Dangerous Deception by Kami Garcia


  Sampson, Necro, and Floyd tore their attention away from the walls.

  “How do you know Abraham?” Sampson asked.

  Johnson tilted his head, as if he wasn’t sure if Sampson was serious. “Thought you said you knew the story?” He picked up his guitar, plucking at the strings absentmindedly.

  Sampson glanced down at the floor. “People have written songs about it. Books, too.”

  The bluesman shrugged off his jacket and rolled up the sleeves. “So what are they singin’ and writin’ about me?”

  Floyd walked over and stood next to Sampson, glancing at the bowl of harmonicas. “They say you were an amazing harmonica player.”

  Johnson laughed, slipping a hand-rolled cigarette out of his shirt pocket. “That’s a real nice way of sayin’ I was a bad guitar player.”

  Floyd blushed. “No—”

  “It’s all right.” Johnson lit the cigarette. “I know I wasn’t any good. Go on and finish.”

  “They say you came down here and disappeared,” Floyd said. “And when you came back, you could play the guitar better than anyone.”

  Link jumped in. “Folks say you were the greatest blues guitarist in the history of blues guitarists. And probably the other kinds, too.”

  Johnson blew a few smoke rings and looked at Sampson. “And you know how they say I got that way, don’t you?”

  Sampson shoved his huge hands into the back pockets of his leather pants. Suddenly, he looked like a guy who was afraid to ask a girl to dance, instead of a powerful Darkborn and the lead guitarist in a Dark Caster band. “You made a deal with the Devil and traded your soul.”

  Johnson’s eyes darted to John, then back to Sampson. He stubbed out the cigarette and let his fingers roam over the guitar frets for a moment, filling the room with an angry riff. “I guess that’s what they have to say, isn’t it? The only devil I made a deal with was Abraham Ravenwood. Then again, the man’s no angel.”

  Link’s head snapped up. “What? I mean, excuse me, sir?”

  No one else said a word.

  Sampson’s mouth was hanging open, and Floyd and Necro looked almost as shocked. Liv was scribbling furiously in her journal. Only John took the comment in stride, as if he’d known all along.

  “Met that bastard in a juke joint one night. We had a few drinks and talked about music. Lookin’ back, I’m sure runnin’ into him was no accident. He was lookin’ for someone that night. Someone desperate.”

  “Incubuses can’t grant wishes.” Link looked at John, hopeful. “Can we?”

  “You’re right, son. Abraham brought a Caster to take care of that. A Siren. Said she belonged to him.” Johnson played a few more chords. “But even she couldn’t make me a better guitar player.”

  Sampson shook his head. “Let me guess. The Siren gave you a guitar.”

  The old man nodded. “Called it a lyre.” He tapped on the bridge of the guitar. “She made it look just like mine, too.”

  Liv stopped writing. “I’m a little confused, Mr. Johnson. Abraham Ravenwood was capable of extraordinary things, but stealing a person’s soul wasn’t one of them. Unless there’s something I don’t know.”

  “Guess that part just made for a better story,” Johnson said.

  “Then what exactly did you trade, if you don’t mind my asking?” Liv’s pencil was poised over a fresh page.

  John stood up and walked to the window, and the bluesman’s eyes followed. There was something between the two of them—a secret, Link figured.

  Johnson set the guitar down next to him again. “He needed me for experiments.”

  “But Abraham loathes Mortals. Why would he experiment on one?”

  “Lots of talk about immortality. Abraham said if he could stop a Mortal from aging, he’d be one step closer to figuring out how to do the same thing with Supernaturals.”

  Liv gasped. “That’s why you still look so young.”

  Link wasn’t good at math, but he knew Johnson had to be around a hundred years old by now. But that wasn’t the part that interested him. “And it’s how you know about the labs.”

  Johnson frowned. “Question is, how do you know about the labs? Did your friend John here tell you?”

  John walked back toward them. “It’s the reason we’re here, Mr. Johnson. We’re pretty sure Abraham’s great-grandson Silas is running the labs now, and we need to find him. But Abraham screwed with my head, and there are lots of things I don’t remember. Like the location of the labs.”

  “You don’t wanna go back there,” Johnson warned.

  John shrugged. “You’re right. But I don’t have a choice.”

  Link jumped out of his seat. “Silas might have my girl, sir. We think he’s keepin’ her in or near his creepy labs. I know you’re probably gonna tell us it’s dangerous and we shouldn’t go and we’re gonna die, and all that kinda stuff, but I’m still goin’ either way. If there’s any chance she’s alive, I gotta find her. And if you help me, I’ll give you anythin’ you want.”

  Johnson rose from the chair and took out his wallet. He opened it and pulled out a faded photograph of a girl with a mane of wild blond hair. “I was in love with a Caster girl myself once. I should’ve stayed back home with her and settled for bein’ a first-rate harmonica player and a second-rate guitarist. But things don’t always turn out the way you plan.” His eyes lingered on the photo for a moment before he glanced back at Link. “She probably thinks I’m dead.”

  “You never went back for her?” Necro asked.

  The bluesman sighed. “After I paid my debt in the labs, Abraham sent me here. Another one of his Casters made sure I could never leave the crossroads. Guess the debt wasn’t paid after all. But I’ve kept track of her.”

  “How?” The Keeper in Liv perked up.

  Johnson bent down and scratched the dog’s head. “Deuce here helps me.”

  The dog opened one eye lazily.

  “He’s a Caster dog?” Link asked. “Like Boo Radley.” Ethan had told him all about the way Casters could see the world through the eyes of their Caster animals. Lena’s Uncle Macon had used his wolf dog, Boo Radley, to spy on Lena all the time.

  Liv inspected the Lab more closely. “But you’re not a Caster. How is that possible?”

  “It’s one of those Caster spells,” the bluesman answered. “The lady Caster who trapped me here said she was leavin’ me a little gift. She didn’t like Abraham much.”

  “It sucks you can’t leave,” Necro said sadly.

  “Anything’s better than bein’ back in the labs,” Johnson said.

  Link cleared his throat. “Will you tell us how to find them, sir?”

  Johnson shuddered. “I wouldn’t wish that place on my worst enemy. I didn’t make a deal with the Devil, but Abraham Ravenwood is as close as they come.”

  “Was,” Link said. “He’s dead. John and I killed him.”

  The bluesman walked over to Link and gestured at the sheet of paper Link had been writing on. “You a songwriter, son?”

  Link shrugged. “I used to be. But I haven’t been able to write since I lost Ridley. That’s her name.”

  “Mind if I take a look?” the bluesman asked.

  Link hesitated, then handed him the page reluctantly. He didn’t like the idea of one of the greatest blues musicians in history reading his crappy songs.

  But it’s worth it if he helps us find Rid.

  Johnson’s eyes scanned the page.

  “I told you the songs are real bad, sir.” Link hung his head. “They don’t even rhyme. Deep down, I always knew I wasn’t the best songwriter, but I didn’t think I sucked. Guess I was kiddin’ myself.”

  John and Liv, and even Floyd and Necro, were in shock. It was more than they’d ever heard Link admit. From the moment he formed his first band, Who Shot Lincoln, and right on up to the Holy Rollers and Sirensong—Link had told everyone that he was destined to be a rock god. But he didn’t care anymore about saving face—or about the band, or his career, or anything.
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  If I don’t get Ridley back, none of it matters.

  The bluesman looked up. “Songs aren’t supposed to rhyme, son. They’re supposed to make you feel. That’s what music’s about. All those words and notes are just a different way to tell someone you love them, or your heart’s broken, or you’re mad enough to kill somebody.”

  Link nodded, but he wasn’t sure he understood.

  “Isn’t that how it feels when you sing it?” Johnson asked.

  “I haven’t actually gotten around to that part.”

  Johnson handed the paper back to him. “Then let’s hear it.”

  It was one of those go-big-or-go-home moments, and as much as he didn’t want to make a fool of himself, there was nothing Wesley Lincoln hated more than going home, and not just because of his mother.

  I’m no quitter. If Robert Johnson wants to hear a song, I’ll sing him one, even if it sucks worse than my mom’s peach cobbler.

  Like so many other times, Wesley Lincoln—tragically average Mortal basketball player, cheerleader kryptonite, and perpetual Pinewood Derby loser—had no choice but to man up.

  Here goes nothin’. Link cleared his throat. This is for you, Rid. All my songs are for you.

  He focused on the paper in his shaking hands and started to sing:

  “Blond hair and mile-long legs,

  Bad attitude wearin’ a borrowed smile.

  Never thought I had a chance with the Siren in you.

  “But you took my hand, listened to my songs,

  Hopped in my car and showed me the way outta here.

  Now you’re gone and all I can think about is …

  “Half past the time I lost you

  And all the things I should’ve said.

  If I could just go back, I’d say it all,

  So you’ll never forget you’re mine.

  “Those nights we spent in my old car, lookin’ at the stars,

  Holdin’ hands, and makin’ plans.

  Didn’t know they’d be the last.

  “Just another Southern boy’s first love,

  Too many regrets and can’t-forgets.

  If I could just go back to …

  “Half past the time I lost you

  And all the things I should’ve said.

  If I could just go back, I’d say it all,

  So you won’t forget you’re mine.”

  Link stopped singing, but he couldn’t look up. “That’s all, I guess.” He crumpled the paper in his hands. He sounded sad, like the words in his song.

  Because it’s how I feel. It’s all true.

  When he finally glanced up, his friends looked stunned, but Johnson smiled. “You got a real gift. Don’t waste it.”

  No one had ever told Link he had a gift before, let alone a talent for something he actually cared about. He looked as shocked as his friends.

  “Unless I find my girl, it doesn’t matter.” Link took a deep breath. “Help me find her, sir. Please.”

  “Wish I could, son.” The bluesman shook his head sadly. “But I just can’t remember.”

  John almost jumped out of his seat. “What are you talking about?”

  “Your head wasn’t the only one Abraham messed with.” Johnson pointed at his temple. “There are things I can’t remember. Things he didn’t want me to remember.”

  Link dropped back down in his chair, shoulders sagging. “You don’t know where the labs are,” he mumbled. “You can’t help us. We’re screwed.”

  “Come on now, keep your head up, son.” Johnson patted Link’s shoulder. “Just because I can’t help you doesn’t mean I don’t know somebody who can.”

  “Sir?”

  “Are you willin’ to make a trade?” Johnson asked.

  Link swallowed hard. He didn’t want to give the old man his soul, not that he figured it was worth much. And the stories had never exactly gone in favor of the guy making the trade—including Johnson’s.

  But I’ll do it for Rid.

  “I should probably tell you right up front that I’m a pretty big sinner,” Link said. “At least, accordin’ to my mom. And she practically lives at church. So you probably won’t end up at the Pearly Gates with my soul.”

  The bluesman raised an eyebrow. “I’m not interested in your soul. I want that.” He pointed at the sheet of paper in Link’s hand.

  “You want my song?” Link was shocked. “The one I wrote?”

  “It was really good, Link,” Necro said.

  Johnson nodded. “Like I said, you’ve got a gift. And I’ve been lookin’ for somethin’ worth playin’ for a long time. Gets lonely out here.”

  Link didn’t hesitate. As far as he was concerned, the guy could have every song he’d ever written and every song he was ever going to write. “It’s yours. Just tell me where to find this person who can help us.”

  Johnson tucked the page in his pocket and walked back to his armchair. “I can’t make you any promises, but if anybody knows how to find those labs, it’s the Girl with the Velvet Voice.”

  “Who?” Floyd and Liv asked at the same time.

  “She’s the Caster Archivist,” he said matter-of-factly.

  For a second, Liv didn’t say a word. “You must be confused, Mr. Johnson. I’ve never heard of a Caster Archivist, and I’m studying under some of the most knowledgeable Keepers in history.”

  “Well, she’s as real as you and me.” Johnson ran his fingers across the frets of his guitar. “She monitors the whole New Order. All that crazy stuff, since the world got all shook up and back again.”

  At the mention of the New Order, Liv looked rattled.

  The bluesman pointed at Link. “When you get to New Orleans, find Madame Blue’s House of Voodoo. Ask for the Girl with the Velvet Voice, and tell her I sent you.”

  “You’re sure about this, Mr. Johnson?” Link held his breath waiting for the answer.

  Johnson put down the guitar and looked him in the eye. “I’d bet my soul on it.”

  CHAPTER 12: NOX

  Every Rose Has Its Thorn

  Nox stared at the picture so intently that the rest of the room began to blur around it.

  She looks like a corpse.

  In the photograph, Ridley’s eyelids were heavy and she was leaning against the wall for support. It was unclear if she even had any idea her picture was being taken. But the way the photo was tacked over some of the others made it look like a recent addition.

  He had to hurry. He snatched her picture off the wall.

  I’m coming, Ridley.

  He barely noticed the other rooms along the hallway as he rushed past them, stopping just long enough to be sure no one was inside. The only thing he could think about was finding her. Nox heard voices somewhere far behind him, maybe back in the trophy room, but he ignored them. He was almost at the end of the hallway now.

  Just a little farther. Make it to the door.

  When he reached the end of the hall, he saw an elevator on one side and a stairwell on the other. Both led in the same direction: down.

  Good enough.

  Just as he reached the first stair, he heard louder voices coming from below him. But he had an even bigger problem. The voices behind him were suddenly growing closer, and unless he continued down the stairs, whoever was coming would definitely see him.

  At that moment, Nox wished he had the ability to Travel. Unfortunately, no Incubus had lost that ability to him in one of his high-stakes card games yet. What was in his arsenal of TFPs? Among all the talents, favors, and powers he’d won at his clubs, there had to be something.

  Come on. Think.

  Then it came to him.

  The Evo.

  He’d been saving this particular power in case he needed it to get Ridley out of the labs, but if he got caught before he found her, it would be worthless.

  An Evo had lost his powers to Nox in the same winner-take-all series of Liar’s Trade that Ridley had almost won. It had been a nasty game, but Nox remembered it fondly. It was that night
that had first brought Ridley into his club.

  Evos had the ability to Morph and make themselves look and sound like anyone they wanted—a power Nox could use right about now.

  Nox pulled the queen of hearts out of his jacket pocket and whispered the words to make the power his. At least temporarily.

  Quid opus est me.

  Make me who I want to be.

  Morphing into Silas was too risky, considering he could be somewhere in the labs right now. So Nox picked someone else.

  Someone insignificant and unnoticeable. Someone who could move through the hallways without attracting any attention.

  The tingle started in his toes and traveled up his legs and torso until it felt more like a sting, only one that radiated across his entire body. He glanced down at his arms, now hidden beneath a white lab coat, and flexed the fingers that looked nothing like his own.

  It’s done.

  Nox caught a glimpse of the woman first, as she came up the stairs. She was abnormally tall—most likely a Darkborn.

  The Incubus next to her looked like one of Silas’ standard thugs. He glanced at Nox. “What are you doin’ here, Doc? I thought you said you were leaving.”

  “I am,” Nox said. “I was just finishing up a few things.” Nox realized how lucky he was that he’d heard the guy in the lab coat talking in the hallway. Even an Evo couldn’t impersonate someone else’s voice unless they had actually heard it before.

  The Darkborn hesitated for a moment and gave Nox a strange look.

  Nox shrugged.

  All he could think about was Sampson’s crazy instincts. He had no idea how far they extended, or if they were unique to Sampson.

  Please don’t ask where I’m going, since I have no clue.

  The Incubus hit the Darkborn on the shoulder lightly. “Let’s go.”

  She nodded. “Take it easy, Doc.”

  A moment later, he heard the two of them talking to someone else. They must’ve caught up with whoever was coming.

  Nox rushed down the stairs, careful to keep his footsteps silent. The tingling had turned back into a sting, and he didn’t know how much longer this Evo power would last. That was the problem with borrowed powers; they were unstable by nature. And the more powerful the Caster they belonged to was, the longer they lasted. The guy who had lost his powers to Nox must have been pretty low on the food chain.

 
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