Some people just don’t die easy.
I should know. I, Shamus Flynn, had died several times—all of them the hard way.
Being the only person in the world who carried Death magic came with a catch. Death magic needed to be fed, needed to devour life. It got all kinds of stabby when it didn’t get what it wanted.
Most of the time I managed it and managed myself so that I didn’t go full-on Grim Reaper.
Occasionally I slipped. And that meant some unlucky bastard was in for a very bad day.
I wasn’t alone in this magic-user thing though. My not-best friend, work partner, and unwelcome-roommate, Terric Conley was my opposite: a Life magic user who, I admitted only in my darkest moments, I couldn’t function without.
The tie Life and Death magic had welded between us—the Soul Complement—was unbreakable.
Trust me, we’d tried breaking it.
I was a walking, talking Grim Reaper, and he was the vessel of healing and life.
Yin-yang. Beauty and the beast. Cancer and cure.
He and I had once been the head of magic here in Portland, Oregon. Before we’d been fired, hunted, tortured, killed (then had saved the world, and destroyed magic) and were finally, painfully reborn.
But out of all that, we had made one thing happen: no one could access magic any more. No one could offer up a little pain and draw a spell glyph and expect magic to jump to.
Magic flowed like water through channels beneath the cities and land. It flowed especially strong beneath Portland.
That magic used to be as simple to tap as turning on a faucet.
Not any more. Terric and I had put an end to that extraordinarily easy, dangerous access.
Which is why the half-naked dead guy slumped in the pile of garbage in the alley in front of me was such a surprise.
This corpse—a fat man in designer slacks and new shoes who looked like he had clenched it just this side of sixty—had the glyphs for Pain and Surrender and Binding burned across his forehead, chest, and throat.
Burned into his flesh with magic, not fire.
Brutal and effective magic work.
A hell of a gruesome way to go.
Well, then. Someone had been a bad boy, and it wasn’t me for a change. What was the world coming to?
Here’s the thing: no one can use magic except Terric and me.
What? A couple blokes die to save the world and they can’t slip a little loophole into the new rules?
Plus, being the only people who could stir the magic pot wasn’t for kicks. Magic still demanded a price for using it, and that price was still pain.
“Don’t know what you did to piss off Mr. Nice Guy,” I said to the corpse. I dug in my hoodie pocket for a cig and a light. “But it’s going to be all sorts of delightful to watch him try to talk his way out of his >no more killing, Shame’ rule.”
I glanced at both ends of the alley. Normal non-magical people walked the street doing normal non-magical things in the normal, dear-God-so-damn normal non-magical spring day. No one paid attention to me because, frankly, I looked like I belonged in the alley: dark hair in need of a cut, black hoodie, fingerless gloves, jeans, boots.
Lean, angry, broken. It all described me.
But that wasn’t all I was.
I lit my cigarette, sucked the destruction of paper and tobacco into lungs, then deeper, feeding it to the gnawing, bottomless hunger of Death magic inside me. One burning cig wasn’t much to feed the need for death that pounded like a second pulse behind my throat, my eyes, my mouth.
But it wasn’t nothing.
These days I took every bit of death I could get.
I exhaled smoke, then tsked.
“Leaving those marks behind is just...sloppy.” I crouched next to the corpse to get a better look. Noticed a tattoo obscured by the Binding glyph over his heart. Maybe the head of a dragon, maybe a fish? Something that looked like it came out of a tourist stall in Chinatown.
“It’s not like people don’t remember that they used to use magic. It’s only been off limits for a year. Am I right, buddy?”
The corpse, being dead, didn’t say anything, and there was no ghost left behind either—something I was happy about.
“Why would you only half-strip a guy, Terric?” I muttered around the cigarette in my mouth. I took a moment, sucked the flame deep, burned a column of ash. Held my breath. Tossed the butt over my shoulder into the wet of moss and slime.
“You like your men all the way naked,” I continued on the exhale. “And a hell of a lot younger than this guy. And leaner.” I took a good look at his face. “And better looking. So I’m going to guess this wasn’t a lover’s spat.”
I slid a finger in the dead guy’s front pockets. No I.D.
Pivoted on my boots scanning the alley for the man’s shirt and coat. Nothing.
“The more I look at this...” I tipped my head up, checked roof lines for movement, cameras, guns. No, no, and no.
“...the more I think you, Deadguy, are a set up to frame someone for murder.”
I stood, weighed my options.
“What I want to know is who the hell has access to that much magic and can use life-ending spells without killing themselves in the process. Other than Terric. What poor chump was supposed to get nailed for your murder?”
I tugged the phone out of my pocket. Snapped a picture of the guy.
Then I leaned down over the top of him. I placed the heel of my palm against the Pain glyph on his forehead. That glyph was not a joke, not a fake. That was a spell burned into his flesh. A very deadly spell.
I called on the knot of magic inside me and let it pour out through my hand to eat away at that spell. Left a bloody mess and the smell of rotten oranges and old ass behind. Did the same to his throat and chest.
Stood back to check my handiwork. Looked like he’d put acid in his body spray.
At least it didn’t look like death by magic.
What I should do was call Terric, find out what he had to say about all this. What I could do was hit the pub and get my liquid lunch on.
Since there was plenty of day left, and I was pretty sure it was gonna take a couple beers to get the taste of magic-fried corpse out of my mouth, I headed to the pub.
Irene Goodman Literary Agency
27 W. 24th Street
Suite 700 B
New York, NY 10010