin. The pain was bad enough to bring tears to her eyes.

Mmmmmmppphhh!” She bit her tongue instead of the handkerchief.

There were grunts and groans as the bag lifted, banging against someone’s leg. She kicked hard, waiting for some kind of retaliation, but there wasn’t one, even though she knew from the person’s hobble that their leg was injured. They continued onward, leaving Witching Hour too far for her muted screams to reach. Several times they stopped short and made quick, zigzagging movements; she envisioned them jumping behind dustbins and from alleyway to alleyway, tailing the shadows to avoid detection.

Then there was a familiar grating sound of a key in a lock, a creaking of a door, and Liesel hit the floor with a thud that cracked her elbow. Immediately, she started kicking in the direction of the canvas bag’s tied-up mouth. Rather than untie it, however, her captor tore a slit down the side with a knife and wrenched her out by her foot. One of her shoes went skittering into the wall.

Liesel glared up at Ridley, the gag still in her mouth. She didn’t move.

Without meeting her eyes, he bent down to take the gag out. Gauze bandages were wound around his leg, some of the layers brown with old blood and some oozing afresh.

Illuminate was dark and alien. Someone had hammered rotted wood planks over the broken window, crisscrossing them to let in crooked strips of light from streetlamps. Aside from a low, languorous fire burning in the grate, her home looked like a decrepit old twist of boards and nails that had given up, waiting to be demolished.

She and Ridley stared at each other for an immeasurable amount of time before he said, “You must think you’re really clever, setting up Dresden and me like you did.”

Behind her back, she used her nails to scratch at the bindings on her wrists. “I refuse to take you seriously right now. You’ve clearly gone insane.”

“No!” he seethed, bared teeth jutting into her face. He scaled back, attention flitting to the broken window with the reminder that the houses and streets were being watched for any sign of him. “You and Misha, you killed the inspector and framed us for it.”

“We did not.” She wriggled openly against her bindings now. “You are positively sloshed, my dear cousin. I can smell a whole pub inside your mouth. You would need to simmer at two hundred degrees to cure what ails you.” She was taking a page out of Aunt Inge’s book, talking down to Ridley, because sometimes insulting him and mocking his actions was the only way to keep him in line. Ridley could thrive on distress if you showed him enough of it. “What the devil are you doing, stuffing me in a bag? Do I look like potatoes to you?”

He skimmed a dirty finger over his upper lip, which was so overgrown with a poorly-maintained beard that it looked like a black hole below his nose had sprouted teeth.

“Framed us or not, you still took off and left us here with no warning. Let us take the fall for it.” His eyes shone queerly in the firelight, a sinister edge he usually took care to conceal fighting for dominance now that they were alone. “What would my mother say?”

“She would say to cut me loose, you psychopath.”

She’d grappled for a button to press and chosen the wrong one.

Ridley wrapped her hair around his wrist and dragged her to the fireplace, ignoring her yells. Inge’s deep brown doe eyes stared out of his skull in hateful glints, bastardizing what had once been gentle and loving. “You want to be in a cabal?” he shouted. “Then you’ll be with your family in The Graveyard Shift.”

She spat on him.

“Oh, yeah?” His voice rose until it wavered in a high, devilish cry, pent-up rage bursting from his body.

“Let me go,” she said. It didn’t sound nearly as threatening as she wanted.

“Let you go so you can run back to The Bells? You’d rather be with those mongrels instead of your own family?”

The answer was right there, boiling on the tip of her tongue. Yes! Yes, I do! Anywhere but here!

She didn’t reply. She could still taste the handkerchief in her mouth, scratching the back of her throat and hooking threads between her teeth. “Do you?” he demanded. “Fine. Earn your stripes.”

He held her down by the throat with a grip so powerful that her head dug into the stone hearth; with his other hand he seized a fire poker that had been resting in the coals and pressed it lengthwise over her face, burning both her flesh and his hand in the process.

Liesel screamed so loudly that she could feel the vibrating muscles in her larynx. Ridley responded by moving the poker over an inch and pressing down again, branding a second vertical stripe into the side of Liesel’s face. Her eyes watered, hairs on her scalp ripped out by the force of his grip. The fire in the grate made her skin itch, then burn, and now the heat was almost as unbearable as the poker.

“Stop!” she begged, thrashing her legs uselessly. Blood pooled at her wrists, the twine cutting her skin open as she resisted. Her mouth popped so wide that she heard something in her jaw crack. “Please!” Anger exploded through her, and she reared up to slam her head against his, catching him hard in the chin. Ridley grunted in pain but easily threw her back down, squeezing her throat.

Ridley’s tie clip, which she knew could unfold to double as a knife, fogged with the breath of someone Liesel couldn’t see. A mirror over the fire’s mantle shattered unexpectedly and the divination table crashed to its side. Liesel tried to turn toward the source of the noise, unable to make out anything through her tears. Ridley pressed the poker to her flesh again, forging a third stripe. At last, the bindings on her wrists broke free and Liesel tore Ridley’s hand off her neck, yanking the poker out of his grasp. All he could do was stare in dumb surprise as she plunged it deep into the bloodiest part of his leg wound, snarling with vicious pleasure.

The back door banged open and Misha entered, lunging in the direction of Ridley’s howls. Shapes of other people spilled out of Misha’s shadow like a frightening, multiplying monster—one of them, Alonzo Meriwether, had a length of piano wire in his teeth. He stretched the wire taut and wound it around Ridley’s face, catching between his lips so that it yanked them back into a bloody grin. Ridley fought off Alonzo and bounded upstairs right as Gable tore into the house.

“Liesel!”

She didn’t have time to acknowledge him, chasing after Ridley. There were thuds in her bedroom above, then the sound of smashing glass and otherworldly screaming. Liesel made it upstairs in time to see Ridley transform into a bat before jumping out the window.

His quailing black shape nosedived toward the earth before rising steadily, higher and higher. Yellow-white light touched the tips of his wings. When he beat them against air, a clap of thunder shook Illuminate; a bolt of heat lightning traveled outward from his body in six directions, catching three different roofs on fire.

“You little shit!” she yelled. “Get back here! I’m going to kill you!”

At that moment, the house gave a great heave and shudder.

“No!” Liesel banged her fist on the wall. “The house is moving!”

A second later, Illuminate faced Fifth Street. A row of quiet houses glistened beyond the window. Ridley was gone. Furthermore, he had a solid fifteen-minute jump on them.

Gable shrieked expletives.

“What happened?”

It was Friso, followed by Lars and Cadrie. With the exception of Misha, everyone from The Knaves of Arcane had already raced out the door in pursuit of Ridley. After going back downstairs, Misha scooped snow out of the alley and smeared it on Liesel’s face to chase away the heat. Ice hurt terribly at first, sticking to the burns, but then a wonderful numbness started to develop. Liesel couldn’t pay much attention to her pain because she was so angry with Ridley for getting away.

“Time-bomb genetics,” Misha replied breathlessly in answer to Friso’s question, batting Liesel’s hand away from her cheek. “The Uncle Gene in him finally came out.” Two long, livid red welts and a fainter third line marred the right half of her face. One of the burns touched the corner of her right eye. The second poker had been applied crookedly, almost overlapping the first. “Ridley had her over by the fireplace. We heard her screaming and ran as fast as we could.”

Gable’s face crumpled. “Does it hurt terribly? Can you see all right?” He shrugged off his coat and wrapped her in it.

Liesel shed the coat immediately, even though her body was shivering. “I don’t feel cold.”

“That doesn’t mean you’re not. Put it back on,” Gable commanded without turning around, footsteps crunching through snow as he checked Fifth Street for signs of life.

“I’ll worry about being warm when Ridley’s dead,” Liesel grumbled, but she swiped at his jacket, missing twice before seizing the collar. “What?” she barked at Friso, who was goggling without restraint.

“Looking glamorous as always, Weasel,” he remarked as soon as Gable was out of earshot. “Love what you’re doing with the asymmetrical fashion risk. Really making it your own.”

Liesel glared at him, ready to retort that she had no problem stabbing two men tonight, but was interrupted by Friso’s colorful exclamations when he was hit in the face with a snowball.

“Be nice,” Gable’s voice warned out of the darkness.

“We’d better go,” Misha said as soon as Gable returned. “Patrols will be crawling out of the walls like cockroaches here in a minute.”

“Fifth Street’s a stone’s throw from Century Road,” Gable said, his voice strong and full of leadership. “We’ll go to Lars’s house. There’s nowhere else for us all to hide and there’s no way we can make it to my house without being seen.” He didn’t ask Misha if he intended to come along. Staying behind was out of the question.

“Yes, you lot go to Lars’s house,” Liesel agreed. “I’m going to Runaway Rail Yard so I can bludgeon Ridley to death.” She began to pace the room. “Where’s that poker?”

“Liesel,” Gable began warningly, grabbing something and hiding it behind his back. “You are in no condition to be bludgeoning people.”

A gunshot pierced the air from far away.

“Shh,” Gable commanded unnecessarily. None of them breathed.

Liesel cradled more snow to her cheek. Icy water leaked down her arm. Lars fiddled with the sleeve of a wool sweater balled up on the mantelpiece.

“Your cousins must have come back a few times,” Lars said, appalled. “That’s either very nervy or very stupid.”

“Maybe our friends will return again,” Friso mused, hands behind his back. He checked the scullery, which was empty. Even the pots and pans usually hanging from the ceiling were gone, most likely looted or melted down to make bullets.

“Fits,” Gable said. “Fits, fits fits.”

Illuminate was wild in its barrenness, along with both upstairs bedrooms. Cadrie and Liesel flipped Dresden and Ridley’s bedcovers back, knives drawn, but of course no one was there.

“Smart move, turning into a bat,” Friso marveled, poring over an empty glass phial with a picture of a bat on it. When Misha and Liesel were younger, their father liked to give them bottled spells as whimsical little gifts. Liesel was impatient and always used up her spells immediately upon receiving them, but Misha saved his. They were his treasures. The bat-transforming spell was one of the only things Misha had left to remember his parents by, and Ridley used it for himself.

“I got a smarter one.” Liesel shook a jug half-filled with kerosene and unscrewed the cap, sloshing it over the beds. They scavenged for anything she and Misha might want to keep, but their bedroom was bereft, stripped of signs that anyone ever lived there. Misha’s trunk of family treasures was gone, a few broken odds and ends rolled away into corners. Even the portrait of Liesel’s aunt and uncle, which hung near the till, was mystifyingly absent.

The only things left to take were the metal money box, which rattled oddly, Liesel’s collection of matchsticks (which Friso helped himself to), the green crystal ball, and, to their immense shock, the tea box in Dresden’s bureau that was said to contain Liesel and Misha’s inheritance.

“It’s no use,” Misha grumbled as Cadrie jimmied a pin inside the tea box’s lock. “We’ve never been able to get it—”

“Open,” Cadrie declared, popping up the lid.

Liesel gasped, and she and her brother pounced on the box. Anticipation turned to puzzlement as they saw what was inside: a tiny silver crown that Liesel could slide onto her finger like a ring, and a chewed-up postcard with a picture of a tropical island on the front, the word Sam’s Town splashed over it. On the back were a few lines scrawled in Edvard Juhl’s hand, script going fainter toward the end:

 

As dictated in my father Ari Juhl’s will for eighty kings to be left to both of his sons’ firstborn male heirs, my son Misha is entitled to his share of eighty kings. Misha is to receive the amount of forty kings upon his sixteenth birthday on the condition that his behavior is responsible and he is gainfully employed at that time. Another forty kings is to follow on his eighteenth birthday. You will find his money in the envelope I included.

As for Liesel, I leave half of

 

His sentence was cut off by natural wear and tear at the bottom of the postcard, whatever Edvard had meant to say next gone forever. Liesel reread the card, then felt inside the tea box as if it would yield an envelope stuffed with money, but of course there was no money.

She wondered what her own inheritance had been. Half of what?

There was nothing. There had likely been nothing for years, except for the tiny crown-ring, which was probably some sentimental trinket of Dresden’s. She took it out of spite.

They stood quietly in the abandoned shop, icy air gasping through the wrecked window.

Liesel struck a match against the Juhls’ divination table, where hundreds of people had sat down and learned when they would die, how their loved ones died, who loved and who despised them. Friso got down on his knees and probed underneath the photograph shelf, screwing up his face in concentration until he found what he was looking for.

“Here we are,” he crooned, sliding out Finnarian Massacres and blowing dust off the cover.

The wet floors shone with kerosene, illuminating crimson mist on the walls and counter. The shape of a man’s head was silhouetted on a picture frame, a perfect profile in blood. “If I can’t stay here,” Liesel said, the flame on her match quivering as she spoke, “then neither will they.”

Misha and The Bells hurried backward, staggering out the door. Liesel was the last to go, flicking her match and watching without emotion as Illuminate’s walls shrieked, piercing and human-like with magical green gas eking out of cracks in the floor, before blowing up into a giant torch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-Three

[]

THE CAVOUL

 

Liesel woke up screaming.

Gable rushed over right as she started tearing her bandages off, trying to hold her hands while she kicked and beat at him. “Liesel! Liesel!”

She rolled off the lumpy sofa onto the floor and stood up, folding back into the corner. She still wore the suit Friso stole, which would have been comical if it hadn’t been crumpled and soot-stained.

He tilted his head, gazing miserably at her, and reached out an arm. “I wish I could take you to the doctor.”

Her cheek was so swollen and stiff that she could barely move the right side of her mouth. Lars had applied ointment and slathered her face in bandages, but there was no telling how well she might heal.

“Where … ?” She sat down on the sofa next to Gable, disoriented by her surroundings. She’d been in such a strange state of mind when they walked to Century Road. All she could remember clearly was Ridley’s livid face bearing down on her.

“We’re at Lars’s house,” Gable reminded her gently.

Liesel sat back, sore and weaker than she’d care to admit. “Stop looking at me like that. You’re making it worse.”

Gable tried to clear his concerned frown, the actor inside him warring with which new expression to choose and consequently flitting between several ridiculous ones. Liesel started to laugh but had to stop because it hurt to smile. “I’ll feel better when it’s tomorrow,” she assured him. “Daylight makes the scary things manageable, somehow.”

He touched her left temple, stroking her hair. “I’m worried you’ll regret burning down your house. If you change your mind one day about wanting to go back, you won’t have that choice.”

“I would never go back there, and I’m glad the place is dead. It’ll give Ridley a nice example of his future.” She looked away, hoping he didn’t notice the hurt lurking beneath her anger, the unpleasant surprise at Ridley attacking his own family. To feel anything besides rage seemed like a betrayal to herself, and her mental faculties were too exhausted to sort through multiple emotions.

She thought she had herself under control, then without warning, she burst into tears. Gable stared at her in alarm and Liesel hunched over to block her face from view, not knowing why exactly she was crying. She almost apologized for being weepy, but realized that was a stupid thing to be sorry for.

Gable was having a nervous fit, not knowing what to do. After some deliberation, he wrapped her up in his arms and hugged her tight, not speaking and simply holding her. Liesel’s sobs ebbed away.

Gable chewed on his lip. “I’m sorry I didn’t let you hunt down Ridley and destroy him.”

She shrugged, managing a tiny smile. “Bygones.”

“We’ll hunt him together. I promise.”

A long quiet passed between them, with Liesel trying to imagine her house no longer being there, her bedroom no longer being there. Just a pile of smoking sticks. Whether because of fatigue or shock, the prospect of homelessness wouldn’t fully sink in. Her greatest fear had finally come to fruition, but she wasn’t upset like she always thought she’d be. She waited for a horrible impact that never came.

They sat in companionable silence for some time, Gable getting up only to seat himself on her other side because he was worried he would accidentally lean on her burns, start flailing around, or hurt her in other absurd scenarios. He then decided she wouldn’t be safe from him unless he sat on the floor, but argued with himself that she would take offense if he sat on the floor.

“It’s not you,” he assured her. “You’re dazzling.”

“Go sit on the floor, Gable,” she replied dryly.

“Right.” He hopped off the sofa, apologized for hopping too quickly, and settled himself cross-legged right in front of her on the oilcloth floor. “Am I all right down here? Maybe I should go back. Are you bored? Do you want me to read to you?”

“How badly do you think my head’s been injured? I can still read.”

“Are you hungry? Do you want breakfast? I can wake up Lars and make him cook.”

“Lars is already awake,” someone muttered near the doorway, “and you can do your own cooking.”

“Can’t sleep?” Liesel asked.

“It’s dawn, anyway.” Lars lifted a flap of newspaper pasted to the window, peering outside. Watercolors of purplish-blue stained the horizon, smudged into blots that were houses and trees up close. “I’m waiting for Cadrie to get back. She snuck out to do something. Wouldn’t say what it was. I tried to stop her, but you know how she gets when you try to boss her around.”

“I need air,” Gable announced, hopping over the sleeping bodies of Misha and Friso to get to the door. “This house makes me barmy.”

Liesel followed him. As they twisted out the door, Gable stopped suddenly. “Tomorrow’s my birthday.”

She stared at him. “Should I even ask?”

“Nineteen.” All traces of his smile vanished. “With any luck, I’ll live to see twenty.”

They sat side-by-side on Lars’s pint-sized porch. The cement was crumbling, jagged edges showing the rusty base of a railing with the top half bent past recognition. The sunrise was glorious, air still sharp with the smell of chlorine gas bombs. Marchers were already queuing up in the streets, bracing for another clash with patrols.

“There are fewer marchers today,” Gable pointed out glumly. “The patrols will keep growing like a hydra even as we take some of them out, borrowing other Finnarian units, and the resistance will dwindle to nothing.”

“Wish we could borrow protesters,” Liesel said. Then she was struck with an idea. “Wait. What if we did?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that there’s loads of people who have good reason to hate our justice system as much as we do. And they’re just sitting there waiting to be utilized.”

Gable frowned. He was probably thinking that Liesel had been through too much tonight and her brain was fried.

“Gable,” she said urgently, smiling. It hurt the muscles in her cheek but she couldn’t stop, keyed up by the idea in her head turning into a concrete plan, growing every second. “The prisoners in the Cavoul who haven’t been there too long: how able-bodied do you think they are right now?”

 

Several feet under Castelo Street, Liesel and Gable ran at a crouch. Dirty water sloshed beneath their shoes, slopping up their trousers in waves.

Gable halted without warning, flinging himself flat against the tunnel wall. Liesel did the same. Immobile, they stared through a drainage grate above and waited for the overhead horse and carriage to pass, churning more ice water down over their heads.

“Now.”

She leapt behind him, Gable’s knowledge of Black Magic’s sewer systems so comprehensive that his movements were second nature. They wound their way to a corroded metal door beneath First Street whose reverse side was coated in cement to match the walls of the burial vault. Already they could hear the shouting voices, people using their bodies and the bodies of others as weapons.

“You all right?” Gable asked before he turned the heavy wheel on the door.

It niggled her that he expected her to be afraid, or perhaps thought she wasn’t up to the task because of her burns. “I’m fine,” Liesel said. “We don’t have a fighting chance without more numbers, so this is our only hope. Even if most of the prisoners are half-dead, all these bodies aboveground will distract the patrols. Right now, chaos is our friend.”

“As soon as I open this, we need to move fast,” Gable told her. “Some of these people … ” He shook his head. “It’s easy to turn into an animal in the Cavoul.”

“I’m not afraid of them,” she said defiantly, more to convince herself than him. She took the door’s wheel and yanked on it, rust digging into her skin, using all of her body weight to unlock the hatch. Once open, Gable placed a cinderblock from Lars’s dilapidated porch in front of the door to keep it from shutting. Then Liesel lit a lantern so that those in the Cavoul could see. Dozens upon dozens of filmy eyes set deep in gaunt faces turned to blink at Liesel and Gable, skin so transparent that their bodies were maps of blue veins. Many of them were clearly dead, eyes and teeth gouged out, but the echoing breaths of a hundred mouths spiraled through the cavernous space, some labored and shallow, but others with flickers of strength.

For a moment there was a smoldering hush. Liesel thought they would trickle out slowly, skeptically, expecting it to be a trap. Instead, anyone with working legs stampeded out the door as quickly as they could. A large man wielding a shin bone as a weapon rushed past, and in his haste his shoe dragged out the corpse of a woman. Liesel was unexpectedly paralyzed at the sight of the woman; she was vaguely familiar in a way that hinted Liesel had once told her fortune, and it looked like she’d been dead for two or three weeks. “Liesel?” Gable called.

Unsticking her feet from the floor, she threw herself against a wall, its slimy ooze congealing strands of her hair. Gable found her right before a prisoner kicked over the lantern and snuffed its flame, holding her tight so that his body was a shield amid the rampage of shouting men and women.

At last, the prisoners still alive enough to get out had left, and Gable’s body relaxed as it slowly withdrew from its protective stance. “You all right?” he asked for the tenth time that night, taking in deep lungfuls of air. There wasn’t enough oxygen in the sewers, as though it too had decayed. All of Liesel’s breaths came up short.

She was about to assure him she was okay when a bright spot appeared in the tunnel, followed by another. Two lanterns.

“Patrols!” she whispered.

They panicked, darting toward the Cavoul because it was the closest exit. They thought better of it at the last second, as they could very well end up trapped in there forever if the patrols saw what they’d done to the door, but then Gable’s body stilled and he cupped a hand over Liesel’s mouth.

The voice of a boy rippled outward, tumbling oddly off the pitted ceiling and walls. “Shouldn’t take long,” he said. “The operational spell is simple in design and just as simple to jam.”

Gable’s eyes were two large, white gleams in the darkness. Liesel barely made out his lips as he mouthed Raaf Ring.

“I’ll feel bad if they’re carrying civilians,” another boy spoke.

“I don’t care,” said another, who sounded distraught. “The Graveyard Shift started all of this when they murdered that girl from The Bells. They’ll deserve whatever they get.”

The prisoners had made it to the surface. Liesel could hear them trampling the roads above, yelling for help or food or because they were insane; crying because it was approaching daylight and their eyes burned from the glare of sun. Even frail and withered, little more than specters, at least they had a shot at survival. Down here they were as good as dead. And now, Black Magic’s small army of resistance had swelled its ranks to the point of giving the patrols pause. She could think of no one with a bigger vendetta against Commissioner Kieve than his victims.

“My brother did nothing wrong and now he’s dead,” the boy continued, his voice shuddering into a sob. “This is justice for Sidney.”

Liesel and Gable didn’t dare breathe as the lanterns grew brighter, nearing, then abruptly charged down a different passage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-Four

[]

THE DOLLHOUSE

 

Leaving Black Magic had always been for someday, a pleasant faraway scenario she took to planning whenever times were rough. It was never in the plans for now. But the prospect of staying one minute longer than necessary made Liesel’s skin crawl. The fight or flight sensation never dissipated, body never wanting to rest, desperate to let her feet run as they begged for permission to do.

“We have no connections to help us because we’re running from the law. Maybe we should look for help from other people who are also running,” Liesel suggested to The Bells one Saturday afternoon, absently raking her fingernails up and down her left arm. Gable instantly copied her. “We won’t be able to live in this city, not anymore, not like this. I feel like we’re going to be found out at any minute and shot dead. Let’s look at how other cabali are staying alive.”

Lars stared at her, not quite getting what she was saying. “So … you want us to take notes from The Knaves?” he asked sarcastically.

“They’ve been quiet,” Gable pointed out. “Haven’t heard or seen them in days, so it’s likely they’ve already fled.” He glanced at Misha, who looked away too quickly for it to seem natural. “Liesel’s right. We should be looking for allies. Right now the patrols are trying their hardest to split us all up, so the best way to survive is to help each other.”

“Teaming up with The Raaf Ring is a no,” Lars said. “I’m not living in the sewers.”

“The Hanged Men is a no,” said Cadrie. “Charleston’s lost the damn plot.”

“What about The Dolls?” Friso inserted slyly. “They’re smart. Thanks to their blackmailing techniques, they’re pretty much untouchable. Really, I think they’re the most fearsome cabal in Black Magic.”

“You’re only saying that because they love you,” Lars said at the same time Cadrie said, “You’re only saying that because they hate you.”

So they decided to visit The Dolls.

The Dolls lived in an old brothel called The Dollhouse, which was located in the center of Black Magic like a queen bee.

“Ah, what the hell, right?” Friso said to them all, walking backward down the drizzling, sullen street. Sleet mixed with rain, too warm to freeze the roads. It generated a billowing, foggy atmosphere.

“Someone’s going to see us,” Misha worried, walking between Gable and Lars. He turned to give his sister a long frown. “We shouldn’t be doing this.”

“If something bad happens, I want to be able to say that we did everything in our power to survive,” Liesel told him.

The Dollhouse was painted a gaudy shade of pink with copious ornamental woodwork and lacy spindles fashioned in the Queen Anne style. As Liesel’s aunt had always strictly forbidden her from getting anywhere near the brothel, she’d had no idea what it looked like and had imagined a derelict hovel with exposed insulation and curtains waving in the wind like tattered flags.

The Dollhouse was, in fact, one of the nicest buildings she’d seen on this side of the city, similar to German influences on Wohlstand. Two women in their late forties or early fifties sat on opposite sides of a desk in the foyer.

Friso bucked his way to the door and pressed his nose against the screen. “This beats hanging out in a factory, I don’t mind telling you. Lars, keep your distance in here. I want to seem available.”

The younger of the two ladies stood up. “Not you!” she bellowed when she saw Friso, who instantly burst into magical blue flames. “How many times have I run you out of this house?”

“I apologized!” Friso cried, rolling in the grass to put out the fire. “I wrote Gesine an exceptionally pretty letter—”

“Oh, you’ve written all my girls exceptionally pretty letters!” the woman raged. “You promised them the moon and meanwhile you’ve already given it to this one.” She nodded at Lars, whose eyes darted away in mortification.

A younger girl slid down the stairs and wafted outside, dressed in a bottle-green gown with puffy sleeves pushed up to the elbows. She regarded them all shrewdly and stood over Friso, who still sprawled in the grass. “Knew I smelled the stench of distress. Things must be getting properly bad for you to come here. Poor planning on your part, Weisz.” She smiled virtuously at him, hands on her hips. “Like my hex? It activates if you get too close to the house.”

“Why’d you have to set the blue fire on me, Hattie?” Friso bleated. “You know you’re my one and only.”

“I am one of dozens and you are a smarmy, lying, conniving, cheating, dirty—”

“Hattie?” Liesel interrupted incredulously. “Not Hattie Strolz, surely.” Hattie Strolz founded her coven and was the most powerful witch in Woaring Cupboard. Why any idiot would go out of their way to get in her bad graces was hard to fathom, but Friso wasn’t just any idiot. He was an idiot who overestimated his charisma.

“That I am,” Hattie confirmed.

“But you look like you’re fifteen,” Cadrie said bluntly.

Hattie’s smile remained, but now it looked more like she was baring her teeth. “That’s magic, dear.”

“If you must know why we came here,” Friso plundered on, getting to his feet and backing away several inches lest Hattie set him on fire again, “I was concerned about your wellbeing.”

“And Cella’s wellbeing, I’m sure. And her sister Allec’s wellbeing. And the wellbeing of that boy on Wrick who shines shoes,” Hattie thundered. “Don’t even try to tell me that nothing’s going on between you and that Lucas, who spent all summer following after you like a lost puppy.”

“Yeah, but who’s counting?” Friso said with an attempt at humor. “They meant nothing to me! Nothing! I care only for you, Hattie.” Feeling the heat of Lars’s glare, he hastily amended, “And you, Lars.”

“And who else?” a girl in an upper window yelled. “Forgetting someone?”

Friso took two seconds too long to remember the girl’s name. He was promptly set on fire. “Dowli!” he shouted, writhing in the grass again. “Dowli! It’s Dowli Winterton! Love of my life! Fire in my heart!”

“There will be fire in your heart soon enough!” Dowli vowed.

“So, anyway,” Gable interjected pleasantly, turning to Hattie. “You can’t be oblivious to the hellscape all around. Patrols are out hunting cabali for sport. We’d rather not die. We were wondering if you might help us.”

“Help you?” Hattie tossed her tawny curls over her shoulder. “Why would I want to do that?” She stomped on Friso’s hair to put out the flame, then kicked him. He got to his feet, trying to hide behind Lars. Lars was having none of it and made him stand off to the side all by himself.

“Witches!” Lars snarled in an undertone. “What did I tell you about messing with witches?”

The only damage the blue flames had inflicted on Friso was to his hair, which had lost its cherubic curl. He examined a limp strand, sulking.

Liesel sighed. “Well, this was a dead end. Let’s try something else.”

As they began to leave, Hattie cried, “Wait!”

They turned. After a long minute in which Hattie studied Cadrie so closely that Liesel expected she was going to catch fire like Friso, she went on, “This spoiled little rich boy tantrum of Charleston’s has become quite tiring. When he’s eventually taken down, I think he’ll take a lot of cabali down with him. We witches will endure, as we always have, but you … might not be so fortunate.” Her eyes slid fleetingly to Cadrie again. “I want you to survive.”

“Charleston?” Liesel repeated. “I wouldn’t say he’s entirely to blame. People were waiting for an excuse to get angry. He just happened to be the first bubble in a boiling pot.”

“He’s a murderer.”

“But not beyond redemption,” Gable countered, immediately taking Liesel’s side. “I look at that stupid, spineless ooze in a suit and all I see is what I could have been if I’d been born to money and preoccupied parents.”

“Birch isn’t really all that rich,” Friso inserted. “He only seems it because we’re so poor. And being wealthy doesn’t give you a free pass to have mashed turnips for brains.”

“Enough about him,” said Liesel. She stared unblinkingly at Hattie. “Is there anything you can do to help us?”

“Hmm.” Hattie’s eyes jumped between Liesel and Gable. A mile off, Liesel could hear penetrating screams of someone fresh out of the Cavoul. “Witches don’t help. We bargain.”

Liesel glanced through the front door. From this angle, she could see a room that branched off the foyer. Six ladies faced each other across a narrow table, busily piling and separating extraordinary quantities of birth certificates, passports, and money from around the world. Candles melted to hardened blobs dripped down the table, pooling on the floor. Someone had chalked a five-pointed star on the ceiling. Packets of miscellaneous hair and teeth were carefully organized on a honeycomb shelf along one wall. 

“We specialize in forgery,” Hattie said at length. “Luck and cleaning spells are all well and good, but they don’t foot the bill for expensive taste. So we’ve used our skills to develop a counterfeit printing press. If you want a ticket out of Black Magic, I can get you that ticket. When Isaelia Pohle came to me, asking to be hidden, I took the color of her eyes in exchange for my assistance.” She batted her eyelashes. “How do you like the pretty greens? Bewitched greens simply weren’t as natural.”

“Isaelia Pohle is dead,” said Friso.

“Not dead. Merely hidden. Did you know that when Foy Montego’s body was hung from a tree, it took four hours for him to be found?” Without waiting for a reply, Hattie elaborated, “I saw The Hanged Men put him there. There were at least four Hanged Men—Yeardley Kieve, Larue Rachel, Desmond Twill, and Marquis Louque.”

Liesel frowned. “So?”

“So,” Hattie said patiently, “Isaelia Pohle was with them.” The sky beyond the window crackled and glittered, smoke dissipating heavenward as a landmine someone buried in Cairn Park ruptured. “We watched her pack snow into Foy’s mouth, laughing something evil.”

Hattie smiled faintly, meeting Liesel’s eyes. “Soon after that, she felt it imperative to escape the public eye. That’s why she came to me. But you are more than one person, and ordinarily you couldn’t afford the magic I would have to expend to hide all of you. If you want to make a deal with witches, you’ve got to put something valuable on the table.”

“We haven’t got any money.”

Liesel was feeling distinctly uneasy, sensing that Hattie wasn’t after money. The witch’s eyes cut to Friso.

“A bit of his soul would do the trick.”

This was not met with enthusiasm. “You want to curse me?” Friso hollered. “You’re crazier than I thought! And not in the fun way!”

Hattie sneered. “I wouldn’t waste my sophisticated curses on you, dimwit. I only want to take a tiny sliver of soul, to make my potions more lasting and effective. Extremely small side-effects. There’s the standard possibility of short-term memory loss, hearing things that aren’t there, breath smelling like onions, etcetera. Very mild stuff.”

Friso shook his head. “No way.”

“Ah, but here’s the crux, sweet.” Hattie smiled wolfishly. “We both know you’re going to agree. You can’t turn down my offer when your friends’ fates hang in the balance. You love being a hero too much. I’ll help you. I’ll guarantee you all a safe way out of town where you’ll never be followed by patrols. But only for the price I’ve given.”

“Your price is heinous,” Lars said.

Hattie’s gaze raked over him. It was loaded with bitterness. “This is not your choice, Zakari.”

“We’ll find another way,” said Gable. “Maybe we should stay and fight instead of running off.”

“Where’s your sense of self-preservation?” Liesel cried. “Remember what you told me about running if we can and only attacking if we have to? No, we are not staying and fighting. We’ll die.”

“A bunch of teenagers against all those greencoats?” Cadrie added. “We can take out a few of them, but Emperor Shapur’s going to send in more men and it’ll get ugly fast.”

Friso was quiet long enough to reveal that he was considering Hattie’s offer. Lars thought it was foolish, and expressed as much, but this only tightened Friso’s resolve. “What’s a bit of soul, anyway? Not like I’m doing anything with it right now.”

“You don’t know what you might be giving up,” Lars said. “You can’t trust witches.”

Friso only smiled. “Ask Liesel who fortune favors.”

Lars glared at Liesel as if she was to blame for what Friso was about to do.

“It’s a steep price,” Gable said disapprovingly, but he sounded relieved that Hattie was going to help them. Liesel was intensely glad of it. She didn’t need Gable to be a hero right now. She needed him to be selfish so that he would run faster.

“That’s the price when you swear to love a witch for all eternity and then cross her,” Hattie sang. She conjured a small silver phial and yanked down on Friso’s hair. Something white and wispy fell out of his ear, coiling into the bottle like a snake. “I don’t give those swears back, you know.”

“What was that?” Friso screamed.

“See?” Hattie corked the phial. “Easy-peasy. Barely scratched the surface of your soul. You won’t even miss it.”

He patted his face. “Have my eyes gone red and evil? Do I look like I’ve crossed to the dark side?” He pointed accusingly at the witch. “You might have just taken my only redeeming quality! What’re you going to do with it?”

Her smile stretched wider. “Anything I want! Souls make for terrific bonding agents in potions. It’ll strengthen the potency of any spell I add it to.” She tipped the phial back and forth, listening to its contents swirl. “Whatever I decide to use this for, the magic will have a distinctly Friso Weisz feel to it. Maybe I’ll make a love spell. Wonder if my new victims will become dirty cheating liars, too?” She cleared her throat. “Now. Where is your destination?”

“Eventide,” Liesel replied at once.

The others looked at her, baffled. “What?” Friso and Cadrie said together.

Liesel had given this some thought. “My grandmother Zofia was from there. It sounds like a good place to start over. Also, it’s far away but not so far that we’ll have trouble fitting into the culture.”

The other Bells didn’t have any better ideas, so no one questioned the decision to go to Eventide, the last Finnarian Isle in the empire. Hattie flourished her hand and six pieces of paper appeared in midair, containing what looked to be passages aboard a ship. Gable greedily accepted them. Friso was still too dumbstruck to speak, tipping his head to see if any more soul would fall out.

Hattie’s smile was blinding. “Pleasure doing business.”

Once she was gone, Gable examined the tickets. His relief gave way to anger, and he thrust the papers at his friends for them to read. “The ship we have to board is all the way on the other side of Woaring Cupboard! It’ll take days to get there.” He made some sputtering noises. “Couldn’t have made it easy for us, could she?”

Misha let out a ragged breath. “Now that we’ve got a way out, let’s hurry up and go.”

“We have to get our hands on as much money as possible first,” Gable said. “We’re down to last drops and panic’s attractive, but there are preparations to be made.”

They left The Dollhouse, none of them entirely convinced Friso had done the right thing in bartering his soul for their freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-Five

[]

EYE FOR AN EYE

 

Night was falling and The Knaves were in revolt. Charleston gazed down from the rooftop of Sur La Lune, watching the Talbots take Bouton de Rose, Franc and Rhoswen pillage Wohlstand. Della Torre and Castelo were already ablaze, probably at the hands of Hannelore, Alonzo, and Fredek. It was amazing how the oldest buildings held up under siege, reluctant to burn, while newer additions to the city easily turned to dust and blew away.

The Talbot brothers poured barrels of kerosene into the streets, flooding the luxury district. Inches of oil marbled in the sunset’s ruddy glow, turning Bouton de Rose into a river of red and orange when a lit match was dropped upon it. It was Charleston’s promise to Macall of a canal blooming with poppies: a dream distorted into an inescapable nightmare.

His head tilted, confused by people who crippled each other far below. The Knaves and Daisy Leifson’s swell of followers had broken into the town armory, supplying weapons to those who’d escaped the Cavoul. Charleston only knew vaguely about the Cavoul. The Hanged Men did not lose people to prison. They were a guild. A sophisticated league. They were not a dirty, lowbrow cabal, and they were not criminals, and the Cavoul was where cabali and criminals ended up.

Or at least for a while.

Bits of burnt paper swirled in the dusky sky. The world was sooty with it, mixing snow with ashes. Someone must have set Mascarada on fire, because posters for Mascarada’s plays spit so high out of the smoke that the confetti reached Charleston all the way on top of Sur La Lune.

A paper reading Petrovich burned around the edges, vibrant cinders devouring Gable’s name in the palm of Charleston’s hand.

Without giving it any lucid thought, Charleston rifled through his tarot cards once more. He closed his eyes and skimmed his fingers across the battered white edges. He knew before the chosen card surfaced that it would be The Tower.

He flipped another card, heart steeled in his ribs. The Moon.

 

Below, men were throwing food carts at each other, hurling doors, blades, and bullets. The patrols had more guns, but the people had more bodies, and no one could remember the original purpose behind all the fighting. Guilt, confusion, and grief were sharpened into weapons, volleying into the thickest swarms in blind haste—the primal desire to strike someone, anyone, so that they would feel their pain. A fever had infected Black Magic. It erased the social norms that forbade people from giving themselves over to their most basic of suppressed urges: bloodlust.

They were losing it.

They’d always wanted to be allowed to lose it.

Liesel was adrift in the small crowd of Bells, eyes wide, being shouldered this way and that with no room for opinions of her own. Misha tripped over someone’s shoe and she felt him stumble back, leaving her right side unprotected.

“Misha!”

He took her offered arm and she helped him up. Only Gable had stopped with them, and already strangers were bubbling up in the space between them and the other Bells.

They struggled against the swell of hot, shouting bodies on Bouton de Rose, pushing back against their pressure to link hands and not be lost. Nearby, a reedy fellow in a watchman’s hat was busy digging the wallet from an unconscious man’s back pocket. Liesel froze unexpectedly, caught at first by the out-of-place excitement in the watchman’s eyes, then by something peculiar about his shirt. It gripped her, demanding attention, and wouldn’t let go.

“Hey, you can’t just stop out of nowhere!” Friso exclaimed, tugging on Gable’s hand so that Gable’s other hand would jerk on Liesel’s. “Move!”

She didn’t move, gaze narrowing on the watchman’s shirt. There were two rows of six buttons. All of them were uniformly green except for one: a little yellow sunflower that didn’t belong. She’d seen that shape before, outlined in Olivier’s blood with threads exposed where a button on his jacket had been torn off. “Cadrie,” she said quietly.

Cadrie stopped short. Liesel let go of Gable’s hand, raising a finger slowly to point. “His shirt.”

Cadrie squinted in the direction indicated. Liesel was about to ask her if she recognized that man when Cadrie broke free from the rest of them. There was a scuffle, and the backs of several people obstructed the scene to prevent Liesel from making sense out of where she was and what was happening. Then, a minute later, she heard a loud yelp rebounding between the bricks of Starlight Café and a Parisian market.

They waded through the mob until they reached the alley. Cadrie was crouching in the dirt over the watchman, who’d been slammed to the ground. “Who is he?” Liesel wanted to know.

“Atalo Delis,” said Lars. “A night watchman at First Street Jailhouse.”

Gable stepped forward, shaking his head in disbelief. “He’s arrested all of us, at one time or another, for petty offenses. Cadrie, what are you doing?”

Cadrie shook Atalo’s shoulders. She shoved her face right into his and screamed, “Why’d you kill him?”

Gable’s eyes cleared in understanding, then hardened.

The man pinned beneath Cadrie’s legs gaped pathetically, mouth cracking open. Liesel didn’t expect him to reply, but she heard him say in a low voice, “He kept getting out. I don’t know how he kept getting out of the Cavoul. He wouldn’t tell me.”

Cadrie shattered a bottle of beer over Atalo’s head and ripped the yellow button from his jacket. She held it aloft. “Recognize this?”

“Recognize me?” added Friso, now hovering at Cadrie’s side. Atalo was speechless and staring, too shocked to move. “Imagine me screaming and covered with water. Maybe that’ll jog your memory.”

He held the watchman down as Cadrie produced a needle and thread. “I’m a little disappointed,” she confessed to Atalo in a shivering voice, threading the needle. “Thought it’d be someone important. Someone from another cabal … maybe even Commissioner Kieve. But no.”

She pierced his eyelid, ignoring his shouts of protest as the needle drove straight through. “No, it’s just you. Lowly, worthless, useless you. And you’ll bleed to death here, with no one to love you. With no one to remember you.”

“Told you Olivier would leave a mark,” Gable said to his friends, holding up Atalo’s mangled finger that had been chewed off at the knuckle. “And he doesn’t leave pretty ones, either.”

Cadrie continued. “This button belonged to the man I love. I would know. I gave it to him.”

“Help!” Atalo pleaded, his one good eye rolling until it fixed on Liesel. “Go get help! Send for Constable Carmen!”

“So that you can shoot us once you’re back on your feet?” Liesel replied, trying not to be shaky, willing her nerves to be as ironclad as Cadrie’s. Her true feelings were a betrayal to her strong words, as she couldn’t help but want to save this man from mutilation even though he’d murdered a boy and tortured scores of people. But she wouldn’t try to save him, even if she wanted to, even if it haunted her. This wasn’t her fight, wasn’t her vengeance, wasn’t her place to tell Cadrie no. A part of her thought that she’d never be as ruthless as The Bells, and perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing.

“Like to keep souvenirs of your victims, do you?” Friso jibed. “Thought we wouldn’t notice? Tell me now, what did you use to kill him?”

Atalo muttered gibberish, his uninjured eye rolling into the back of his head. “A bot—a bot—”

“A bottle,” Friso concluded knowingly. “Yes, we thought so.” He took a shard of the beer bottle and buried it in Atalo’s gut. “Here, you can have it back.”

When she was finished sewing, blood rushing to the corners of Atalo’s eye and beading his lashes together, Cadrie sat back to lord over her handiwork. She and Friso both spat on him. Lars, Gable, Liesel, and Misha edged closer, their shadows converging so that Atalo’s frightened face was washed in darkness. “I overlooked you, Delis,” Cadrie hissed. “Didn’t remember you. But you’re going to remember Olivier and you’re sure as shit going to remember me. Get acquainted with this face because you’re going to be seeing it every time you try to open your eyes, motherfucker.”

She raised her needle and thread again, fixing this time on his mouth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-Six

[]

STARS AND SOLDIERS

 

Charleston stood behind the barricaded front doors of Sur La Lune, mouth assuming an ugly shape as he oversaw a fleet of patrols firing guns at other patrols. Greencoats whose generous bonuses came from Charleston’s pocket, a mutual understanding based on bribery, were slain by their brothers in efforts to protect him. Not only were the cabals of Black Magic lunging at each other’s throats, but so were the people whose duty it was to keep the peace.

Boom. There went one more person who wouldn’t wake up tomorrow morning. Boom. There went somebody else who would never see his family again; never kiss them, never hear their voices. Boom. What were his last words? Last thing he saw? Possibly the barrel of a gun. A whole future, a possible next generation, wiped out with gunfire in one split-second.

Charleston absorbed it unflinchingly, his head miles from shore. The Spirited Away blasted its foghorn three times, lights flooding the cracked windows of Sur La Lune’s sumptuous first level.

The mayor bellowed through a speaking trumpet, voice lost in a forest of other voices all demanding the other side yield and drop their weapons, but neither side wanting to yield themselves. A tiny flame in the depths of Charleston’s mind flickered, astonished over and over that people were dying for him. Dying because they were paid to stand there like human shields and blow away anyone who came close to the Birch-Robillard family.

Here they were, dropping left and right, and those remaining still didn’t give up.

It was incredible. If he were on the other side of the glass, he would have dropped his gun at first chance and run far, far away. It wouldn’t be any trouble for lower-ranking patrols if that’s what they chose to do. No one would recognize them, chant for their surrender, demand they be thrown in prison or executed.

They would kill mindlessly, aimlessly, for a faint cause they didn’t believe in—or an idea, an excuse, a retaliation. He couldn’t fathom being such an expendable cog in the machine, even if the machine was of his own making.

He stared at his reflection with huge eyes, skin pinched and wasting. It clung to his cheekbones, the hollows beneath them shaded dark gray. He hadn’t shaved since Christmas morning and his hair stuck out in every direction.

Who is that?

Behind him, the lobby fountain gurgled as it spilled over, wiring compromised by magic that vigorously seized on the hysteria, zealous to help wreak havoc. Water spurted twelve feet high, sullying the mural.

“Charleston,” someone pleaded, crying into Mayor Szekeres’s speaking trumpet. His eyes grappled with his reflection, straining to see through it. A tiny arm waved somewhere off to the right. It was Bartek Kozma. His wife grabbed the trumpet from him.

“She wouldn’t have wanted this!” Sorcha shrieked. “I know why you did everything you did, Charleston, but you have to stop now. You have to stop.” She let the trumpet fall to her side but he imagined he could read her lips from across the distance. You have to let it go.

She wouldn’t have wanted this? But what would she have wanted? Macall was fickle. She wanted the opposite of everything she asked for.

You’ll be an old man before you figure out what I want. But if that day comes, maybe I will marry you.

Macall would never be old.

“Everyone’s forgotten her,” he said helplessly. The images of Dresden, Ridley, and Hiram, who were next on his list of those who had to pay for what they’d done, boiled away.

The hotel lobby was empty. Everyone who hadn’t been able to abscond before Charleston amassed his own personal guard had run up to the rooftop. A third of the staff had quit immediately upon hearing about Macall’s death, fearing how the notoriously unstable Birch boy might react.

In the distance, a train whistle shrilled.

It was as if someone had slapped him across the face. “Stop!” he screamed, springing to the door. “Stop!” He banged on the glass so forcefully that two of his most expensive sergeants pitched back, falling against each other in surprise.

Charleston pushed the door open and, for a moment, the street was silent. Flames licked the awning of Starlight Café, eating across the florist shop and around the corner to Castelo’s opera house. On the other side of Castelo, fireworks launched off the snow, colorful embers bleeding into funnels of factory smoke. The boom, crack, and fizzle was deafening in his ears. It struck him that he hadn’t heard anything outside his own head in days.

Hundreds of pairs of eyes goggled at him, glasses and cufflinks and pistols swimming with reflected firelight. Charleston’s lips parted, wanting to tell them something, wanting both to apologize and accuse, but was interrupted before any words got out.

“Arrest him!” Mayor Szekeres shouted. The train whistle shrilled again.

Commissioner Kieve marched forth, face chopped in half by the shadow of his hat. Charleston stared, not comprehending. His jacket rustled as he moved, and a single pink pearl fell out of his pocket, rolling several feet down the sidewalk before slipping through a storm drain. Charleston cried out, chasing after it, but was stopped.

“Don’t move!” Kieve shoved Charleston down the steps of Sur La Lune, the crowd breaking and backing away as Charleston tripped into the street. He looked all around him, no longer confused but still retaining the appearance of it.

A firing squad sixty strong stood erect behind Szekeres, rifles aiming for Charleston’s forehead. In what he thought would surely be his last breaths, he glanced up at the turret of Sur La Lune. He could have sworn, in his state of frenzy and insomnia, that the painted girl turned down her chin to look at him. Her red hair was speckled with stars.

She smiled and the bell in a distant tower chimed twelve.

He buckled to his knees, face twisted up in anguish as tears spilled down his cheeks. One of his hands clutched a tarot card.

There was another shriek of a train whistle, then torrents of heat and grinding, earsplitting metal as The Graveyard Shift Express came barreling out of nowhere to collide with Sur La Lune. Steel machinery roared against glass and brickwork. The sky-high column of sparkling windows, fountains, and marble archways caved with an explosion so powerful that it ripped a crater through the cobblestones of Bouton de Rose.

People and carriages fell, clawing, into the crater as it snaked wider and longer. The Cavoul ingested a hundred people within the space of three heartbeats.

The train was a mangled toy. Fire erupted down its length on impact, boxcars jackknifed into the trees. Emerald fire snarled furiously from train to treetops, high enough that it made people aboard the Spirited Away scream in horror. Their screams carried to Black Magic’s shore where they eddied into the hiss and spray of the surf.

The Graveyard Shift Express screeched as it tried to move, the terrible sound of grating metal burrowing under Charleston’s skin. Burning bodies within the train were being harvested for energy, which prompted the order to go, and it struggled to do its job even as it liquefied.

A woman he knew as a friend of his mother’s gasped and pointed up at the sky. Sur La Lune was crumbling, the disintegrated foundation making upper stories give way. It wavered back and forth, structure groaning loudly, before tumbling headfirst.

He heard a familiar voice and followed it without questioning the gut reaction, somehow knowing this might be his only chance to get away even if his thoughts were, to him, a distant racket of disconnected screams. He gained speed, suddenly remembering he wanted to live, frantic to live, when only minutes ago he’d almost given up. I’m not ready to die yet.

The beds and armoires of hotel rooms showered around him, smashing to rubble the instant they hit the street. Wooden furniture parts jangling against each other in midair had a nightmarish panic to them as they descended, then crashed and blew apart. Everywhere was ruination, Villa de Luxe crushed in a smog of Charleston’s legacy.

He ran faster, pulled toward the soothing voice, the one he knew would save him.

 

Liesel raced down Castelo, wind yanking through her hair like angry fingers. The footfalls of Friso and Gable beat across slippery cobblestones on either side of her, with Lars and Misha behind and Cadrie ahead. Bizarrely enough, Charleston also jogged at her side, utterly amazed to find himself mixed up with this particular crowd. He must have run as the hotel toppled.

“Hide me!” Charleston shouted, reaching for Liesel’s hand.

“You’re out of luck, nutjob,” said Friso. “We’re getting the hell out of this city.”

“Then I’m coming with you.”

“No, you’re not!”

“Let him,” Liesel interjected. “We’re out the wick and he’s a walking bag of money.” Liesel and her friends hadn’t found any money since leaving The Dollhouse. Friso had stowed two kings in a library book, but The Room of Realms was on fire and they couldn’t get inside. He’d insisted next that they pursue a chest of doubloons fabled to be hidden in the woods, but this idea received a resoundingly negative response. They had no choice but to leave home empty-handed, with nothing but their steamship tickets and the stolen clothes on their backs. Lars suggested asking Mr. Petrovich for money, but Gable refused. All he’d left for his father was a letter of explanation, since he knew he couldn’t face him in person and then bring himself to leave.

Liesel would have defended Charleston and insisted he come along no matter what, but it certainly didn’t hurt that he could help them financially if they got into a jam on the way out of Woaring Cupboard. They had a formidable number of miles to put behind them before they reached southern Woaring Cupboard and the ship that would take them away. Plenty of obstacles could crop up between now and then that could throw a wrench into everything.

Charleston took her response as permission to join their running mob and stuck with them. “I heard you,” he said gratefully to Liesel. “Over all this noise, I don’t know how I picked out your voice but I did. Right now, you might be the only friend I have in the world.”

Liesel was too stunned to respond. Greater than her surprise was her relief to see him alive. It was hard to believe he cared she was alive as well—her friendship weighing the same amount to him that his friendship weighed to her, two people from vastly different social spheres regarding one another as true friends in the darkest hours of their lives.

“So a Knave, a Hanged Man, and a bunch of Bells walk into a bank while the whole town’s distracted—” Friso joked.

“No bank robbing!” Lars yelled. “We’ve been over this!”

“So a Knave, a Hanged Man, and a bunch of Bells are all running for their lives … ” A sharp wind cut into his voice, and they were all distracted by a jarring laugh.

Someone was swinging around a streetlamp, head tilted back.

“Waste!” the person yelled, his drunken cackles echoing off the street. “Senseless waste.” He danced in the sparks of a dying fire, the bakehouse behind him roasted to a skeleton. “Look at all these people who put their trust into money! And into those who use it to intimidate others! Soldiers for hire. Give them enough money and they’ll fight for anyone, no questions asked.”

Liesel recognized him as Hugo Talbot. Fredek Dobrow stood under the gaping shadows of the music hall, its ornate pillars untouched by all the anarchy.

“Money. Paper kings.” Hugo took a note out of his breast pocket and held it out to be licked by snow. “Paper melts.” He then held out a coin to Fredek, illustrating its resiliency against weather. “Just another example of how the lesser are stronger.”

“So many bought and borrowed soldiers,” Fredek scorned, kicking a body. “Allowing themselves to be ruled by those who are ruled by fear.”

The body stirred weakly, fingers crawling through oil sludge until they collapsed. His eyes fluttered open and closed, sticky with blood, before falling on Friso. “Can that be you?” he rasped, thinking that he recognized Friso in his disoriented state. “It’s me, Ka—”

Fredek kicked the dying man again.

Hugo coughed into his hand and blew the motionless body a kiss. “Come to Black Magic for the cabals. Stay because you’re dead!”

Their voices were muted in the snowfall as Liesel and her friends plunged on, leaving roads aflame behind them. Occasionally the sky crackled with orange filaments that threw houses into relief like it was daylight, then faded away until the next boom. Gunfire rode on the aftershocks of cannons, erupting not for combat or ceasefire but for the sake of causing destruction without accountability. Come morning, no one would know who committed what crimes.

Liesel rounded the final street corner onto Vasquez, her side torn up with stitches. The panic of knowing she could be seconds from death made her head spin. She could feel herself slipping out of her body, watching from a safe point overhead as her muscles continued to pump, legs moving with painful speed they weren’t capable of reaching without fear to motivate them.

Friso laughed, euphoric. “How invisible are we now?” he roared.

A gunshot blasted and four of them fell—Misha, Charleston, Liesel, and Cadrie—all of them thinking it had been them. Death was coming for them, hunting heads. If she died, would The Bells burn something down in her honor? Horribly, selfishly, she hoped so.

Liesel’s fuzzy thoughts dissipated, becoming fully alert again. She checked herself over, relieved to find she and Misha were unhurt. Then she was up on her feet in one swift motion, yanking her brother’s hand as they hurried to catch up with Gable. Friso was bending over Lars—it was Lars, Lars had been shot—and slinging him up into his arms.

“I’m okay!” Lars called. “It’s my foot. They got my foot, but I’m fine.”

Commissioner Kieve’s guttural voice penetrated the thick, whorling sheets of snow far behind them. They raced faster.

Friso hitched Lars higher up on his chest, shaking his head. “Wish I had a—”

Another gunshot pierced the night and Friso gasped. The back of his shirt bloomed with a dark, ugly stain, trickling fast between his shoulder blades, down his trousers, speckling the wind with jewel-bright drops of red.

“Friso!” Lars screamed.

Friso said nothing. He did not react. He only continued to run, leading them toward Win’s Gate. As they neared it, something strange happened to the gate: For a moment, it looked almost as if the stones shivered and disappeared, and the missing iron door was once more intact. An ethereal green light danced just on the other side. In this moment, the gate they were rushing at was brand-new, freshly built, and it glowed vibrantly as it opened to swallow them.

It only lasted an instant, and then the scene returned to normal. The stones were back, the missing door was still missing, and there was no supernatural glow.

“Friso?” Gable called.

Friso’s pace was slowing and his eyes no longer blinked. Liesel saw, with horror, that they had no life in them. But his legs, impossibly, inhumanly, kept going, propelling himself forward. He ran beneath the archway, then suddenly there was only Lars on the ground and Friso wasn’t anywhere at all.

“Where did he … ?” Lars stared, panicking. He’d been abruptly dropped. “Where did he go?”

Gable doubled over, hands on his knees. “Through there.” He stared at the archway, face white as the moon. “Through the gate.”

“But he’s not on the other side,” Cadrie said.

Gable dazedly shook his head. “Unless he is.”

A hot copper bullet lay in the snow, globby with red like a large blood clot. Liesel picked it up without thinking. Then she quickly dropped it, hands trembling, and wiped her fingers on her trousers. She couldn’t get rid of the blood under her fingernails.

Cadrie rooted along the archway’s ivy curtains, ripping off vines as if Friso might be hiding behind them, waiting to jump out. “He has to be here somewhere.”

“Friso!” Lars yelled. The Bells, and even Charleston, echoed, “Friso! Friso!” They blinked at their surroundings, at the dense black sky and snowy ground, but Friso wasn’t anywhere in sight. After he was shot, his footsteps hurried to disappear through Win’s Gate, rushing away into nothing. Liesel followed the footsteps to where they stopped sharply on the other side of the arch, incredulous.

“He can’t have simply vanished.”

“Friso!” Gable yelled with a voice that broke, cupping his mouth with his hands.

There was no returning sound. There was no body. There was a lonely disquiet, a mounting silence that could only mean Friso’s total removal from everything they could see and hear. Liesel’s mind refused to wrap around what had happened. “He’s nowhere.”

“Lars,” Gable said thickly, bewildered and confused but somehow still able to think clearly. “We have to keep going.”

“Now,” Misha agreed firmly.

Lars’s eyes dropped, glazed over. “He kept going, too,” he marveled in a detached voice.

And it was true.

Friso had continued to move for thirty-one seconds after the light in his eyes went dark, after his heart ceased to pump, body evaporating only when it passed through the whispering stones.

A dead boy running.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-Seven

[]

THE MIDNIGHT FLIGHT

 

As they ran, Liesel tossed aside the metal money box that she’d salvaged from Illuminate. It contained no money. It used to contain the severed finger of Foy Montego, but Liesel had wrapped that finger in her blood-stained handkerchief and dropped it into an envelope along with a letter to Mayor Szekeres. Dear Mayor, the letter said. My name is Ridley Juhl. My brother Dresden and I murdered Yeardley Kieve. Enclosed you will find our victim’s finger. We are also responsible for the deaths of Foy Montego, Humphrey Normand, and several officers whose names we are not familiar. We confess our crimes with the belief that we may not live to see tomorrow, and do not want this hanging over our heads when we meet our ultimate judgment.

Many of Yeardley’s missing extremities had never been recovered; nor were they likely to be, and Liesel didn’t think patrols would find it necessary to question whether or not the finger was truly Yeardley’s since it arrived with a confession written in a painstaking copy of Ridley’s handwriting.

She handed Misha’s omens back to him so that he could toss something, too.

“People like me don’t belong here anymore,” Gable said.[_ _] “There’s no room for us. Emperor Shapur will come soon, he can’t ignore all this. Might as well run.”

Liesel said she knew this already; that he didn’t have to justify leaving, but he continued to repeat himself without listening to anything he said.

“Long as we stay, people will remember us for the wrong reasons,” he rambled, staring straight ahead. “My father will forgive me. He’ll understand.” Distant shouts behind them were all but dissolved, too far to reach their ears.

Gable’s fingers tightened over Liesel’s. She knew he carried a broken fob watch and his Prophetic Prints, but there was nothing he could leave behind that wouldn’t compromise his entire sense of identity. Who would he be if it weren’t for all the useless odds and ends?

He nattered on, most of it inaudible.

Something small and white whipped out of Charleston’s hand farther ahead—he was the fastest by far, as he had the most to lose by being the slowest—and Liesel jumped up on instinct, catching it.

It was a tarot card. She twisted it in her fingers to catch the light and discern the writing scrawled under a picture of two people in a rowboat kissing. She barely made out the caption The Lovers before it blew away. Charleston tossed more cards behind him, all duplicate copies of The Lovers.

Gable’s pulse pounded hot and quick in Liesel’s hand. “We’ll be all right. We have a plan. As long as there’s a plan, we’ll be all right.”

Liesel didn’t know if this was true, but she believed him nevertheless, because when Gable said it was going to be all right, it sounded like it really was. It was an unexplainable gravitational pull he had over his friends that compelled them to follow him on crusades through waves of bullets, tell him their secrets, or fall in love with him. It was more than the magic that had begun to possess his heart.

“Remember how you said that daylight makes the scary things manageable?” he asked. “I can hypnotize you, if you want. Run while you’re asleep and wake up far, far away from here.”

Liesel swallowed. It would be a relief just to have a respite from her burns.

She looked over at Gable as they raced into a black forest that hummed with sleet, the lonely wail of a faraway train mumbling deep into the ground. He met her gaze, his eyes soft and his smile reassuring. She felt instantly warmer, and nodded her head. “This’ll only feel like a second,” Gable murmured in her ear.

He snapped his fingers.

 

 

SMOKE AND MIRRORS

The Fortune-Teller: Book Two

Chapter One

THE MIDNIGHT VOYAGE

 

Isle of Eventide’s silhouette rose and swooped in the shape of ocean breakers. These waves of jagged mountain were ordinarily green and gold forest but now shone purple, a thunderstorm thrashing its leaves belly-up.

Liesel traced the slope with her outstretched thumb, jumping down to where the mountains cracked apart to allow for a river. This was where Buluu Boca seeped in, and where small fishing boats were being capsized by ‘sea spirits’—whirlpools and water tornadoes that ravaged Eventide’s coast whenever weather turned foul.

“Get a good look at the stars,” the quartermaster boomed. “Trees’ll block ‘em once you’re ate up in Deepwater.” Rain poured so thickly that no stars were visible—just clouds rushing past each other, colliding and converging in great dark clots that whipped over a volcano called Hagsmaw.

This was the destination on their steamship tickets. Deepwater, Eventide. Estimated arrival date: 23^rd^ January, 1901.

Gable swallowed all he could see of the island, hand pressed into the small of Liesel’s back. She could feel his excited pulse in his fingertips.

“Look!” Liesel said as winds blew in to make Eventide’s fog scud away, revealing topography she almost fancied she could separate into gardens and cabins, could distinguish letters scratched into a large sign in the harbor. Right now, however, all she knew was what she’d left behind.

“It reads ‘I dreamed this island to life’,” said a boatswain, gesturing at the sign. “According to legend, Eventide started off as a spoonful of earth in a witch’s cauldron. Stirred it up and out and sideways with magic until the growth was so big that she had to transport it over the ocean to give it room to stretch.”

Liesel stood on tiptoe to glean a better look. She couldn’t pick out one blur from another among Eventide’s dark outline. Whether they liked it or not, the islanders were about to receive the fugitive Liesel Juhl, her brother Misha of The Knaves of Arcane, Charleston Birch-Robillard of The Hanged Men, and the three surviving Bells: Cadrie Singh, Lars Zakari, and Gable Petrovich.

“That’s area’s Phantasmagoria, or at least what’s left of it,” the boatswain added. “We’re not headed in that direction.” He consulted his watch. “We’ll be at port within the hour.”

“Crying shame, too,” said a voice belonging to a dark man in a newsboy’s cap and Norfolk jacket. He hefted a lantern high over his head, its vivid eye chopping the waves into fragments of mirror. With his other hand, he pointed. “Veña Comigo’s takin’ us upwing of the island. Opposite of where you’ll be wanting to go.” His black eyes glinted as he panned Gable from top to bottom. Gable didn’t shrink from him but rather gazed curiously back. “You’ll be well on your way to Sam’s by first light tomorrow.”

“Who’s Sam?”

“Sam’s is a where, not a who.” He thrust out a hand to Gable. “Kiango.”

“Petrovich,” Gable said cautiously.

“Show me a trick, then, so I can see what sort you are.” As Kiango said that, a strong gust blew in and stole the flame from his lantern.

Gable studied what was left of Kiango in the frail light, shifting his body to the night and clasping his hands behind his back. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, don’t be coy!” Kiango cried with a laugh. “You’re a man of magic. And running from something, yes? Got the whole of Finnary at your back and an ocean besides. You’ve made it out of their reach, whoever they are.”

“I don’t know what—” Gable insisted feebly.

Kiango gave him a knowing smile. “Magic always knows magic. I bet you’ve got some stunning tricks in your arsenal.”

Gable couldn’t resist flattery. “I do.”

“Let’s see, then!”

Cadrie groaned. Gable hadn’t been able to stop faffing with his pack of magic cards during the entirety of their trip, as he was so bored and always needed to keep busy. But to everyone’s surprise, Gable didn’t reach for the cards. He reached for Liesel’s hand.

“I can make my lady disappear.”

His fingers closed over Liesel’s. His smile warmed her throughout, made her heart beat fast and then suddenly quite slow. “Shut your eyes.”

She could feel Gable all around her as her eyelids pinched tight, consuming her space like smoke; could hear the low chatter of other passengers calculating how long it would be before they made it to Deepwater.

In the split-second it took for Gable to click his fingers, she knew what he was going to do.

She had run through woods and towns of Woaring Cupboard, racing tirelessly on foot, but she remembered nothing except for ephemeral flashes: the brown-and-green streaks of trees; a sky flooded with stars; a haycock where they slept; broken chunks of ice bobbling around her waist as she waded through a creek.

Gable had initially hypnotized Liesel for only a few hours, until dawn spread and Black Magic was far behind them. When he tried to wake her, she insisted on being put out again because it was easier to cross vast distances without feeling pain from her recently-burned face. Gable wanted to bewitch Lars so that his ankle could heal while he was unawares, but Lars refused to let himself fall vulnerable to unconsciousness.

Liesel likened the experience to teleportation: putting her foot down in one town and picking it back up in another. When Gable snapped her awake for the final time, they had already boarded Veña Comigo. “I’ll never do that again for long periods of time,” he’d said, shuddering. “Looking at you with your eyes wide open and your soul fast asleep took five years off my life. You were like a living doll.”

Awake, rumbled a voice in her head.

Noise crashed around her ears, assaulting her senses. She fumbled and Misha caught her before she fell—Cadrie was shaking her head, adamant that Gable’s constant fiddling with Liesel’s consciousness was going to permanently damage her ability to distinguish between dreams and reality.

Eyes open, Liesel gazed across the silvery bay of Buluu Boca to Eventide. Hypnosis made her heart beat slowly, as if asleep, but rousing from it compelled it to beat in double time. Gable said there was a particular tune that her heartbeat must play in order to make hypnosis a success.

“Hypnosis!” Kiango chirped with a patronizing smile. “Forgive me. Hypnosis is something of a party trick where I’m from. But with time, I believe you could do a great deal more.”

Gable cast for something to say, opening and closing his mouth. “I’m quick with cards … ”

“No matter, no matter. We’re both going to the same place, so I can get you up to scratch.” Kiango’s eyes wandered over Liesel, taking in the vertical scars that marred the right side of her face from hairline to jaw. Half of her face was heavily freckled and the other half looked like it had been mauled by a bear.

“By the time I’m through with you, you’ll be able to place your mouth over your lady’s and draw out her voice to use as your own,” Kiango said. “You’ll be able to make her disappear completely, not a mere wipe of the mind but also of the flesh.”

“Let’s go ahead and put a pin in that idea,” Liesel cut in nervously.

“This way, this way!” a man shouted, bullying the crowd into a queue of drenched brown overcoats. “Have your papers ready.” The hats were all different styles to hint at their origins—pork pies and boaters from Majiel, tweed caps from Woaring Cupboard, pointy witch’s hats from Trésor Edge, and broken straw from Gullrum with holes eaten through. Men from Eventide now returning home wore Panamas. All hats were a shade darker from the rain, brims dripping onto the collars of their wives. Their anticipation was electric, rubbing off on Liesel with shoulders and elbows until she was so excited that she felt nearly sick. In all the commotion, Kiango somehow disappeared.

“Train tickets!” someone else bellowed, standing on an overturned fish bucket and brandishing a wad of papers. “Tickets from Deepwater to Shria for two pentacles! Best bargain in the five isles. Conversion rate’s a pentacle for a silver queen; token is three copper peons. Tickets to Breckenblue or Spoor for a steal of three pentacles! Get to Sam’s for one apiece!”

Kiango abruptly reemerged ahead of them, exchanging a pewter coin for a ticket to Sam’s. He was wearing a different hat, this one burgundy felt with a narrower brim. Gable, who still held Liesel’s hand but let her trail behind slightly, shoved right up to Kiango and said, “Sam’s. That’s where you told us we should go, yeah?”

“Set yourself up in a hotel for the night,” Kiango advised, adjusting himself as the boat dashed against a sandbar. “Won’t be running trains this hour, anyway.” Liesel turned to the sea, seeing that they were very nearly to Eventide. A harbor crackled with lightning, which rotated about the island like a lighthouse bulb. “Catch earliest train you can to Sam’s and look me up there if we get separated afore.” He tipped his hat to Gable and left.

The back of Kiango’s coat bled into thirty identical ones, soon lost. Gable whirled on his friends. “Where’re we going to find six pentacles?” His eyes landed on Charleston, half-crazed. “You. Macall always said you carry buckets of money.”

Charleston whitened. “Not pentacles.”

“We can trade them in,” Gable said, undeterred. There’s a currency—”

“Gable.” Cadrie grabbed his collar in both hands, shaking him roughly. He blinked at her in bewilderment. “Snap out of it. We don’t need to go to Sam’s just because some dodgy man said we need to go to Sam’s! Keep your head down and stop bonding with random people you don’t know. Anyone on this ship could get news back to Black Magic about us.”

“Black Magic probably thinks we’re dead,” Gable reasoned. “Birch! The hour has arrived in which you can finally be useful.”

Charleston turned out his pockets, but had nothing to show for it besides a sopping handful of now-worthless kings, five silver queens, and a hint of copper. “Only five silvers.” He counted his traveling companions, already having forgotten their number.

Gable seized the money. “Then we only need one more.”

“Get your luggage sorted!” a crewman yelled. “Deepwater in less than twenty minutes!”

“Here, give me.” Liesel took the wet kings and slammed into the crowd, pushing this way and that until she came upon the two men up to their ears in foreign money.

One of them took a brief assessment of Liesel’s kings, which had turned to sludge, and shook his head. “Worthless.”

“But you can still see the emperor’s face on them and everything!” Liesel pointed out, shoving the papers over his nose. “Look, see there.” And while there was indeed a faint charcoal outline of a man’s hair and chin, the numbers had all gone to muck in her hand. They stuck to her fingers.

“Fine,” she grumbled, stomping away.

The boat dashed against another sandbar, this time more violently. A string of curses erupted from the crow’s nest.

Once she got back to her group, she said, “You must have hundreds here, Charleston. And they’re all ruined because you couldn’t have invested in a better wallet.”

“It’s a gold money clip,” he replied feebly. “I got it from my nana.”

Gable fluttered his hands impatiently. “Let’s not lose our heads. We’ve got five coins. I can find a sixth.”

“Then what?” Misha retorted. “We still don’t have enough for a hotel. Or for any other place to stay, once we’ve gotten to wherever we’re going.”

“Pfft. What do we need a hotel for?” Cadrie poked him. “Pretty boy can’t take a night on the ground?”

Misha, crossed between delight that someone had called him a pretty boy and irritation that someone had called him a pretty boy, ignored her and side-stepped Charleston (who had hunkered down to vomit). Malnourishment and stress made the bones in Misha’s skull protrude through gaunt skin, violet contouring his face. “It’s huge,” he murmured, clinging to the rails to gain a clearer view of Eventide.

There was a low buzz coming from the captain’s cabin. The ship pitched forward ever so slightly, forcing Liesel to clutch Lars for support.

“The last Isle of Finnary,” she marveled. The arc and sweep of Eventide’s tree line was so extraordinarily high that none of the structures below came close to escaping its shadow. She met Gable’s gaze. Wind tugged at his hair and jacket, making them whip like sails.

“Our fortune awaits,” he said with a mischievous smile.

The low buzz rose to a dim roar as the ship pitched forward again, sending a man’s cardboard suitcase skittering down the deck. People buckled and spread their arms, knocking each other about. Gable swung a full turn, eyes wide with surprise, absently reaching for Liesel without looking at her.

“Change of plans!” a deep tenor boomed from the crow’s nest. “We’re goin’ under.”


The Bells of Black Magic

In the turn-of-the-century city of Black Magic, seventeen-year-old Liesel Juhl sells secrets. She is a fortune-teller, and works in a little cleromancy shop called Illuminate. Illuminate is owned by her two horrible cousins, who spend all their time focusing on their gang and leaving Liesel and her brother to make all the money. Liesel wards off the hopelessness of her reality by daydreaming about taking her brother and striking out on their own. Liesel is content with the pretend life inside her head until real life intervenes when Gable, a charming young magician and leader of a gang called The Bells, unexpectedly shows up in her shop one night and informs her that she was the last person to have seen one of his friends alive. Stationed in Bat’s Belfry, The Bells’ purpose is to uncover gateways for time-traveling ghosts and stir up trouble with crooked patrolmen. As Liesel begins to fall into step with the strange, adventurous orphans and their world, another gang member in Black Magic rolls up dead and a game of city-wide revenge between gangs and patrols is sparked. With opposing loyalties fracturing her family and an irresistible pull toward the boy in the bell tower, Liesel’s fortune has never been foggier.

  • ISBN: 9781370003488
  • Author: Sarah Hogle
  • Published: 2016-11-18 23:20:33
  • Words: 99953
The Bells of Black Magic The Bells of Black Magic