Dangerous Deception by Kami Garcia

  “That is about as low as things get,” Necro said, turning to Nox. “You know Silas better than the rest of us. If he’s got Ridley, where would he take her?”

  “I don’t know him as well as you think.” Nox looked annoyed. “I’m not on his payroll. Silas comes around and causes trouble, then disappears. If he’s using the Tunnels to get around, which I would, he could be anywhere.” The Caster Tunnels ran below the Mortal world, and time and distance didn’t follow the same rules down there.

  Floyd looked at Nox. “And Abraham never mentioned anything back when”—she hesitated—“you knew him.”

  Nox rolled up the sleeves of what looked to Link like another one of his overpriced hipster shirts. “Like I said, I didn’t spend a lot of time with him. Considering he pretty much kidnapped my mom. He only let me visit her a few times when I was young.” Nox stopped talking and looked up at the ceiling. “The rest of the time he was in his labs.”

  I guess Fancy Pants has feelings, too, Link thought. Funny how it didn’t make him want to punch the guy any less.

  “Okay. At least that’s something to go on. Did you ever hear him talk about the labs?” Sampson asked.

  “Sure. Abraham was obsessed with them and his projects—that’s what he called them. But he never invited me on a tour. They were somewhere behind his house.”

  “You know that for sure?” Link was suspicious.

  “Like I said, I spent some time at his house. So did Silas. He even had his own room. I made the mistake of going in there by accident once.” Nox shook his head, remembering. “I noticed this old record player in one of the bedrooms, and I wanted to see how the thing worked. Abraham was standing in the hall when I came back out. I’ll never forget what he said. I tolerate the way you sneak around my house, boy. But if Silas catches you near his room, he might think you’re a thief and cut off your hand.”

  “Thanks for sharin’ your creepy childhood memories,” Link said. “That’ll really help me sleep.”

  Nox frowned. “All I know is, Silas never stayed away from the labs for long, like his old man. If we find the labs, I bet we’ll find him.”

  “So where’s the house?” Sampson asked.

  Nox shook his head. “I don’t know. Abraham’s men blindfolded me whenever they took me through the Tunnels to visit my mom. And the place is under some kind of Cloaking Cast, so Mortals can’t see it.”

  Another dead end, Link thought. Great.

  He considered calling Ethan, who was a thousand times smarter than him. But Ethan messing with Silas Ravenwood was a suicide mission. Link couldn’t let anything happen to his best friend, not after Ethan had already died twice.

  “There’s gotta be someone who knows how to find those labs,” Sampson said.

  A thought formed in Link’s mind slowly, like syrup pouring out of a bottle. “There is. The guy who grew up in them.” He looked up. “John Breed.”

  “Who?” Sampson sounded suspicious, which seemed like part of his Darkborn nature.

  “He’s one a the good guys,” Link said. “But he was a bad dude for a long time before that. So he’s kind of my Dark Caster Wikipedia.”

  Nox crossed his arms. “I’m not sure a good guy is gonna cut it in this situation.”

  “He’ll cut it and then some. Trust me.”

  Nox didn’t respond.

  “How can you be so sure?” Necro asked.

  “Abraham Ravenwood engineered him in one of his creepy science labs.” Link grinned. “And John’s the one who helped me kill him.”

  “Are you saying one of Abraham’s science experiments went rogue?” Sampson asked.

  “We’re talkin’ Frankenstein meets RoboCop,” Link said proudly.

  Link skimmed over the details, like how John Breed was the hybrid Incubus who had bitten him, transforming him into the quarter Incubus he was today. It felt weird talking about it, like he was standing in front of everyone in his underwear. It was a hard thing to forgive, but it wasn’t John’s fault; Abraham had really screwed him up. Besides, John came through for him and his friends when it counted—and he and John killed Abraham together. It was the kind of bond you couldn’t break.

  Instead, Link told them how Abraham Ravenwood had handpicked John’s parents, a Blood Incubus and an Evo—an Evo being a powerful Caster who can borrow the powers of any Caster they touch. Abraham used the two to create the perfect hybrid—with all the power of an Incubus and none of the weaknesses.

  John could Travel and possessed the superstrength of a traditional Incubus, but he also had the powers of an Evo. And he could do the one thing no other Incubus could, except Link: John could walk in the sunlight.

  If anyone could find the labs, it was John.

  “So what are we waiting for?” Floyd asked. “Call him.”

  Link sighed. “He’s not in Gatlin. He’s at Oxford with his girlfriend, Liv.”

  “Again, it’s called a phone.” Floyd wasn’t helping.

  “You don’t get it. Liv’s this crazy genius who spends all her time in the library. She never carried a cell phone back in Gatlin, and John isn’t any better now. I tried the number he gave me a buncha times, but it went straight to voice mail.”

  “Okay,” Floyd said. “Then you’ll have to Rip us all there.”

  “I don’t fly.” Sampson leaned back in the booth, arms crossed.

  “Really?” Necro looked amused and nudged him playfully. “You?”

  Sampson shoved his hands into his pockets, looking embarrassed.

  “Rippin’ isn’t exactly the same as flyin’,” Link said. “It feels more like gettin’ sucked into a vacuum cleaner.”

  The Darkborn stared at him. “Even though you make it sound so appealing, I’ll still pass.”

  “I hate to say it, but I’m with Sampson,” Necro said. “Traveling in and out of my own body is bad enough.”

  Nox looked away. Necro had barely recovered from using her powers as a Necromancer to let Abraham take over her body and getting poisoned. Even now, Link noticed that the shadows under her eyes were darker than usual.

  They’ve all been through enough, on account of Rid and me.

  And Nox, too—he’s caused his share of trouble.

  But Floyd and Necro and Sampson? Think about how much easier their lives would be if Abraham and Silas had gotten what they wanted the first time around.

  How can I ask them to sign up for round two of the Caster smackdown?

  “I’ll go,” Floyd said right away.

  Link was grateful, but he also felt guilty. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t wanna do.” Like it or not, Link’s heart had always belonged to one particular Siren, and he was going to find her, no matter what it took.

  “Thanks for the clarification.” Floyd smiled.

  “I’m coming, too,” Nox said from across the table.

  “I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” Link said. “John’s kinda like Sammy Boy. It takes him a while to warm up to people. And you two don’t have much in common.”

  “I’m going.” Nox started to stand up, but Necro caught his arm.

  “Let me put it another way,” Link said. “You’re not comin’. So unless you can Rip, you’re outta luck. And if you really care about Ridley, you’ll stop screwin’ around and wastin’ time.”

  The accusation seemed to hit a nerve, and Nox backed off.

  “Don’t worry, Nox.” Floyd jumped in. “We’ll find this John Breed guy.”

  Everyone followed Link outside. He led them behind the diner so he and Floyd could dematerialize without anyone noticing.

  Link held out his hand. “Ready?”

  Floyd nodded and took it.

  Necro gave her a quick hug. “Good luck.”

  “We won’t need it.” By the time the words left Floyd’s lips, they were gone.


  Street of Dreams

  Newark? As in New Jersey? I still don’t get it. You know the Tri-State Area isn’t our friend.” N
ecro sounded annoyed as she followed Nox and Sam down the sidewalk. “Or am I the only one with the less-than-happy memories?”

  “We’ll be fine,” Nox said. “Between the soccer moms and the Mortal Mafia, even Silas’ thugs avoid the Garden State like the plague.”

  “Isn’t it a little close to home, after the fire at Sirene?” Necro looked skeptical. “Because the place was swarming with Silas’ men. I was there, in case you forgot.”

  “That’s why Jersey’s safe. The club is gone. Silas has bigger things to think about now.”

  Sampson stopped in front of a tacky condo complex made to look like a fake Tudor village. “The Essex House. This is April’s place, or maybe June’s. She’s named after a month. That’s about all I remember.”

  “Charming,” Necro said. “It’s nice to see how much your girlfriends mean to you.”

  “She wasn’t my girlfriend,” Sampson said, turning red. “Just someone I hooked up with once.”

  “As if that’s better?” Necro raised an eyebrow.

  “I don’t care who she is as long as she left us the key,” Nox said. After eavesdropping on Sampson’s end of an awkward phone conversation, all he knew was that April or June—or whatever the girl’s name was—seemed happy to let them hang out at her place in the hopes of reconnecting with Sampson.

  Necro shook her head. “Have you ever had a relationship that lasted more than one night?” The Necromancer sounded like she was joking, but from the look on her face, she wasn’t giving up until she got a real answer.

  Sampson frowned. “Maybe I just haven’t found the right girl.”

  “Keep telling yourself that,” Nox said. “You still need to cover the other ten months in the year—why stop at April and June? There’s September and October, November and December …”

  “Enough.” Sampson swiped the key from beneath a flower-pot on the stoop.

  As soon as they got inside, Necro made herself at home and flopped down in a machine-distressed armchair. She picked up a decorative pillow covered with embroidered birds and a fat yellow sun and glanced at Sampson. “It’s official. You win. You have the worst taste in girls.”

  Nox just stared at the pillow as if he’d seen a ghost. In a way, he felt like he had.

  Is it possible? Could I really be that stupid?

  The others hardly noticed.

  “Fine. She wasn’t a rocket scientist.” Sampson sounded embarrassed as he opened the refrigerator, hiding behind the door. “At least I found us a place to stay. Nox can’t go back to his apartment. And I can’t go back to ours, not after I put my fist through the window of one of Silas’ cars.”

  “And then stole it,” Nox added. He glanced out the window, where the immense black car looked out of place in the condo lot full of silver minivans. Suddenly, he felt like he’d give anything to be out there, instead of stuck inside the cloying apartment.

  He had to get his head straight and remember.

  Sampson took out a loaf of bread and a mountain of sandwich ingredients, including a whole jar of pickles. “Artisanal mayonnaise? What’s artisanal mayonnaise?” He popped open the jar with the hand-drawn label and smelled the mayo and made a face. “I’m pretty sure it’s not food.”

  Nox grabbed his coat. “I’m gonna take a walk. I need some air.”

  I have to try to remember.

  Necro propped her combat boots up on the arm of the chair and opened a coffee table book about coffee table books. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

  As Nox closed the front door behind him, he knew what he needed to do. He’d barely reached the sidewalk before he drew the lighter out of his pocket. Then the world blurred and the vision hit him….

  Two men in a car, speeding down the highway with a trail of cigar smoke curling behind them.

  “What do you want me to do with her?” the bigger of the two men asks.

  “Depends.” His voice … it’s familiar.


  “Let’s see how she reacts to the infusion. I have a good feeling about this one: lucky Number 13.”

  “Don’t get your hopes up. You’ve been working on this for years, and it hasn’t worked yet.”

  “Trial and error,” Silas says. “That’s the way science works. The doc thinks we’ve finally perfected the formula, and this girl isn’t your average Caster. She comes from a strong bloodline.”

  “And if the infusion doesn’t take?” the hulking man asks. He’s so huge that he must be a Darkborn.

  Silas flicks his ash out the window. “You can kill her like the rest of the failures, or keep her. Your choice.”

  “After all the trouble you went to to get her? Sure you don’t want the leftovers?”

  “I’m not interested in damaged goods,” Silas says.

  Nothing but miles of highway stretch in front of the car, until a green sign comes into view: NEW ORLEANS 42 MILES.

  “If you pull this off, the Syndicate will be unstoppable,” the Darkborn says.

  Silas stops and turns to look at his associate. “No. I’ll be unstoppable.”

  The edges of the world bled back into Nox’s peripheral vision, and his heart thudded in his chest as he struggled to push the fog out of his mind.

  Damaged goods.

  Silas had to be talking about Ridley. He’d gone to enough trouble to take her. But if he was still talking about her now—

  She’s alive.

  Nox forced himself to be logical, even as the adrenaline pounded in his veins.

  Silas could’ve been referring to someone else. But I wouldn’t have a vision about a random girl.

  The second conclusion was the one that mattered.

  He’s got Ridley. Somewhere in New Orleans or close to it.

  It means we still have some time.

  Not much.

  Nox let himself breathe again, but only for a minute. If he was right and Rid was still alive, the clock was ticking. He wasn’t sure what kind of infusion Silas was talking about, but if it involved one of his experiments, it wasn’t good.

  At least I know where Silas has her.

  If Silas was headed for New Orleans, it meant he was going to Ravenwood Oaks—Abraham’s plantation. The place where Nox had visited his mom. That must be where the labs were, too.

  I should tell Necro and Sam. But I can’t.

  They’d bought into Link’s crazy plan to find this John person.

  But come on. Who are they kidding?

  No friend of Link’s is going to be any help to us. The hybrid is a fool surrounded by fools.

  Nox looked back up at the condo complex behind him, hands jammed in his pockets.

  I can’t take Necro and Sampson with me. I’ve hurt them enough. Especially Necro—she almost got killed because of me. And Sam’s taken a bullet for me more times than I can count. They’ll only end up getting hurt.

  Because the people he cared about always ended up getting hurt.

  It was the most painful recognition of all.

  I’m the real threat, but I’ve always known that.

  Nox was better off on his own. Rid was the only person who understood how it felt to be the reason the people around you were always in pain—even if you didn’t want them to be.

  Wishing you could trade places with them.

  It was selfish to put them in danger when Nox had collected more than enough talents, favors, and powers at the gambling tables in his clubs. Those TFPs would compensate for going in alone. Not to mention the fact that taking more people only increased the odds of getting caught.

  I can get more done by myself. Without risking all of their lives again.

  Nox knew where this was all headed—and what was about to happen.

  Rid would tell me to do it. She’d understand.

  She’d say, quit whining. Get off your butt and go.

  Nox made his way down the sidewalk, still sensing Sampson’s eyes on him from the window above. When he turned the corner, he picked up his pace and headed straight for the
commuter train station. It also happened to be the location of the nearest Outer Door, one of the magical doorways that led from the Mortal world into the Caster Tunnels.

  He wasn’t waiting around for Link and Floyd to come back. Not now. If Ridley was still alive, she didn’t have that kind of time, and he wasn’t leaving her fate in the hands of her idiot boyfriend or John Breed, another hybrid Nox didn’t know if he could trust.

  Damaged goods.

  His hands formed fists at the thought of Silas saying it.

  And if she’s gone when I get there—or if it isn’t her and she’s already dead—I’ll make Silas pay.

  Link was wrong about one thing: John Breed wasn’t the only person who knew the location of Abraham’s labs in New Orleans and the Syndicate.

  Nox had known from the minute he first saw the stupid embroidered pillow in the Mortal girl’s apartment—the one that looked like a giant yellow sun.

  It had triggered the memory that told him where he needed to go and what he needed to do next.

  He tried to silence the voice in his head, shouldering past the commuters on the platform waiting for the train, and slipped through an access door behind the elevators. The hallway was dark, the smell of mold clinging to the air. He passed abandoned electrical panels that hadn’t been used since the city upgraded the station almost a decade ago. At the end of the hall, he spotted the Outer Door.

  Nox bent down and touched the top of the manhole cover, whispering the Cast to access it. “Aperi portam.”

  In other words, open the damn door.

  It slid aside easily, and he lowered himself toward what looked like a deadly drop. But Nox knew that the invisible steps were waiting below. Once his feet touched the first stair, he jumped the rest of them, leaving the Mortal world behind.

  The predictability of the Caster world was comforting. The invisible stairs were always where the invisible stairs were supposed to be, and the Casts invariably opened the Caster doors.

  Aside from the fact that time and distance operated differently in the Caster Tunnels, most of them weren’t much different from the cities and streets in the Mortal world. Sure, some of them looked like you were walking through the pages of a history book—the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, Victorian London—while others reminded him of the fantasy novels he read as a kid.

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