From the author of Infernal Affairs comes a story of murder. mayhem, and demon relations. Is this really the vacation Tess was looking for?
Though she’s on leave from the Occult Special Investigations squad, Tess Corday is still grappling with her own personal mysteries. But finding out the truth about her demonic heritage has been more difficult than she expected. Plus, her unauthorized investigation into an addictive new vampire street drug is driving a stake between her and her undead boyfriend.
Then Vancouver’s premier necromancer turns up dead. Tess suspects that the cases are related. And her suspicions will lead her into a paranormal showdown that can—and will—change the course of her life forever.
Nobody speaks until we see the headlights. Then a ripple of energy passes through the dark room. I raise my hand for silence. The van idles for a bit in the driveway, then stops. For a moment there’s nothing more. Then the door of the van opens. Derrick looks at me. I nod. He and Miles cross the room and take up position on either side of the entrance. Now there are footsteps. I breathe. I’m suddenly riven. What if this is a bad idea? What if it goes horribly wrong?
I hear the key. By now, I really should be past worrying about things going horribly wrong. I should be past funsized candy, too, but I’m not.
The door opens.
A figure pauses at the entrance. It could be a midnight letter carrier, or a vampire Girl Scout. But I know better. I smile. I’ve been waiting for this moment for years, ever since he told me how old he was.
Derrick turns on the light. I raise my hands in the air. We raise our voices and scream at him:
For a second, all Lucian can do is stare at us in shock. We’re all wearing pointed hats, even Derrick. Mia and Patrick hold noisemakers, but seem loath to use them. A streamer falls quietly from the ceiling.
I step forward.
“Happy ninetyfirst birthday, Lucian.”
“When you put it that way, I feel as if my body should actually be decaying.”
“But it’s not. And I’m thankful for that.”
“You looked really surprised,” Derrick says. “For one second, I thought you might actually kill us all with necromancy.”
“Have I ever once tried to do that?”
“No. But in our line of work, you have to be prepared.”
Lucian turns to me. “So that’s why you kept sending me on errands today. You were plotting something fierce.”
“Well, I don’t want to brag. There is punch, though, and possibly Mad Libs.”
“All right,” Derrick says. “Let’s party like it’s the twenties.”
“Can we stop referencing my age, please?”
“Fine. Let’s party like the mystical badasses that we are.”
Lucian has an odd expression on his face, like uncertain delight. “Still, it’s just another birthday. There’s no need to bring the house down. I’m touched that you guys went to all this trouble, but”
Mia hands him a glass of punch. “Lucian, you’re a creepy old man, and we need to celebrate that. Derrick bought an icecream cake.”
Lucian looks at him. “Dude, seriously?”
“It’s in the kitchen. Want to see it?”
“I think I do.”
The kitchen is full of brass light. Derrick’s herbs have perked up in their bottles. Outside, our neighbor is smoking menthols, and I ignore the tickle in my throat. As per instructions laid out by Mia and Patrick, there is a frosted necromancer on the white face of the cake.
Lucian frowns slightly. “This is me?”
“No, it’s an everynecromancer,” Mia says.
“Is the everynecromancer holding someone’s arm?”
“Of course. Dead bodies are your power source.”
“I told you he wasn’t going to get it,” Patrick says. “For the record, man, I wanted you to be holding a fudge pitchfork.”
“Why would I be doing that?”
I put my arm around him. “Just suck in the love and cut the cake, darling.”
It’s patio season, festival season, the British Columbia summer that’s always gently nudging you in the direction of a bar. Beyond our house, Commercial Drive simmers with the intensity of grad student drinking. As Lucian gently cuts through his icecream icon, I remember what it felt like to kill him. He had ceased to exist in front of me. Now he was grabbing a fork, and I couldn’t help but wonder if we were all sharing frozen desert with a dead person.
Okay, I’d said to him once. So you’re basically an undead plant.
I don’t like that term.
A zombie plant?
Just explain it to me. It’s a part of you I’d like to know more about.
But he hadn’t explained it. He’d kissed me.
As soon as the cake is gone, the shot glasses come out. Derrick unwraps a bottle of grappa miel from Uruguay. He raises his own shot glass in a toast.
“Lucian, you are a part of this family. You’ve saved our asses many times in the past, and you gave me the gift of panqueques con dulce de leche. ¡Cumpleaños feliz!”
The dancing lasts for only about ten minutes, since nobody but Lucian can actually dance. Miles has some sweet moves until his hearing aids run out of juice. Mia brings in Bits ’n Bites, and suddenly it’s just a regular evening with all of us sitting in the living room, competing for attention. Patrick tells us about a vampire who was recently found guilty of dealing blood Popsicles. Like many of his stories, this one ends in public immolation. As Magnate, he oversees vampire justice in Vancouver, which is a lot of responsibility for a kid. Judging from his most recent transcriptswhich, obviously, I should not have looked atmost of his legacy is being spent on beer and graphic novels.
The air dampens, and we’re pulled outside. Mia drags out a box full of cards, and we play Canadian Trivial Pursuit for dummies, which means that any historical question answered by anyone is considered a patriotic victory. Mia racks up points. A dozen universities already want her, but she refuses to make a decision. My heart seizes at the thought of her leaving home. I know she’s not my kid, I know that nothing genetic binds us, but she’s my water, my blood, my very breath. We bought this house so that she could have something close to a normal life. Who will we be without her? Patrick barely needs us at this point, and even though he hasn’t said anything, I know that Derrick would like to move in with Miles. Any sane person would.
I look at Lucian. I love him, but I’m not moving to Yaletown. Suddenly, I imagine myself living alone in the house, and it’s hard to breathe. I don’t need all this space. It will only attract ghosts, or worse.
I stand up. “I’m going to the store for cigarettes and chips.”
“We also need Brillo Pads,” Derrick says.
“I can’t promise anything.”
Lucian also stands. “I’ll come with you.”
“No, stay here. It’s your party.”
Victoria is aglow with patio parties, in spite of the mosquitoes. I could just hit the store on the corner, but I’ve got a wine buzz and the air smells good. I walk down to the Drive. I am a lit female spectator. If anything comes up, I’ve got a sharp athame in my purse whose teeth have been collecting dust. It’s been two months since I quite my job as an Occult Special Investigator. So far, we’ve been okay. I still make twothirds of my salary. But my benefits will end soon. I have to make a decision, not tonight, but soon. I am fed up with the tyranny of decision making.
The pubs overflow onto decks that strain to hold the collective intelligence and anxiety of keyedup graduate students. Everyone is smoking, drinking Keith’s, and talking about what program they’re in. I pass the coop bookstore, where a few people still linger over the ’zines. From here, I can discern the rumble of the 135 as it speeds down Twelfth, in its endless pilgrimage up and down Burnaby Mountain.
I step into a convenience store at the corner of Adanac, whose nameCanada spelled backwardhas always annoyed me for no good reason. The inside of the store is bright and yellow. Those bastard fluorescent tubes would just love to give me a migraine. I guess I really am the kind of person who carries a dagger but not sunglasses. I stare at the shelves, which mostly disappoint. I fight the desire for tea biscuits. I grab scrubbers, creamer, pop, and minieggs, which I thought used to be rationed by the Canadian government but are now apparently always in season. I get toilet paper because there’s never enough. I consider buying condoms. Why does this purchase always make me feel like the Whore of Babylon? I decide against it and pick up Sensodyne toothpaste instead. I need to floss more. I wanted to initiate a flossing regime this summer, until Mia pointed out that I was really the only person in the house who didn’t floss. I’ve just never liked the feeling of that razory silk between molars, like a garrote.
As I’m paying for my items, a drunk vampire walks in. At least, I think he’s drunk. His expression is weird. Vampires get smarter as their hunger increases, which is why they’ve survived for so long. It takes a lot of alcohol to faze them, and even then, the spark of unlife remains keen in their eyes. His are glassy. He looks more stoned than drunk. His mouth twitches. Stoned, but peckish.
The earth is also peckish, which I know because I can sense it. I have always heard mountains cough and magma whisper. That second thing actually creeps me out and gives me acid reflux. People like me chat with the universe through materia, which is aware and thirsty. Linus, our DNA technician, once called it a bastard energy, because it makes the universe die faster.
I draw in some earth materia, which makes me want to smoke more than you’d ever believe. I don’t throw out anything serious, just a few sparks to let him know that I’m not playing. He stares at me for a few seconds. Then he turns and staggers out the door. I finish paying for my items. The exhausted guy behind the counter has no idea how close he’s just come to being someone’s nightcap.
I step outside. There’s no sign of the vampire. My senses are dull from the wine, so I pause to listen closely. I let the street evaporate. I can still see the buildings, but they’re pale before the light of so many night things panting and trying to devour one another. Different flows of materia slip by at astonishing speeds, as if merging onto a metaphysical freeway. The street complains, the telephone poles curse, the water glares, but I sense nothing like a vampire nearby. This relaxes me.
I stop listening and look away, back at the regular world. According to my mother, I was a dangerous little girl. My potential needed to be concealed so that my real father wouldn’t find me. Now I’m just a wet firecracker. Everyone knows that you’re at your most powerful when you’re a kid. I’d missed out on those times. I’d peaked without even knowing it.
Maybe I should visit her. It’s late, but I know she’ll be up reading. I know I should go back to the party, but for some reason, I’m not ready. I don’t quite believe my senses. I walk down to Twelfth. The bus stop is empty. Did I really think that an ampedup vampire would be waiting for the trolley bus? I exhale and walk back up Commercial. I’m in canvas shoes, and my blisters are smarting. Who wouldn’t find me sexy tonight?
My phone rings. I figure it’s Derrick making a lastminute plea for layered dip, but it’s Detective Selena Ward. We’ve barely talked since I filed my leave papers. I’m suddenly nervous. Is she calling to fire me? Has there been a death in the lab? Sometimes the cadavers in our morgue don’t stay dead, and anything can happen when you throw zombies into the mix. I take the call.
“Selena. What’s going on?”
She sounds tired, as always. “Look. I know you’re off right now. I know you’re using this time to think and just get away from all of this. But I need you and Derrick both for a few hours tonight. He’d be working; you’d be consulting.”
There are two things I want to say. I can’t because it’s Lucian’s birthday. I can’t because I owe it to my family to make this work. But Selena has always been unsentimental. I’m left with the realization that seeing a body might be exactly what I need tonight, which is wrong on so many levels.
“Selena” I sigh. “I don’t know. I’ve been drinking a little, and so has Derrick. Wouldn’t it be some kind of union infraction?”
“Lord Nightingale died.”
“The ruler of the necromancers, the governor of Trinovantum, is dead. We have an hour to go over everything, and this is a big library.”
“He died in a library?”
“Yes. The Bennett Library at Simon Fraser University. You need to get here. Drink coffee, slap yourselfI don’t care. I need your help with this. I’m sorry, Tess. With any luck, we’ll be out of there before the first hungover students arrive.”
She hangs up.
I stare at the phone for a second, as if it’s just lied to me. I hardly knew Lord Nightingale. We spoke only a few times, and he’d always unnerved me, although he was attractive and generally softspoken. I wasn’t sure what I felt, knowing that his long life had suddenly been extinguished. Should I bring Lucian? He was Seventh Solium, which was really more of a civil servant gig, as far as I could tell, but he and Lord Nightingale were friends. I couldn’t even tell if they liked each other. Men can be so fucking cryptic.
I walk back to the house. I can understand why Selena needs our help, but I can’t help but wonder if I’m about to walk into an interrogation. It’s never a good thing to have known a murdered prince.
As I reach our driveway, the front door opens, and Derrick appears.
“What did you tell Lucian?”
He manages to look guilty. “I just said I was being called to a scene. I didn’t specify. I wasn’t sure of the protocol.”
“He’ll find out in the morning. For now, it’s just us.”
“Mia’s started up a game of Taboo. They’ll be good for hours.”
We get into the van. Derrick lets it warm up. He tunes the radio to CBC and puts the van in gear. We drive uphill listening to YoYo Ma, whose notes provide a suitable background as we prepare our tool kits. It begins to rain, and Burnaby Mountain is slick, like volcanic glass. We park by the West Mall Complex and walk from there. We pass the Louis Riel residence, where students dream of quarks, Margaret Atwood, and ways to extend their meal plan.
There are no security guards. Our lab uses materia to create a veil, which is really a kind of microwave background noise that keeps people away for a time. Whenever an immortal is killed, we need to act quickly to secure the scene. There are many things that most people aren’t meant to see, including the shells of those who defy explanation. SFU seems like too young a campus to hold the body of Lord Nightingale, who grew up in the eleventh century. A necromancer who began life as a woman but died as a man.
How does a thing get immortality? It’s a good question. Vampires are bled first. Necromancers are stillborn. Some demons, like reptiles, survive for centuries beneath the painful eye of a dark sun. I can see and touch materia because I share blood with an immortal. My mother got the gene from her grandmother. Then she met my father, who was death. I have a sister who looks like a spinning house on fire. I guess that makes me the normal daughter.
Derrick and I walk through the empty West Mall Building, whose floor is made of red rubber and has a pleasing give to it. The coffee carts are asleep. In the bathrooms, toilets wash themselves at intervals, like somnambulists. We exit the building and head to the Academic Quadrangle, an enclosure walled in granite and glass with a dry fountain. There are stairs everywhere, and in places, the exposed rebar skeleton beneath them. We enter the W. A. C. Bennett Library. There was a time when the thought of an empty library all to myself would have filled me with excitement. Now all the dead terminals and empty chairs seem improper and unnerving. All the chutes are still.
We take the stairs to the fifth floor. The recycled air is hot and tastes of old paper. The floor has just been waxed. When we reach the scene, the first thing I notice is the blood on the photocopiers. The arcs rise and plummet like arterial meter. The machines have old coin slots, now useless appendages, replaced by card readers that charge twelve cents per page. Blood has struck the paper cutter as well as the staplers chained to a nearby table.
Lord Nightingale is on his side. His throat is cut. His blood hasn’t completely dried, and air from the vents raises dimples on the large stain.
The absence of our medical examiner is unusual. There are only two people here: my supervisor and a necromancer I haven’t seen for nearly two years.
“Deonara Velasco.” I incline my head. “Does thisI mean” I look at Selena uncertainly. “Will she take his place?”
“I already have,” Deonara says. “I am Lord Nightingale now.”
I look at the body. I saw him alive only twice, once in armor, the second time in a raincoat. He smiled, stepped sideways, and was gone. Now his blood is everywhere, and, like the blood of any immortal, it attracts materia to it. The air is thick, and I have to concentrate to avoid seeing shadows and afterimages everywhere. It will take all night for the water of his life, all nine hundred years of him, to dry like mud and vanish.
“The Soliums are wild with ambition and fear,” Deonara says. “Theresa controlled them, but I’m not sure if I can.”
I look at Selena. “No weapon?”
She shakes her head. “Just a photocopy card.”
I recall Luiz Ordeño’s death, which was when I’d last seen Deonara Velasco. He died in a breastplate beneath a twoway painting. The question then had not been, Who killed him?, but rather, What could kill him? Old necromancers, as a rule, were more prone to rage against the dying of the light than to expire passively. I couldn’t think of anything, offhand, that could actually kill Lord Nightingale, who for most purposes had already been far from alive.
“All that’s important now,” Deonara says, “is that we leave no trace of the shell behind. This act is going to be a magnet for political unrest in both of our cities. We need to stay on top of it.”
Selena looks at Derrick. “All right. You’re up first. I need you to see if any part of his mind is still broadcasting.”
Derrick pulls on a pair of gloves and kneels before the body. He touches the cold hand, slick with blood. He closes his eyes. I feel nothing. The way his mind interprets materia is a mystery to me. I wouldn’t want his ability. I already know what people are thinking most of the time. The last thing I need is to hear that neurotic tapestry in surround sound.
He’s still for a moment. Then he stands cautiously.
“Was there anything?” Selena asks.
Derrick is expressionless. He blinks, and the veil is gone. He doesn’t look at me, only at Selena, and his voice is flat, tired.
“The usual. Pain and fear.”
Deonara sighs. “You people had best work quickly. After you’re finished, I will purify the site.”
We gather samples in silence while the body sucks in everything around us, like a crumbling event horizon. I’m distracted, not because of the situation, but because I know that Derrick is lying.
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