Authors: Jaime Rush
New York Boston
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ho in Dragon’s fire was calling at six on a Sunday morning? Kirin Slade fumbled for his cell phone and squinted at the screen. His twin sister.
The word “Yeah?” scratched out of his throat.
“You have to come home,” Lyra said without preamble. “Pop’s gone.”
“Oh, is there a celebration then?”
“Kirin! I don’t mean he’s run off to the Bahamas. He’s been missing for two days, and it’s not some midlife crisis. He would never abandon me to run the bakery by myself, and his bedroom is a wreck, like there was a fight.”
“Or the famous Stein temper.”
“But his pattern is lose it, clean it up, and pretend it never happened; not leave a mess and disappear. And the rest of the house is okay, so it’s not a robbery.”
Kirin sat up and rubbed his face. “How was he acting before he went missing? Did he seem stressed, depressed?”
“Pop hasn’t been the same since, well, you know…”
Oh, no, he wasn’t going to let her off that easily. “Since he had an affair with my girlfriend’s mother, who then disappeared?” Fury rushed through him. “Is that what you mean?”
“Pop had nothing to do with that, and you know it.”
“I knew it when I lied to the Guard and the Mundane police. I remembered how Uncle Louie was executed over circumstantial evidence. But
know Pop was hiding something. After everything we did for him, everything I lost, we deserved to know what it was. He wouldn’t even admit to the affair.”
“I think it happened the way he said, that Tara came to tell him she was happy about you and Ellie being together even if her butthead of a Deuce husband wasn’t. How they became friends because she liked having a connection with another Dragon. Men and women can be just friends.”
“What, you read that on the Internet? Believe what you want. I’m not buying it.” He fell back on the bed, his forearm over his eyes to block out the light streaming through the curtains. “He’ll probably be back today.”
“Come home for you, if not for me or Pop. Living away from the Field has to be taking a toll on you. You looked all
when I came to see you last month.”
Yeah, the downside to harboring the essence of a Dragon god in one’s body was that the essence required the
to survive, the god-force that emanated from the mysterious crystal core of the island of their ancestors. Lucifera had sunk hundreds of years ago in the Bermuda Triangle, but the
still radiated strong enough to affect the electromagnetic energy. The Field of
reached into the Miami area in a crescent shape.
“That’s only because I was overdue for my biweekly trip to recharge,” he said.
“Oh.” A pause. “You come down but don’t see me?”
Yeah, he had admitted that, hadn’t he? “I go to the edge of the Field, let my Dragon out, and head right back to Atlanta.”
“I get—sort of—why you wouldn’t want to see Pop. But can’t you forgive me for my part in it?”
Guilt nibbled at him. “I needed a break from my life, Lyra. Do you know how freakin’ cool it is to walk into a store, a restaurant,
and only see Mundane humans? No having to pretend there’s not an Elemental sitting at the next table flicking peas at me. No whacked-out Dragons waiting around the corner to tear my throat out; no Deuce magick to prickle the hairs at the back of my neck. Getting this contract was a godsend. And the pay is insane.”
He wouldn’t admit to the lack of energy, the drain on his soul, or the hunger to Catalyze. Or how boring having sex with Mundane women was. “When my contract expires, I’ll move back.”
“Your poor Dragon must be withering. Being the badass paintball champion isn’t the same as sparring Dragon to Dragon in the Obsidian room. Getting your pilot’s license will never give you the thrill of being who you really are.”
“Maybe not, but flying is pretty damned cool. Since we can’t fly the real way.” They’d been born after the flying ban in the seventies, which completely sucked. Since the age of satellite imagery and Miami’s population explosion, displays of magick were illegal. The Hidden, which encompassed Crescent magick and other magickal creatures, had to stay just that—hidden.
Never let the Mundanes see your magick.
“The paintball arena gives me all the predatory thrills I need.”
“I can’t fathom how shooting someone with a blob of paint could even begin to compare to the raw power of your Dragon coursing through you, or body-slamming an opponent and sinking your fangs into their hide.”
Memories of letting his Dragon out in the private room at Cyntag’s dojo tingled through his veins. He rolled out of bed and looked out the window at the normal world outside. Fall was sniffing at the edge of summer, turning a few leaves dark red and yellow. The beast inside him was drying up like the leaves skittering across the sidewalk on a breeze. “It’s a rush.” Except the statement fell flat.
“Kirin, please. I need you.”
Lyra was rarely vulnerable or needy. No, she usually jumped headlong into everything, taking action without considering the consequences.
His resistance melted. “All right. It takes about eleven hours to drive down there, so don’t look for me until later tonight.”
“Love you, Kirin.”
Words in response hung in his throat, tangled in his anger at her. “See you soon.”
* * *
The closer Kirin got to the Field, the stronger the energy buzzed in his body, like standing too close to an electrical line. It was mostly unnoticeable except when strong solar flares spewed charged particles at the Earth that roiled its magnetic field. Having been away from it, he noticed it now.
Home. Damn it.
His Dragon unfurled, yawning and stretching, eager to run. The “tattoo” that represented the beast’s essence shifted across Kirin’s skin, growing hot with need. Dragons were the only class of Crescent whose magick was an independent entity intertwined with their soul.
Calm down there, buddy.
Dragon Crescents usually spoke telepathically to their Dragon though the beasts could also hear spoken words. Dragons could only communicate telepathically, and fortunately they didn’t talk much.
Kirin had come down the west coast, the longer way. After driving through miles of marshland across Alligator Alley, he passed a sign announcing he was entering Broward County. Going straight would land him in the Ft. Lauderdale area.
Just south of that, Miami. Two and a half million people working, sunbathing, and partying, oblivious to the thousands of magick-struck humans among them. While Mundanes couldn’t see Elementals or most demons, they
see Deuce magick, a Dragon, or the sight of the rarer human/angel Caidos in full wing. Thus the need for rules of restraint.
Kirin huffed. Restraint. Yeah, most Crescents did show restraint when using magick in public but not with using it against each other in private. The dissent between the classes of Crescents had started back on the legendary island that lured ships to its shores and trapped the passengers there. Spaniards, Europeans, Africans, pirates, and natives were all crammed onto one large island governed by a pantheon of tribal gods—Deuce sorcerers and Dragons—along with angels to balance their power.
The newcomers brought their own spiritual beliefs and eventually the people moved away from the Luciferian religion. Pissed and bored, the gods used their power and the fluctuations caused by an enormous solar storm to create the Divergence, which allowed them to take physical human form. Whatever their initial intentions, they’d ended up getting it on with the humans and making half-god, half-human babies dubbed Crescents.
The setting sun made Kirin squint as he neared the aerospace factory where he’d worked during one high school summer. Where he’d met Ellie, who handled secretarial tasks under the watchful eye of the owner, who happened to be her father. The last thing he’d wanted was his beautiful Deuce daughter falling for a Dragon.
Bushes nearly obliterated the sign that announced
. Off to the left, in a clearing within acres thick with pine trees, the big metal warehouse looked forlorn. Closed now, fenced off.
His Dragon strained toward it.
Need to run
Soon after moving to Atlanta for the engineering contract, his Dragon had broken loose—once in an alley, twice in his apartment. Embarrassing as hell when the woman he’d brought home thought he was suffering a case of gastrointestinal upset, locked in his bathroom. Especially when, after hearing grunts and one roar, he’d come out twenty minutes later wearing a towel, his shredded clothes stuffed in the cabinet.
Kirin felt the magick now, throbbing through him, pulling at his hands on the wheel.
Go where we played last time. Too long ago. Plaaaaaay.
Either that or it was going to take over him right there in the car. With talons extending from four fingers and one thumb, he could tear into both scales and flesh. He could—and had—closed those talons around another Dragon’s throat. But he couldn’t steer, downshift, or think about the road rules when the Dragon ruled. All he needed was to crash the pretty red Porsche and have some Mundane stop to help, only to find a red-and-white Dragon busting out the windows.
“We’re stopping already, pushy beast.”
A sense of satisfaction rushed through him.
Kirin drove past the
signs. A realtor’s sign flattened a space in the overgrown grasses by the road, the words faded by the hot sun. He’d heard that Huff had sold the business but not the building. Waist-high weeds filled the grassy areas and pushed up through the cracks in the asphalt parking lot.
The Porsche rolled to a stop. Memories rushed at him: stolen kisses behind the oak tree, lunch at the picnic tables, and a few hot and heavy sessions around the back of the building. He’d been sixteen and flat-out in love.
He got out and ran to the back entrance. Ran because the Dragon wasn’t going to wait much longer. Although the building was set off from the road, who knew if there were homeless Mundanes lurking in the woods that surrounded the place?
His Dragon clawed at him.
Let me out.
It throbbed through his body and pushed against his skin.
Kirin wrenched the back door open. Dust and stale air assaulted him as he stepped inside and closed the door. No sign of squatters, including the supernatural kind. The huge, nearly empty space was the perfect spot for a Dragon to let loose.
Light poured in through the high windows, illuminating squares on the concrete floor. He looked up at the offices, built in the upper space with mirrored windows so the administrative staff could watch the floor. He should make sure no one lingered up there, but there wasn’t time.
He stripped out of his clothes, a cloud of dust rising when they dropped to the floor. His skin stretched and thickened to accommodate a long, large body. Fangs pushed through his gums as his mouth morphed into a snout. Blood coursed hot through his veins. He let the Dragon take over and raced into the shadows.