We’ve received over 30 offers of help for the medical beta. Thank you so much, guys.
I have a question: for those of you who use essential oils, where do you get them? I searched online and I am now thoroughly confused: should I buy prepared ones, should I cut them, what should I buy… I use them specifically for the candle infuser thingie.
My hope is to nuke the copy edit today. I am really tired of this book. But at least nobody can say I didn’t try. People keep asking if it’s the last one. It’s the last one for now. Unless it has crazy sales, a TV series gets made, or suddenly magical inspiration hits me like a bolt of lightning, this one is done for a little bit, at least in full novel stage. We may do some novellas on our own or something. Or perhaps reinvent it somehow. Our publisher is very enthusiastic about the series, so it’s not by any means a closed door.
I was going to give you a snippet, but everything I pick has a spoiler in it. Here is Gunmetal Magic Instead.
Ever since the Shift, the moment when our slow apocalypse in progress began, the plants decided it was time to wage full-on assault on all things human. Magic fueled the tree growth, and Centennial Park was a shining example of that. In the decade since the Shift the park had tripled in size, taking over the neighboring city blocks. Once the Atlanta witch covens purchased it from the city as their meeting place, the park stopped expanding sideways, directing all of its growth upward instead. As we drove up, a dense wall of green greeted us, the tree trunks bound together with thorny vines, as if a three-hundred-year-old forest had somehow sprouted in the middle of the city.
The brown square building of the Central Library sat recessed in the green. A pair of massive ash trees hugged it on both sides, their branches and roots braiding together, sliding over the walls and sometimes through them, as if the library itself was some odd mushroom growing from their twin trunks. The trees sheltered the library and while its neighbors had long-ago fallen and crumbled, the library looked intact.
We parked in a large parking lot, which used to be Forsyth Street, and went to the doors. Inside a young dark-haired girl, barely fifteen if that, stepped in our way. She carried a staff, wore jeans and a frilly white T-shirt, and the left side of her face sported a tattoo of some arcane symbols above her eyebrow and down over her cheekbone.
“Please surrender your weapons!” she chirped in a high voice and nodded at the cart full of plastic bins.
Ascanio’s eyes lit up.
I removed my Sig-Sauers and put them into a plastic bin. The two knives followed. I put my wolfsbane and a small flask of my silver powder into it.
“Thank you!” the witch said and looked at Ascanio.
The boy offered her his knife with a charming smile. “Hi! What’s your name?”
“My name is Put the Knife into the Bin, Please!”
Ascanio deposited the knife into the bin and followed me.
“Giving up?” I asked.
“She isn’t interested,” he said. “Cute, but not interested.”
That was one thing I could honestly say about the Atlanta boudas: the men always understood the difference between no and maybe.
We crossed the floor to a heavy desk manned by a female librarian. She smiled at me. “May I help you?”
“We need access to the Library of Alexandria.”
“Are you a member?”
“No, but I would like to be.”
“Andrea?” a familiar male voice said.
I turned. A tall, broad-shouldered man stood on the right, by the reference bookshelves, looking at me. He wore a black robe with silver embroidery along the hem and sleeves, fastened by a leather belt around his narrow waist. His jet-black hair was shaved on the sides of his head into a semblance of a horse’s mane. His features were bold and harshly cut: he had a large aquiline nose, a square jaw, prominent cheekbones, and a full mouth that could be either sensual or cruel.
His eyebrows were black, and his eyes, full of humor, were black, too. He seemed to really like that color, which was understandable since he was a volhv, which was kind of like a Russian druid, and he worshipped, Chernobog, a Slavic god of “Everything Bad and Evil” as Kate once put it. If you looked in a dictionary under “dark wizard,” you’d get his picture. Except he would be standing on a pile of skulls and holding a staff with magic fire shooting from it.
The volhv put his book down and walked over to us. I had to admit, the robe, the hair, and his height combined into a pretty menacing whole. He smiled, showing even white teeth. “You remembered my name.”
He had one of the best male voices I’ve ever heard. Rich and resonant and just a touch suggestive. Or maybe I was reading too much into it. The first time I ever saw him, he was in a loup cage in our office, because he’d attacked Kate and she didn’t like it. He’d made some comments to me, which could have been construed as flirting. In a dark terrible wizard way.
I also remembered him having a Russian accent. Not a big one, but now he was talking like he was born and raised in Atlanta. Maybe he was.
“Still the same outfit, I see. Do you ever change it up?”
“In private,” he said. “Must maintain the whole ‘knitted from darkness and shadow’ image.”
“Aren’t darkness and shadow the same thing?” I asked.
He wagged his eyebrows at me. “Aaah, you’d think so, but no. Shadow implies the presence of light. I am not all bad, you see. Parts of me are good. In fact, parts of me are excellent.”
Ascanio rolled his eyes behind him.
“So,” Roman said. “What brings you here?”
“We’re trying to get access to the Library of Alexandria.”
“I can help you. I’ve got this, Rachel.” Roman waved at us. “Follow me.”
We followed him up a tall gray and brown staircase. “Do you come here often?” I asked.
He rolled his dark eyes. “I live in this bloody place. Dad’s making me track down some obscure legend. The Witch Oracle had foreseen some things a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been digging in ever since.”
“Could you just tell him no?” Ascanio asked from behind.
Roman glanced at him and heaved a dramatic sigh. “My father is the Black Volhv. My mother is one of the Witch Oracles. In my place, you have to ask yourself, is saying no worth the problems, the nagging, the accusations of not being a good son, the lectures from both of my parents, and the story of how my mother was in labor for forty hours, which I can recite from memory. It’s easier to just do what they want. Besides, if the prophecy is the sign of something dreadful happening, we might as well be prepared.”
“What sort of prophecy was it?” Ascanio asked.
“That’s classified.” Roman winked at him. “I could tell you, of course. But then I would have to kill you and chain your soul, so you would be my shadow servant for all eternity. Come on, it’s right this way.”
Roman turned left, between the bookcases, going deeper into the library’s second floor.
Ascanio’s eyes widened. He turned to me. “Can he do that?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I have no idea. Why don’t you try bugging him, so we’ll find out?”
Roman led us through the narrow tunnel between bookshelves all the way to the back of the library where five terminals glowed weakly. He pulled a card out of his pocket and swiped it through the card reader of the two closest terminals. The Library of Alexandria logo—a book encased in flame—came on the screens.
“Here you go.”
“Thank you. Much obliged.” It was really nice of him.
“Say, can I ask you a question? In private?”
“Sure.” I pointed at the left terminal. “Ascanio, search for our boy. Remember, anything that has to do with his art collection.”
We walked along the wall outside of Ascanio’s hearing distance, which took us almost all the way to the end of the section.
Roman’s dark eyes turned serious. “You have ties with the Pack, yes?”
He frowned, looming next to me, all tall and dark. “Did you hear anything . . . alarming? Anything about them taking over the city, for example?”
“No. It wouldn’t happen anyway. Curran is a separatist,” I told him. “He believes in maintaining a distance between the shapeshifters and everyone else. The Pack worships his footsteps. They wouldn’t do anything without his say-so. Even if they did, how would they hold the place? Everyone else would unite and crush them and that’s leaving aside any action the government would take.”
Roman stroked his chin. “True, true . . .”
“Why do you ask?”
“The prophecy. Some prophecies are distinct. This one wasn’t. The witches saw a shadow falling on the city and then there was howling. Deafening, scary howling. They aren’t sure if it’s a dog or a wolf or something else. Also they saw a spiral of clay.”
“So what does it mean?”
Roman shook his head. “No way to tell. It must’ve felt terrifying, because my mother was rattled after it.”
I had met Evdokia. Anything that managed to rattle her had to be treated as a serious threat.
“Are you free tomorrow night?” Roman asked. “I’d love your perspective on things.”
“Are you asking me on a date?” Flirting or not flirting?
Roman leaned one arm against the bookcase. “Who me? I don’t date. I only steal virgins to sacrifice.”
Flirting. Shamelessly flirting. “Hmm, then I’m not of any interest to you. I’m not a virgin.”
He grinned. “This would be a professional meeting.”
“Kompletely profeshonal,” Roman said, turning the Russian accent back on.
He was charming and funny and a bit scary, which was always a draw in my book. But every nerve in me still hurt. If there was one thing I’d learned, it was that jumping from one relationship into another was a bad idea.
Still . . . My life didn’t have to be tied with Raphael’s. The world wasn’t limited to one bouda jerk. Here was a guy, a funny, handsome guy, who probably thought I was hot. It could be someone like him. It could be no one, for that matter. I could be perfectly fine by myself.
“I’m investigating four shapeshifter murders,” I told him. “Have you heard anything?”
“No. But I can ask.”
“Well, see, I’m no good to you, because I’m not a virgin and you are no good to me because you know nothing about the murders. Maybe some other time?”
He reached out to me. One second his hand was empty and the next a small black card with a white phone number appeared as if by magic. “Take a card?” he asked, winking. “Come on, take one.”
“Will it sprout fangs when the magic hits?”
“You won’t find out unless you take it. Or are you chicken?”
I swiped the card. “Just a warning, if it turns into something nasty, I’ll shoot it.”
Roman laughed quietly.
“You want one of mine?”
“Five-five-five, twenty-one thirteen.”
The number to the office. He must’ve gotten it from Kate.
“Well, I’ve got to go,” I said.
Roman glanced up and said in a conspiratorial voice. “If I disappear in a dramatic pillar of black smoke, do you think the sprinklers will go off?”
I leaned over to him and kept my voice low. “Probably. But I’m willing to close my eyes for a second and pretend you did anyway.”
I closed my eyes for a long moment and when I opened them, he was gone.
When I returned to the terminal, Ascanio handed me a notepad with notes. “I found some articles. Also the volhv likes you,” he said, his gaze fixed on the screen.
“Yes, he does.” I scanned his notes. He’d made a list of the art auctions Jamar had visited.
“Does this mean you’re done with Raphael?”
I gave him my sniper stare. “If you ever want to set foot out of the office again, you will stop taking an interest in my love life. It doesn’t concern you.”
He turned to me with an expression of remorse that could’ve made the angels weep. “Yes, ma’am.”
How do you go from Baby Rory to Ascanio? To think that one day I might have kids, and given that I was half-bouda they would probably turn out just like him. The mind boggled.
“It says here Jamar bought a toilet seat for fifty thousand dollars,” Ascanio said.
I looked on the screen. “It says it’s from Amarna, from the eighteenth dynasty of Ancient Egypt.”
“It’s a toilet seat,” Ascanio said.
“It’s four thousand years old.”
He looked at me, incredulous. “Some ancient Egyptians sat on it and took a dump.”
“I assume so.”
“He paid fifty thousand dollars for a used toilet seat.”
“Maybe it was gold-plated,” I told him.
“No, it says here it’s made of limestone, so if you were to use it, you’d freeze your ass off when you sat on it.”
“It’s not cold in Egypt. It’s hot. Your grasp of geography is shaky, my friend.” I sat down at a terminal next to him and typed “Jamar Groves” into the search window.
“You could buy a car for fifty thousand dollars. A really nice car.” Ascanio’s eyes lit up. “A Hummer. You could buy a converted Hummer.”
“You don’t need a Hummer,” I said.
“Chicks dig the Hummer.”
“You don’t need any chicks either.”
He gave me an injured look. “I have needs.”
“I have needs too and right now I need you to concentrate on tracking down Jamar’s antique collection. Get to it.”