Dusk didn’t understand why his old friend wanted to meet in the bar next to the Pioneer Hotel around seven at night. That part of the city was a hellhole, filled with drunkards, prostitutes and their pimps, and the worst humans of all: gangsters.
But it was the kind of environment Niamh thrived in.
When Dusk received his written letter months ago, he had just left Oklahoma, bound for any town in the deep south, preferably rural. He drove the stolen car like a bat out of hell. He had been stealing and leaving cars behind for a week, trying to put as much distance between himself and the law, who’d chased him night and day because of Tristan. The new wraith had resorted to his old tricks again by robbing First Waters Bank in the middle of the day. To make things worse, he killed the sheriff before escaping, on horseback while shooting his gun and shouting at the town’s residents that he was back.
Dusk thought Tristan had learned his lesson before. There was no going back to his rugged outlaw life, not as a wraith, but being new to this life and trying to stay on the straight and narrow was easier said than done. He had the tendency to get out of control, which had left Dusk with little choice but to bounce from place to place in search of a permanent home.
Now, in Chicago, he took a big risk leaving Tristan alone back in their room at the Pioneer Hotel in the heart of Skid Row. Their small room was only big enough for one bed and a small dresser. Mold grew in the corners of the room, and the wallpaper barely stuck to the dirtied walls. Next door, he heard the sound of a man and woman fighting shortly before he left, and as he descended the stairs, he ran into a drunk who wanted to fight him on the street.
He hoped that whatever Niamh wanted to talk to him about was just as important as he’d stated in his letter, and Dusk didn’t expect this little meeting to take any longer than a few hours.
“How’s your new friend? The wraith you picked up in New Mexico?” Niamh sat across from him with his legs crossed, cupping a glass of alcohol in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Wraiths had no use for either, but presenting a false narrative for their true identity helped in hiding what they were.
“You know about that?” Dusk asked.
“Oh, Dusk, you know how we wraiths love to talk about who did what and when.”
He sat back in his chair. “He’s a lot to handle, right now, but he’s getting used to things.”
“I bet he is! You remember how it was for you, don’t you?”
Dusk didn’t want to be reminded. Centuries ago, it was a lot harder to hide than it was in 1930s’ America. In fact, it had become easier since the crash of 1929. Now, with the Great Depression near its end, things were beginning to turn back to the way they were, with a few minor differences.
I don’t understand why a wraith would turn a human so mindlessly, he thought to himself. The way Tristan described it to me… It wasn’t an accident.
“You know some wraiths don’t have control.” Niamh waved his cigarette around as he talked. “They just leech here and there, hoping they don’t take too much to give birth to another one. But my question is, why would you take one you did not make under your wing? You should’ve left him to fend for himself, or killed him.”
“You know I can’t do that,” he replied. “It’s not his fault this happened to him.”
“Oh, friend. Always the righteous one.” Niamh placed the glass to his lips, and as his blue eyes met Dusk’s, he paused. “Do you want a drink?” His silver-colored bangs fell loose from beneath his hat, covering his forehead.
Dusk declined. “I didn’t come all the way up north to drink or talk about Tristan.” He sat up straight in his chair. “You told me you had some new information.”
“You were always flawless when it came to changing subjects.” Niamh placed the cup back on the table.
“I don’t want to be here longer than I have to.”
“Why not? Chicago is a great city.”
“It’s a cold city. I don’t like cold cities.”
A drunk stumbled into their table, and Dusk watched as Niamh stretched his fingers to rub against the human’s skin. Dusk envied how good he was at taking essence from unsuspicious humans. He did it with little effort.
When the drunk wobbled back to the bar, Niamh’s eyes fluttered a moment. “I do love the drunk ones. Don’t you?”
“Niamh, are you going to tell me or what?” Dusk nodded in his direction. “And you’re showing.”
Red veins spread throughout the underlying skin on Niamh’s face. “Afraid someone will see?” He rubbed his skin, and the veins retreated.
“You know I am.”
“Oh, these drunks don’t trust their own eyesight. You worry too much.”
“The last time you said not to worry about revealing what we are, I ended up in a cage.”
Niamh brushed off Dusk’s comment, as if it were nothing. “Don’t dwell on the past. I don’t.”
Dusk laid his hands on the table. “Why did you want me to come here?” he asked outright.
Niamh licked his lips slowly, then replied, “You know that pesky little shard I’ve been trying to find for a few centuries now?
He knew. “The Shard of Anu? You found it?”
With his answer, Dusk rose to his feet. “Then I’m done here.”
But Niamh wasn’t. He reached out in a flash and held onto Dusk’s wrist. “I found another one.”
“Another one? How many are there?”
“Sit down and I’ll tell you.”
Dusk took his seat.
“There are three in total,” he explained.
“Niamh, you never told me there were two more,” Dusk replied. “Why now?”
“Because one is right here, in Chicago.” He took another sip of his drink.
“Is this one just as dangerous as the shard?”
As long as Dusk had known Niamh, the Shard of Anu was Niamh’s prize possession, a mystical item that he wanted to control and possess by any means. To him, it didn’t matter if its magical properties had a horrible effect on wraiths, including possible death. He wanted it, which meant bad news for the person or persons who had it.
“To us, no.”
“Then why go after it?”
“Why not?” His eyes scrutinized Dusk. “Having just one gives me—gives us—an advantage over our enemies. While the one in the city is a little different and not as important as my shard, I’ll take what I can get.”
“If it doesn’t hurt us, then who does it hurt? Who is it meant for?”
For the first time in their conversation, Niamh lowered his voice. “The other ones. The creatures with the black eyes.”
It was the exact phrase he had used to describe just one of the many other supernatural creatures created from dark magic, like themselves.
“Oh, Niamh.” Dusk rubbed his chin. “And what Deamhan are you planning on killing to get it?”
“No one. Yet. Right now, a Deamhan has it, and a certain researcher from the Brotherhood knows exactly where this Deamhan is.” Niamh spoke about researchers from the Brotherhood often, using profanity and derogatory words to describe them. While he didn’t hide from them and often wished for a confrontation, Dusk wanted nothing to do with them. Wherever they were, Deamhan followed, and the thought of running into one made his hands tremble.
“This is the kind of trouble I don’t want.” Dusk’s gaze darted toward the table. “I never understood why you’re willing to put your life on the line for some dark-magic-infused trinket.”
“The researcher is who I’m after,” he said with a hint of deviltry in his eyes. “And before you go on a tangent, I just want to add that we won’t run into any Deamhan.”
“And how do you know that? They’re in every city in every country on this planet!”
“If it troubles you this much, we can go during the day,” he said. “Deamhan aren’t partial to sunlight.”
“Or not go at all.” Dusk sat back and folded his arms. “I want nothing to do with the Brotherhood either. You do not mess with them, Niamh.”
“They’re only humans.”
“Humans who know how to kill, hurt, and imprison people like us,” he replied. “They do it to Deamhan all the time.”
“We aren’t Deamhan.” He took another sip of his drink. “I can’t believe you’re afraid of these humans. Deamhan, I understand, but humans?”
“And I can’t believe you aren’t.” Dusk placed his face in his hands. “By being here, I’ve placed myself and Tristan at risk.” He stood from his chair again. “I don’t want this spilling over. I don’t want Tristan caught up in this as well.”
“Bring him with you. I’m dying to meet him anyway.” Niamh stood as well, and to calm Dusk, he placed his hand on his shoulder. “Remember what I told you back in Italy? I told you I would never let anything bad happen to you, not while I am still alive. I will always keep that promise to you and to that… other wraith under your wing.”
While Niamh was good at regurgitating what he said centuries ago, he wasn’t as good as Dusk when it came to remembering specific dates in their past. “This isn’t Italy, and this isn’t 1796.” Dusk brushed his hand away. “Napoleon isn’t invading America, Niamh, and don’t forget, you didn’t protect me. You left me to save your own skin. I almost died. Five days in a cell. Five days!”
“But I came back for you. You’re my son.”
He didn’t feel like a son. He felt like a recruit, someone Niamh wanted to do his bidding. Being new, he had accepted the responsibility. Niamh was the only other wraith he knew, and only together were they able to survive. But he was power-hungry, and the idea of securing just one of the dark magic shards was enough for Dusk to doubt his true intentions.
Niamh’s eyes drew into slits, and his face hardened. “You know how important the Shard of Anu is to me.”
“This isn’t the shard.”
“No, but with it, we will have leverage over both the Brotherhood and Deamhan.”
“And they will come after you. Not me,” Dusk argued. “Because I won’t have anything to do with this.”
“Dusk, please. I can’t do this without you.”
Dusk couldn’t look him in the eye. Niamh wasn’t only his friend. He was the one who made him—the one who turned him—and all wraiths retained a connection to their maker, so to speak. This was no different. When Niamh demanded obedience, the wraith inside Dusk strived to remain loyal, regardless of his actions.
He wanted to hate him, but he couldn’t, and if he refused to help his maker, Niamh would go on his own. There was a high chance he wouldn’t return unscathed.
He exhaled. “Yes, I know.” He slowly sat back into his chair.
“Thank you.” Niamh sat as well.
“I’ll help you get this other item. But after, I’m leaving Chicago with Tristan. I mean it. You will not write to me again. You will not try to look for me again. After this is over, we part ways for good.”
“So, where is this researcher?”
His playfulness returned, and Niamh nodded. “His home is a little way north of the city.”
“I will not help you kill this researcher.”
Dusk pondered for a moment. “I’m serious. We will not kill him.”
Niamh appeared unbothered by Dusk’s stance. “If that’s what you want.”
“Yes, that is exactly what I want.”
Until… one of her kind is murdered by a mysterious man in a black mask.
With only Carter, an unlucky human witness, by her side, Faye must find a way to prevent the body count from rising and protect her family’s secret identity. As the man in the black mask lurks in the shadows waiting to strike again, her choice becomes a matter of life and death.
In the face of true evil, being normal is overrated.