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“You look like a strip-o-gram,” Julian said to Malcolm Fade, High Warlock of Los Angeles.
There had been a time when Julian had been so impressed by the fact that Malcolm was High Warlock—the warlock to whom all other warlocks answered, at least in Southern California—that he’d been nervous around him. That had passed after the Dark War, when visits from Malcolm had become commonplace. Malcolm was in reality what most people thought Arthur was: an absent-minded professor type. He had been forgetting important things for almost two hundred years.
All warlocks, being the offspring of human beings and demons, were immortal. They stopped aging at different points in their lives, depending on their demon parents. Malcolm looked as if he had stopped aging at about twenty-seven, but he had been (he claimed) born in 1850.
Since most of the demons Julian had ever seen had been disgusting, he didn’t like to think too much about how Malcolm’s parents had met. Malcolm didn’t seem inclined to share, either. Julian knew he’d been born in England, and he still had traces of the accent.
“You can mail someone a stripper?” Malcolm looked bemused, then glanced down at himself. “Sorry, I forgot to button my shirt before I left the house.”
He took a step inside the Institute and instantly fell over, sprawling lengthwise on the tiles. Julian moved aside and Malcolm rolled onto his back, looking disgruntled. He peered down his long body. “I seem to have also tied my shoelaces together.”
Sometimes it was hard not to feel bitter, Julian reflected, that all the allies and friends in his life were either people he had to lie to, ridiculous, or both.
Emma came rushing down the staircase, Cortana in her hand. She was wearing jeans and a tank top; her damp hair was pulled back in an elastic band. The tank top was sticking to her skin, which Julian wished he hadn’t noticed. She slowed down as she approached, relaxing. “Hey, Malcolm. Why are you on the floor?”
“I tied my shoelaces together,” he said.
Emma had reached his side. She brought Cortana down, neatly severing Malcolm’s shoelaces in half and freeing up his feet.
“There you go,” she said.
Malcolm looked warily at her. “She may be dangerous,” he said to Julian. “Then again, all women are dangerous.”
“All people are dangerous,” said Julian. “Why are you here, Malcolm? Not that I’m not pleased to see you.”
Malcolm staggered to his feet, buttoning his shirt. “I brought Arthur’s medicine.”
Julian’s heart thumped so loudly he was sure he could hear it. Emma frowned.
“Has Arthur not been feeling well?” she asked.
Malcolm, who had been reaching into his pocket, froze. Julian saw the realization dawn on his face that he’d said something he shouldn’t, and he silently cursed Malcolm and his forgetfulness a thousand times.
“Arthur told me last night he’s been under the weather,” Julian said. “Just the usual stuff bothering him. It’s chronic. Anyway, he was feeling low on energy.”
“I would have looked for something at the Shadow Market if I’d known,” Emma said, sitting down on the bottom step of the staircase and stretching out her long legs.
“Cayenne pepper and dragon’s blood,” said Malcolm, retrieving a vial from his pocket and proffering it to Julian. “Should wake him right up.”
“That would wake the dead up,” said Emma.
“Necromancy is illegal, Emma Carstairs,” scolded Malcolm.
“She was just joking.” Julian pocketed the vial, keeping his gaze fixed on Malcolm, silently begging him not to say anything.
“When did you have a chance to tell Malcolm that your uncle wasn’t feeling well, Jules? I saw you last night and you didn’t say anything,” Emma said.
Julian was glad he was facing away from Emma; he was sure he’d gone white.
“Vampire pizza,” Malcolm said.
“What?” Emma said.
“Nightshade’s opened up an Italian place on Cross Creek Road,” Malcolm said. “Best pizza for miles, and they deliver.”
“Don’t you worry about what’s in the sauce?” Emma asked, clearly diverted. “Oh!” Her hand flew to her mouth. “That reminds me, Malcolm. I was wondering if there was something you’d look at.”
“Is it a wart?” said Malcolm. “I can cure that, but it’ll cost you.”
“Why does everyone always think it’s a wart?” Emma pulled her phone out and in a few seconds was showing him the photos of the body she’d found at the Sepulchre Bar. “There were these white markings, here and here,” she said, pointing. “They look like graffiti, not paint but chalk or something like that. . . .”
“First, gross,” Malcolm said. “Please don’t show me pictures of dead bodies without a warning.” He peered closer. “Second, those look like remnants of a ceremonial circle. Someone drew a protective ring on the ground. Maybe to protect themselves while they were casting whatever nasty spell killed this guy.”
“He was burned,” Emma said. “And drowned, I think. At least, his clothes were wet and he smelled like salt water.”
She was frowning, her eyes dark. It could have been the memory of the body, or just the thought of the ocean. It was an ocean she lived across from, ran beside every day, but Julian knew how much it terrified her. She could force herself into it, sick and shaking, but he hated watching her do it, hated watching his strong Emma torn to shreds by the terror of something so primal and nameless she couldn’t explain it even to herself.
It made him want to kill things, destroy things to keep her safe. Even though she could keep herself safe. Even though she was the bravest person he knew.
Julian snapped back to the present. “Forward me the photos,” Malcolm was saying. “I’ll look them over more closely and let you know.”
“Hey!” Livvy appeared at the top of the stairs, having changed out of her training gear. “Ty found something. About the killings.”
Malcolm looked puzzled.
“On the computer,” Livvy elaborated. “You know, the one we’re not supposed to have. Oh, hi, Malcolm.” She waved vigorously. “You guys should come upstairs.”
“Would you stay, Malcolm?” Emma asked, scrambling to her feet. “We could use your help.”
“That depends,” Malcolm said. “Does the computer play movies?”
“It can play movies,” said Julian cautiously.
Malcolm looked pleased. “Can we watch Notting Hill?”
“We can watch anything, if you’re willing to help,” Emma said. She glanced at Jules. “And we can find out what Ty discovered. You’re coming, right?”
Silently Julian cursed Malcolm’s love of romantic movies. He wished he could head to his studio and paint. But he couldn’t exactly avoid Ty or abandon Malcolm.
“I could get snacks from the kitchen,” Emma said, sounding hopeful. After all, for years it had been their habit to watch old movies on their witchlight-powered TV, eating popcorn by the flickering illumination.