Dangerous Deception by Kami Garcia

  This time, Link was the one who pulled the door off the hinges. Though it did take him a little more effort than the gate had taken Sampson.

  Whatever. I’m only a quarter Incubus, not a seven-foot Caster version of Hellboy.

  As they stepped into a gleaming foyer, Necro coughed and buried her nose in the crook of her elbow, as if the stench had gotten worse. She crossed the foyer, making a wide circle to avoid something on the floor that no one else could see.

  “More blood?” John asked.

  Necro averted her eyes. “It’s everywhere. There was a huge pool of it just inside the door.”

  Link checked the bottoms of his shoes. Even if it was invisible ghost blood, he didn’t want it on him.

  Liv followed Angelique, staying close to the peeling wallpaper covering the walls at the perimeter of the room, which led into a huge parlor. An enormous crystal chandelier hung above the threadbare velvet couches and floor pillows scattered around the room.

  Link walked up to what looked like a long-necked glass vase with a weird pipe thingy attached to it. “What the hell is that?”

  “A hookah,” Liv said. “People fill it with leaves called shisha, like a pipe. But a hundred and fifty years ago, they probably weren’t smoking anything nearly as tame.”

  “Huh?” As usual, Link felt like he was failing a test he didn’t even know he was taking until a second ago.

  “Opium,” she explained. “At least, that’s what people generally smoked in hookahs back then.”

  Sampson and Lucille rushed ahead, following Angelique and dodging the ropes that sectioned off the house like an exhibition in the Fallen Soldiers Museum back home.

  Angelique gestured down the hall. “The Outer Door is in the basement.”

  “Let’s get it open,” Sam said.

  “John, look at the dials.” Liv tapped her selenometer. “This is not good.”

  Link rushed over in time to see the hands on the dials spinning in opposite directions. “What does it mean?” he asked. Liv was always worried about the why, but all Link cared about was the what. If some kind of supernatural hurricane was about to hit this place, Link didn’t want to be the last to know.

  Liv shook her head. “Honestly, I have no idea.”

  “I think I do,” Floyd said.

  The air shifted again, the same way it had in the courtyard.

  Within seconds, the bodies began to appear—girls, around his age if Link had to guess. Most of them had dark hair and golden skin, and they were all dressed in flowing silk and gold jewelry like the ones in the courtyard. Except their beautiful faces were covered in blood. A few of them had knife wounds or jagged lacerations that turned Link’s stomach.

  “Down here,” Sampson called from somewhere far away, most likely the basement.

  “Let’s get out of here.” John moved in front of Necro and Floyd.

  Necro didn’t respond. Floyd gave her a gentle push, and Necro shuffled forward, almost as if she was in a trance.

  Link reached the front of the parlor and saw the long hallway leading to the open basement door. Lucille sat in the doorway, as if she was waiting for them. Link grabbed Necro’s hand, practically dragging her. One of the harem girls rushed toward them, and Link yanked Necro’s arm harder, but it was too late.

  The hazy harem girl stepped right into the Necromancer’s body.

  Necro’s body jerked back so hard that she took Link along with her.

  It felt like someone hit Fast-Forward….

  Necro’s body slammed against the wall—

  Her hand slipped from Link’s—

  Floyd called out to her—

  Necro’s mouth opened in a scream that never came—

  She scrambled away from Link, her posture more formal than he’d ever seen it. As Necro’s eyes darted between her friends, it was clear she didn’t recognize any of them. “You have to help me,” Necro said in a frantic voice, softer and more innocent than her own. She rushed toward Liv, clutching at her arm. “There are men upstairs, and they are hacking everyone to pieces.”

  Before Liv had a chance to respond—or anyone could explain that the men weren’t there anymore and the Sheer was just remembering the crime—the Sheer turned toward the doorway as if she heard a noise. Link knew the sound had to be in her head, because he didn’t hear anything.

  Necro’s eyes widened, and she dropped Liv’s arm and bolted toward the back door—and away from whoever she’d seen in the doorway.

  But someone else appeared under the archway.


  “What’s wrong?” he called out, looking panicked.

  Necro turned when she heard his voice and let out a bloodcurdling scream.

  The harem girl’s Sheer stepped out of Necro’s body and took off running again. The girl’s form faded just before she crossed the threshold to the courtyard.

  Necro swayed, looking dizzy and confused.

  Floyd caught her arm for only a second before the Sheer of another harem girl appeared. The Sheer ran toward Necro, glancing behind her as if she was being chased, and Necro jerked back the moment the injured girl stepped inside her body. Just like the first time, Necro looked confused for a second, then terrified, as she took on the expression and even the crooked posture of the dead girl.

  She turned and tried to run for the back door, just like the first girl had, but her injured leg slowed her down long enough for Sampson to catch up with her. He grabbed Necro by the shoulders and shook—not too hard but hard enough. “Get the hell out of her!”

  “No! Please!” Necro covered her eyes, screaming.

  Sampson scooped her up, tucking one arm under her legs. Necro cowered, her screams growing more intense.

  “We have to get her out of here,” Sampson said.

  “The Outer Door is at the bottom of the stairs,” Angelique called out, pointing.

  Sam turned to Link. “Rip her out of here. We’ll meet you on the other side.”

  John charged forward and took Necro’s quivering body from Sampson. “I’ve got her. I’ve been Traveling a lot longer than Link has.” John turned to Liv. “Stay with Link. I’ll meet you there.”

  She nodded, and Link waited for John to dematerialize.

  But a moment later, he was still standing in the exact same spot with Necro screaming in his arms. John looked confused and closed his eyes like he was concentrating. The air around him shifted, and light pricked through his form as if he was beginning to disappear … but he was still standing there.

  “It’s not working,” John said. “It must have something to do with the Sheer. I can’t Rip with the Sheer inside Necro.”

  “How do we get it out of her?” Floyd asked.

  John looked down at Necro, who was hysterical now, and shook his head. “I don’t know.”

  Necro’s head snapped to attention, her eyes darting wildly around the room as if she’d heard another sound no one else had.

  John turned toward the arched doorway, following her gaze, and Necro wiggled out of his grasp.

  “No!” Sampson shouted.

  Necro took off toward the back door, dragging her injured leg behind her. The Darkborn ran after her, but even if she could have outrun him, it wouldn’t have mattered. The moment she reached the door, the Sheer stepped out of Necro’s body and kept running down the porch steps and into the courtyard.

  Another Sheer—a man wielding a curved sword—darted out of the bushes. He swung the weapon and caught her in the back, slicing right through her body. The Sheer let out a raspy cry as she vanished into thin air.

  The murderous Sheer rested the bloody knife against his shoulder, already scanning the area for another victim.

  Sampson caught Necro just as she collapsed and, carrying her, bolted out of the room and toward the basement. Link was right behind him. Even though the Incubus in Link was fast, the Darkborn was faster, not to mention the fact that it took Link three strides to match every one of Sampson’s.

  “Follow Link
,” John called out.

  The basement door was open, and Lucille stood in the glow of the doorway. When she saw Sampson coming at her, she pulled her ears back and hissed.

  It only took Link a second to realize that Sampson wasn’t the one she was hissing at.

  Another harem girl turned the corner and collided with Sam. He pivoted like a linebacker, trying to throw her off, but the Sheer glided right through him and into Necro.

  The Necromancer inhaled sharply, like a drowning person who had finally come up for air. She stared past Sampson’s shoulder and pointed a trembling finger. “They’re coming.”

  Sampson ignored her and bounded down the stairs.

  Link slipped and slid down the first few on his butt. And for once, no one had time to make fun of him. As he reached the bottom of the stairs, he saw Angelique standing in front of the Outer Door—and it was already open.

  “Take your time,” Angelique said. “It’s not like I have places to go or people to kill.”

  Sampson ignored her and skidded to a halt when he reached the door. The Darkborn shifted his weight, like he was trying to decide whether or not to take the next step. He turned to face the others. “What should I do? Can I take her out of the house?”

  Link looked to Liv automatically, realizing everyone else was looking at her, too.

  Necro lifted her chin, raising her eyes to the top of the stairs. “No!” she shrieked, trying to claw her way out of Sampson’s arms.

  Liv flipped through the pages of her journal frantically.

  “There’s no time.” Sampson looked panicked.

  John squeezed Liv’s arm. “Trust your instincts.”

  She nodded and turned to Sampson. “Take her through.”

  “But the Sheer’s still inside her. What if she gets hurt?”

  Liv swallowed hard. “The Sheers are anchored to the house. When you cross the threshold, I think it will force the Sheer out of Necro’s body.”

  “You think?” Floyd asked, sounding frightened.

  Liv squared her shoulders. “It’s science. Spirits are energy. This house is functioning like a black hole trapping that energy within it. Take her across.”

  Lucille ran into the Tunnel and waited.

  Sampson glanced at Necro, unsure.

  Come on, Wheel a Fate. Give us a break for once, Link thought.

  Link couldn’t remember Liv being wrong before, but as Sampson lifted his foot to cross the threshold, dread twisted in Link’s insides.

  There’s a first time for everything. Especially the bad things.

  Necro let out a bloodcurdling wail, but Sampson kept moving.

  The moment Necro’s body reached the boundary between the basement of the Sultan’s Palace and the Caster Tunnel, her shoulders jerked and the harem girl’s Sheer lurched forward—out of Necro’s body—as if someone had thrown her. It was like the Sheer had hit a force field from a sci-fi movie. The Sheer’s bare feet hit the ground, and she bent down in a crouch, as if she was just as shocked as Link. Then she rushed back up the stairs.

  When Link turned back to the Tunnel, Sampson was already standing on the other side next to Lucille. He was still carrying Necro, her limp body leaning against his massive chest.

  Floyd ran toward them. “Is she okay? Why isn’t she moving?”

  Link swallowed hard.

  Come on, Nec. You gotta be okay.

  “She’s breathing, and her pulse is strong.” Sampson looked down at her. “Beyond that, I don’t know.”

  Necro stirred, and she pushed closer to Sampson, like someone having a nightmare.

  Liv touched Necro’s wrist and counted softly, checking her pulse. “Sam’s right. Her pulse is a little fast, but it’s strong. She’s probably just weak. I can’t imagine it’s easy to have spirits stepping in and out of your body that way.”

  Sampson took a deep breath, looking relieved.

  “That certainly was dramatic, and a little anticlimactic,” Angelique said, glancing at Necro before she headed down the Tunnel.

  “You should shut your mouth,” Sam called after her. “Before someone does it for you.”

  The Cataclyst winked at him. “Aw. Say it like you mean it.”

  “Let’s go,” John said. “We can’t afford to lose her until she gets us to the labs.”

  Sampson nodded and pulled Necro closer to him, following Angelique, while Lucille trotted next to the Darkborn.

  The Tunnel resembled a storage cellar in an old bar. Boxes filled with cartons of Lucky Strike and Pall Mall cigarettes were stacked next to crates with the word COFFEE stamped on the outside.

  John reached inside one of the crates and pulled out a bottle of whiskey. “These have probably been down here since Prohibition.” He checked the date on the bottle. “Bootleggers smuggled liquor in coffee and tobacco crates all the time.”

  Liv pushed up on her toes and peered inside another crate. She pulled out an unmarked bottle of clear liquid. “Gin, maybe. I’m surprised Abraham left these down here.”

  “Maybe it’s part of the décor,” Floyd said, following Sampson farther into the Tunnel. “When you have as much money as the Ravenwoods, I bet cases of old cigarettes and liquor aren’t big concerns.”

  “Not if you’re selling harems of Caster women and girls,” Liv said.

  “I’m gonna kill that bastard Silas when I see him,” Sampson said as he stormed behind Angelique.

  “Get in line,” Link said. “If that son of a bitch did anythin’ to Rid …” He couldn’t finish. The possibility that Silas might have already done something terrible to Ridley was too much. Deep down, Link knew things could be even worse—that he might get to the labs and find out Ridley was dead.

  She’s okay.

  He had to believe it. It was the only thing he had left to hang on to.

  Angelique slowed down. “Now, boys, let’s not get carried away. Silas is mine.”

  “What happened?” Necro mumbled, her hand sliding around the back of Sampson’s neck.

  Sampson froze, as though he wasn’t sure if Necro was really talking or if he was imagining it—at least, that was the way it looked to Link.

  If anyone knows what that feels like, it’s me.

  How many times had he found Ridley or one of his friends hurt and wondered if they were gonna be okay?

  At least I knew if they were alive or not.

  “You’re awake.” Floyd rushed to her friend’s side and wrapped her arms around Necro.

  Liv and John rushed over, too.

  Necro rubbed her eyes and stretched slowly. “I feel like I was run over by a bus.”

  “Do you remember anything?” Liv asked tentatively.

  Necro nodded, wincing. “Some of it. I saw the Sheer of one of the harem girls coming at me, and I felt it when she stepped inside me. But after that, it’s all pretty hazy. But I’m guessing from the looks on your faces it was worse than that.”

  Angelique waved a hand in the air. “Lots of blood, some severed limbs, a man wielding a machete. That sort of thing.”

  Floyd glared at the Cataclyst before turning back to Necro. “There was more than one Sheer. It was like you were a magnet. They just kept coming at you, and there was nothing we could do.”

  Necro closed her eyes and nodded. “I get it. This isn’t my first rodeo.”

  When she opened her eyes again, she glanced down at Sampson’s arms wrapped around her. She raised her chin and looked up at him. Link couldn’t swear to it, but it looked like Sam was blushing a little. “I’m guessing you’re my knight in shining bike chain,” she said, smiling. “Did you swoop in and save me or something?”

  Sampson shrugged. “Liv’s the one who figured out the Sheers couldn’t cross the threshold into the Tunnel.”

  Necro looked at Liv with an expression of gratitude.

  Liv waved off Sampson’s compliment. “It was nothing, really. Just the principles of physics and a lucky guess. Sampson’s the real hero here.” Liv gave Sampson one of those looks that
seemed to have a secret message hidden inside it.

  “I think I can walk, Sam,” Necro said, pulling her arm from around his neck as if she’d suddenly realized it was there.

  “Yeah, I mean, sure.” Sampson lowered her to the ground carefully, keeping one hand behind her back for support. Necro swayed, and he pulled her close. “If you don’t feel okay, I can carry you. It’s not like you’re heavy or anything,” he added.

  “Good to know.” She smiled. “But I think I need to walk it off.”

  Sampson stayed glued to Necro’s side, but it was a short walk. Within minutes, they reached the end of the Tunnel.

  “So what’s the plan?” Link asked. “Are we just gonna bust in and save Rid?”

  Floyd elbowed him. “That sounds like the opposite of a plan.”

  “One of you geniuses should assess the situation, so we know exactly how many men Silas has out there,” Angelique said. “I’m sure he added guards after my escape.”

  Floyd nodded, her stringy blond hair falling over her shoulder. “I’m the Illusionist; I’ll go.”

  Link put his arm out in front of her. “Hold on. I’m the Incubus. I can Rip out there and see what’s happenin’.”

  “That’s a brilliant idea.” The sarcasm in Liv’s tone made it clear she thought Link’s idea was anything but brilliant. “While you’re at it, why don’t you take John with you? I’m sure Silas’ men would be thrilled to get their hands on the Incubuses responsible for killing Abraham.”

  Link scratched his head. “You think they have our pictures or somethin’?”

  Liv sighed. “You definitely should not be the one to go.”

  Floyd pushed her way in front of Link. “I don’t know why we’re still talking about this. I said I’d go.”

  “Why is it any safer for you?” Link asked. “Can you make yourself invisible or somethin’ all of a sudden?”

  Floyd rolled her eyes. “Now that you’re a Supernatural, you really need to brush up on Caster powers. I’m sure there’s a Wikipedia page.”

  “You shouldn’t believe everything you read online,” Link said, feeling clever. “Isn’t that right, Liv?”

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