Dangerous Deception by Kami Garcia


  The sting of the power fading was worse than the one he’d felt when it took hold, and he had to stop at the bottom of the stairs to catch his breath. He stared down as the hairy, middle-aged hands transformed back into his own.

  No. Not yet.

  I still haven’t done what I came here to do.

  He pushed through the set of doors at the foot of the staircase and came face to face with a row of bars—

  Behind it, a room full of cells—most of them occupied, though he couldn’t make out the faces of the prisoners from here. Except for one in the very last cell—

  Ridley Duchannes.

  She gripped the bars as if they were the only things holding her up. Her pink-streaked blond hair snaked through them, curling off her shoulders in every direction.

  Her hands were filthy, her fingernails black and ragged.

  Nox approached the cell quietly so he wouldn’t disturb the others. “Ridley? It’s me. Nox.”

  “Nox?” Her voice trembled, but she didn’t look up. She said it as if the word meant something more than just his name.

  Relief flooded through him. “I thought I’d lost you.”

  He curled his hands around the bars between them. Even then, he still didn’t dare touch her. She seemed so confused and scared, he wasn’t sure she was entirely herself.

  She looks fine, though. For someone who survived a traumatic accident.

  He knelt down until his head was only inches from hers. “I would’ve ripped Silas apart if he’d touched a single hair on your head.”

  Her hands trembled, and she still wouldn’t look at him.

  Nox slid his fingers down the rough metal, closer to hers, and she held on tighter.

  Slowly—gently—Nox let his fingers graze hers. “Shh. You don’t have to say anything. I can’t imagine what you’ve been through. But it’s over now.”

  Her fingers relaxed into his.

  They stayed like that for a moment, leaning in toward each other as if there were no bars between them.

  Ridley reached out until her fingers curled under his jaw, barely grazing his neck. “Nox,” she breathed.

  This time, his name sounded different on her lips. Her voice sharpened it into something harder.

  She was so close he could smell her hair. She smelled exactly the way he remembered—like cherry sugar and sunshine.

  I found you.

  He closed his eyes in relief.

  In a flash, she lunged at him and her hand closed around his throat.

  Her nails dug into his flesh. “I don’t know who you are or how you got in here. But I won’t let you hurt me.”

  “Rid, it’s me. Nox,” he said, choking. “I’d never hurt you.”

  “Liar!” she snapped, squeezing his throat tighter. “I won’t let you near me, monster. I know what you do to little girls.”

  “What?” The words caught Nox off guard.

  “I see your teeth. Your fangs.”

  “My what?” He was incredulous. “What are you talking about?”

  “I know all about the black bones. You’ll come when I’m not watching and rip my throat out in my sleep.”

  “You’re hallucinating, Ridley. It’s not real.” Nox pried her hand off his neck. “The only thing I ever wanted to do was love you.”

  Ridley backed away, as if he had just threatened to kill her. “Stop it! Don’t say that!” She covered her ears and slid to the floor. “Stop it stop it stop it stop it!”

  She squeezed her eyes shut, cowering in the corner, her hands shaking. She rocked back and forth, singing a lullaby softly to herself.

  Nox’s heart pounded as he watched her, bile rising in his throat. He felt almost as hopeless as he had before he’d found her.

  What the hell did Silas do to you?

  His next thought was even more terrifying.

  How am I going to undo it?

  CHAPTER 13: RIDLEY

  Mockingbird

  Ridley was vaguely aware of her surroundings—the plush mattress beneath her, a sparkling crystal chandelier above, and brightly woven rugs overlapping on the floor. The rugs reminded her of Uncle Macon’s study in Ravenwood Manor.

  Maybe that was where she was?

  Thoughts and memories tangled together like the yarn in her mamma’s knitting basket.

  Knit one. Purl two. Knit one. Purl two.

  As a child, she’d watched Mamma knit for hours and hours. There was something soothing about the way the needles moved in and out—on and on forever—like they would never stop.

  Mamma was sitting in Uncle Macon’s favorite chair, knitting by the fire.

  I ran toward her, my heart hammering in my chest.

  “What’s wrong, sweetheart?” Mamma asked, dropping the needles in the basket. She opened her arms and caught me as my seven-year-old frame scrambled into her lap.

  “I saw her, Mamma.” The words tumbled out so fast that I forgot to breathe. “I was all grown up, and she came looking for us. But she didn’t take Lena. She took me.”

  Mamma held me by the shoulders, staring into my eyes like she could see my future as easily as her powers as a Palimpsest let her see everything that had ever happened—or would ever happen—in this room. “Who are you talking about, Sweet Girl?”

  I swallowed hard. “Sarafine.”

  A strange expression passed across her face. “Where’d you hear that name?”

  “Reece’s friends were talking about her. They said she’s the most dangerous Caster who ever lived, and she kidnaps bad little girls so they can come work for her. They said she rides on a cart made of black bones, pulled by giant rats with fangs so big they can kill you in your sleep. They’ll rip your throat out first, and then your heart.”

  “Nonsense.”

  “I don’t want to be a bad girl, Mamma. I don’t want the rats to eat me.”

  Mamma tightened her arms around me. “Why would you think you’re a bad girl?”

  I nodded slowly, not wanting to admit the truth. “Why else would I keep dreaming about her?”

  “What does she look like in your dreams?”

  I didn’t want to picture her again, but I tried. “Sort of like the Evil Fairy in Sleeping Beauty.”

  Mamma let out a deep breath, looking relieved. I wasn’t sure why, because the Evil Fairy was the scariest person I’d ever seen. Nobody would want her to show up in their dreams. “It was just a nightmare,” Mamma said, kissing my forehead. “No one’s coming for you or taking you anywhere.”

  “No rats?”

  “Not a single one.”

  I looked up at her, unsure. “Will you sing me the song? The one that chases the bad dreams away?”

  She smiled, humming the lullaby she’d been singing to me for as long as I could remember. She taught me all the words so I could sing it to myself when she wasn’t there.

  “Mockingbird.”

  Ridley hugged her knees, rocking back and forth, singing the song that used to chase her bad dreams away. But this time, it wasn’t working.

  It didn’t sound like her mamma, and it didn’t sound like the sweet boy who had no name. It sounded like her voice, and she didn’t like it.

  Because it sounded like loneliness.

  She kept her eyes squeezed shut, afraid that if she opened them, the rats would be there again. Images flashed in front of her without warning all the time now—the rats escaping from the cage. The rats racing toward the bed, climbing over one another. The Rat Man on the other side of the bars, calling her name. It all looked so real.

  There were other flashes, too.

  Ones even more terrifying than the rats. The bright light shining in her eyes. Fire blazing through her veins. Two men talking in the background as the heat pulsed through her body like a second heartbeat.

  Patient 13.

  And something about the powers of a Siren and an Illusionist.

  The perfect combination to start with—wasn’t that what one of the men said?

  The memory slipped away,
and Ridley rocked harder.

  Just keep singing. The nightmares will go away if you just keep singing.

  Things only change if you change them, Ridley, a voice said from somewhere in the back of her mind—a voice she recognized. Don’t forget that. The Dark part of you will always protect you, just like the Darkness protected me when I was Claimed. But you have to control your power. Never let it control you.

  Ridley realized who it was. Auntie Sarafine. The only person who didn’t turn her back on Ridley when she was Claimed.

  I can’t, Ridley answered silently. I’m not strong enough. The rats will come back, and the nightmares.

  But she kept hearing Sarafine’s voice: Things only change if you change them, Ridley…. Control your power. Never let it control you.

  Ridley didn’t feel strong enough to control anything—not the rats or the blinding light or the fire or the pain. She focused on the pain and the memories, and realized there were other voices. Voices from the memory of the pain and the fire and the blinding light. So Ridley did the unimaginable and listened to those voices, too.

  “Is the infusion ready?” a man asks. “Read me the specs.”

  “Patient 13. Siren. First Trial. Administering Power Infusion: Illusionist,” another says.

  “If this takes and she doesn’t go crazy or die when the new power hits, we’ll have made history. You know that, right?”

  “Concentrate on giving her the infusion first.”

  A different kind of fire burned through Ridley—one she hadn’t felt since they took her away.

  Rage.

  She couldn’t remember who the two men were—the ones who referred to her as Patient 13—or who had locked her in this cage. So she played the song over and over in her mind, until the only voices she heard belonged to the black-boned rats, and she realized what she needed to do. It was her last thought before she drifted off again.

  I’ll make them pay.

  Just like Auntie Sarafine taught me.

  CHAPTER 14: LINK

  Electric Funeral

  The Girl with the Velvet Voice was a wild card, an unknown variable in an already complex situation—at least that was what Liv said. Still, John trusted Robert Johnson, and the whole Caster Archivist angle had Liv itching to find her.

  “Why? Are you jealous?” Floyd looked amused every time Liv brought it up.

  “Don’t be ridiculous. I just think it’s a bit odd, that’s all. Keepers have been chronicling the Caster world for hundreds of years.” Liv sniffed. “Why change the system now?”

  “Things change. The Order of Things. Us. The universe. Change isn’t always a bad thing.” Floyd shrugged.

  “It’s not always good, either,” Liv said.

  John and Link knew better than to say a word.

  As they made their way through the Tunnels, Sampson ducked into every Dark Caster club they passed, asking around to see if anyone knew the location of Ravenwood Oaks. Link didn’t think anyone would be willing to talk, but Sam said he was wrong; plenty of scumbags offered him information. The trouble was, every one of them named a different place—from bartenders and doormen to dealers and thugs, he heard everything from Savannah to Saint Croix.

  By the time they reached the French Quarter, Link was losing it.

  “How come nobody knows where the hell that plantation is?” he asked, following Lucille down the dark sidewalk. “It’s like we’re tryin’ to find Wonder Woman’s invisible plane. Or maybe S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secret base, the one in the desert.”

  “None of the people Sam asked had ever been there,” John pointed out. “My guess is it’s some kind of Cast. Maybe you can’t find Abraham’s old place unless you’ve actually been there.”

  “Unless he messes with everyone’s head so they can’t remember,” Link muttered, his mood getting worse by the minute.

  “Cloaking Casts like the kind John is talking about relate to the location itself, in this case Ravenwood Oaks,” Liv said. “You can’t Cloak a place from people who’ve actually been there.”

  “Let’s hope this Velvet Voice chick has.” Link stopped at the corner and looked around. “How much farther is it to the House of Blues?”

  Floyd looped her arm through his and pulled him down the street. “It’s House of Voodoo, and we’re almost there.”

  When they reached Madame Blue’s House of Voodoo in the older section of the French Quarter, the shop was dark.

  Link kicked an empty can against the side of the building. “Crap. It’s already closed.”

  John cupped his hands and peered through the dirty front window. “Ring the bell anyway.”

  Link pressed the buzzer next to the front door, and within seconds, a light switched on somewhere in the back.

  “Check out those voodoo dolls.” Floyd elbowed Sampson and pointed at a row of goofy-looking stuffed dolls wearing top hats on the other side of the glass, thick pins sticking out of their chests.

  “Looks like a typical souvenir shop in the Quarter.” Necro gestured at decks of tarot cards and plastic bags full of coins and trinkets labeled LUCK BAGS in the window.

  John hit the buzzer again. “It’s still worth a shot.”

  The door opened, and a woman who looked a lot like a blond Tina Turner from one of Link’s favorite movies, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, stood on the other side.

  “You only need to ring the bell once,” she said.

  “Sorry about that, ma’am,” John said.

  “The name’s Magnolia Blue.”

  “Maybe you can help us, Ms. Blue,” John continued. “We’re looking for the Girl with the Velvet Voice.”

  The woman’s eyes widened and she gasped, staring back at him from behind her wild mane. “Only one person has ever called me that. But there’s no way—”

  Link took another look at her hair, remembering the photo Robert Johnson had showed him of the Caster girl he’d left behind.

  Could she be the same person?

  “This might sound crazy, but Robert Johnson sent us, ma’am,” Link said.

  The woman brought a hand to her lips. “Is Bobby all right?”

  Sampson shrugged. “Sure. For a guy who’s trapped in a house by himself, in the middle of nowhere.”

  “I knew he wasn’t dead,” she whispered, her eyes welling.

  Lucille circled Magnolia Blue’s ankle, purring, which made Link feel better. Lucille was a pretty good judge of character.

  A lot better than me, anyway.

  Magnolia Blue bent down and scratched Lucille’s ears. “Why did Bobby send you to see me?”

  “He said you might be able to help us,” Necro said.

  She swallowed hard like it was difficult for her to talk about him. “If Bobby wants me to help you, I’ll do whatever I can. Come on in.”

  Inside, the shop seemed even more like a tourist trap. Alligator-foot key chains and bottles of powder with labels like BAT WING and LOVE ROOT were lined up on the shelves above papier-mâché skeletons dressed in tuxes and top hats. Link wasn’t sure why the skeletons were dressed like they were going to prom, but they looked about as authentic as Barbie dolls.

  Necro eyed a taxidermy caiman and scrunched up her nose. “We’re looking for Ravenwood Oaks, Abraham Ravenwood’s plantation. Mr. Johnson told us you’re the Caster Archivist, so you might know where to find it.”

  “I’m not sure how Bobby heard about that, but he shouldn’t be telling people,” Magnolia Blue said. “I can’t do my job if everyone knows I’m the one doing it.”

  Liv cleared her throat. “Ms. Blue? I’m studying to be a Keeper, and I’ve never heard of a Caster Archivist. So I have to ask … what exactly is your job?”

  “Relax. I’m not trying to steal yours, darling. When the Order of Things was broken, it caused unforeseen changes in both the Caster and Mortal worlds. It’s my responsibility to identify and monitor those changes.”

  “I thought things settled down after the New Order replaced the old one,” Liv said.

&nbs
p; Magnolia Blue gave her a knowing look. “If you’re talking about weather anomalies and insect infestations, then I suppose it would look that way. But the New Order gave us a lot more than a new breed of Supernaturals.” She smiled at Sampson. “Like you, from the look of it.”

  He nodded, and she continued. “The New Order also upset the balance in every realm—Caster, Mortal, the Otherworld, even the Abyss.”

  The Abyss—the demon realm where terrifying creatures like Vexes were trapped until a nutbag like Abraham Ravenwood summoned them. It wasn’t Link’s favorite subject. He picked up an alligator-foot key chain and dangled it in the air. “What do these things have to do with the New Order?”

  Magnolia Blue snapped her fingers, and the air shifted in front of the shelves like heat waves rising off hot asphalt. The tux-clad skeletons and potion bottles blurred, transforming into rows of books and unfamiliar objects—a glowing compass and a weird clock with pictures around the face like the images on a tarot deck.

  Link pointed at it. “Hey, Liv, that thing looks like your crazy watch.”

  Liv turned to Magnolia Blue. “Is that a selenometer?”

  The Caster Archivist noticed Liv’s watch-that-wasn’t-a-watch and smiled. “It measures the moon’s gravitational pull.”

  Liv nodded, mesmerized. “It’s a real beauty. Perhaps the finest I’ve ever seen.”

  Sampson walked over to a map on the wall. “Nice illusion.”

  The wild-haired Caster frowned. “I’m not an Illusionist.”

  Floyd frowned. “What do you mean? I haven’t seen an illusion like that in years.”

  “While I appreciate the compliment”—Magnolia Blue fluttered her fingers at a jar of change next to the register, and it transformed into a margarita glass—“I don’t disguise things. I change them.” She took a sip of the drink.

  “A Shifter. I should’ve known.” Floyd said it the way the girls on the Cheer Squad in Gatlin said Pep Squad.

  “Aren’t Illusionists and Shifters kinda the same? You know, like lions and tigers?” Link asked, anxious to change the subject. The finer points didn’t matter. Right now, he was more interested to know if Magnolia Blue’s powers could do more than just tell them where to find the plantation.

 
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