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The French Quarter was thinking about war again.
Booms echoed across the neighborhood, vibrating windows and shaking the shelves at Royal Mercantile—the finest purveyor of dehydrated meals in New Orleans.
And antique walking sticks. We were flush with antique walking sticks.
I sat at the store’s front counter, working on a brass owl that topped one of them. The owl’s head was supposed to turn when you pushed a button on the handle, but the mechanism was broken. I’d taken apart the tiny brass pieces and found the problem—one of the small toothy gears had become misaligned. I just needed to slip it back into place.
I adjusted the magnifying glass over the owl, its jointed brass wings spread to reveal its inner mechanisms. I had a thin screwdriver in one hand, a pair of watchmaking tweezers in the other. To get the gear in place, I had to push one spring down and another up in that very small space.
I liked tinkering with the store’s antiques, to puzzle through broken parts and sticky locks. It was satisfying to make something work that hadn’t before. And since the demand for fancy French sideboards and secretaries wasn’t exactly high these days, there was plenty of inventory to pick from.
I nibbled on my bottom lip as I moved the pieces, carefully adjusting the tension so the gear could slip in. I had to get the gear into the back compartment, between the rods, and into place between the springs. Just a smidge to the right, and . . .
I jumped, the sound of another round of fireworks shuddering me back to the store—and the gear that now floated in the air beside me, bobbing a foot off the counter’s surface.
“Damn,” I muttered, heart tripping.
I’d moved it with my mind, with the telekinetic magic I wasn’t supposed to have. At least, not unless I wanted a lifetime prison sentence.
I let go of the magic, and the gear dropped, hit the counter, bounced onto the floor.
My heart now pounding in my chest, the fingers on both hands crossed superstitiously, I hopped off the stool and hurried to the front door to check the box mounted on the building across the street. It was a monitor with a camera on top, triggered when the amount of magic in the air rose above background levels—like when a Sensitive accidentally moved a gear.
I’d gotten lucky; the light was still red. I must not have done enough to trigger it, at least from this distance. I was still in the clear—for now. But damn, that had been close. I hadn’t even known I’d been using magic.
Already pumped with nervous energy, I jumped again.
“Good lord,” I said, pushing the door open and stepping outside onto the threshold between the store’s bay windows, where MERCANTILE was mosaicked in tidy blue capitals.
It was mid-October, and the heat and humidity still formed a miserable blanket across the French Quarter. Royal Street was nearly empty of people.
The war had knocked down half the buildings in the Quarter, which gave me a clear view of the back part of the neighborhood and the Mississippi River, which bordered it. Figures moved along the riverbank, testing fireworks for the finale of the festivities. The air smelled like sparks and flame, and wisps of white smoke drifted across the twilight sky.
It wasn’t the first time we’d seen smoke over the Quarter.
On an equally sweltering day in October seven years ago, the Veil—the barrier that separated humans from a world of magic we hadn’t even known existed—was shattered by the Paranormals who’d lived in what we now called the Beyond.
They wanted our world, and they didn’t have a problem eradicating us in the process. They spilled through the fracture, bringing death and destruction—and changing everything: Magic was now real and measurable and a scientific fact.