“What do you mean you didn’t get the money?” My father’s face is puckered and red, and I’m sure he is going to reach out one of his meaty hands and nock me against my head, but he doesn’t. “Did she give you something else?” His eyes watch me carefully, shifting over my face. He’ll know if I lie.
“No,” I say truthfully. “She didn’t.”
His hand slams down against his desk and I jump. If I still had a heart it would be slamming against my ribcage. The thought makes me uncomfortable.
“It’s a different kind of deal,” I try to explain weakly. “Mary asks me to retrieve information on this ‘invasion’ thing and I—”
“Mary?” His voice ricochets against the walls, rumbling like the harsh growl of an enraged animal. “So this air-breather has a name? Does she also have money?”
I shrink against the back of the chair I’m sitting in, but the rough wood provides no comfort. “There is something else—protection—that we can’t get from anyone else. I get her the information and she keeps us a secret.”
I swallow hard, not because I need to, but from habit. I was afraid he would ask this question. But of course he did; he’s my father after all. After two hundred and fifty years, he can tell when I’m avoiding telling him something.
I sigh. “I don’t know.”
The London borough of Hackney looks exactly the way it sounds: unpleasant. At night, when the term ‘nightlife’ does not belong solely to the living humans, Hackney is a master web of all things unnatural. Staring up at the ugly brownstone in front of me with its shattered windows and its colossal, gaping mouth of crumbling brick, I am not surprised to find myself immensely irritated at Will.
“I have something to show you,” he had said after I’d walked out of my father’s cabin. He hadn’t waited for me to respond, just grabbed my hand and dragged me here. I don’t know why I came. Now I wish I was anywhere else.
“Stop looking so depressed,” Will says, looping his arm around my waist, and I push it away. “Why are you getting so caught up in the problems of the air-breathers?”
I avoid his eyes and shrug.
“Fine, if you won’t tell me, I know someone who will.”
He drags me up the stairs to the doorway of the brownstone, passing through the black oak with ease. His fingers are clamped around my wrist. At one time they were warm; at one time I might have enjoyed the feeling of them pressed against my skin—but not now. They don’t feel like anything anymore.
I know where we are the moment we step inside the foyer and I lurch backward, yanking against Will’s grip to back out the door, but it’s too late, she’s seen me.
“Rosalina,” she purrs. “I didn’t expect to see you again in my home.”
Her dark, curly hair is pushed back from her eyes with a piece of purple cloth, and her delicate face looks up at me from where she sits, her hands folded neatly against her skirt. She’s wearing a white blouse that flows at the arms and the red couch on which she is perched sags in the center from old age and use.
“Yeah, me neither,” I snap and she smiles, the milky-blue of her blind eyes settling with odd clarity on my face. “Aren’t you supposed to be able to predict this kind of stuff, Psychic?”
“Not always.” Her eyes flash to Will and I glance between them warily.
I turn to William. “What am I doing here?”
His eyes dart toward the psychic and back again. This might have been his idea, but he knows enough to be wary of the living who can see us. A few feet away, the psychic’s smile widens as if our silent conversation is the most entertaining thing she has heard in some time.
Will’s shoulders hunch. “I thought she could help us, give us information on easy jobs around the city.”
I lift an eyebrow incredulously. “You want her to help us steal?”
Now it’s his turn to shrug and I roll my eyes. He’s so quick to judge me about working with Mary, but when it comes to money, he’s willing to make a deal with the devil—or in this case, a psychic. Close enough.
“There is something else, something your boy is not saying,” the woman says, her eyes darting back and forth between us. “I requested your presence; though I was sure you wouldn’t come.”
“You requested I be here?” I can’t keep the exasperation out of my voice. I don’t know what the psychic wants with me—or from me—but I do not plan to stay here long enough to find out.
I rip my arm from Will’s grip and turn to leave, but her words stop me.
“Your presence is needed elsewhere, somewhere neither here nor there.”
I freeze. If my stomach still worked, it would have jumped into my throat, but it doesn’t. Instead, I am forced to turn back around and meet her unsettling glare.
“What did you say?” There is acid in my voice that I don’t try to hide.
“A land, neither here nor there, that is settled in the hills afar. There are people there waiting for you, wondering why you have not yet returned. You have made a promise, a promise you have yet to keep.”
Something pulls at the back of my mind but I cannot quite reach it. It’s like the memory of the dead man and the pocket watch. I can feel it there in the shadows, but it shrinks away whenever I reach for it.
They psychic’s voice is thick, weighted, as though she is telling a legend passed down through history. “They are waiting for your return, for you to fulfill the promise you both made, and to set the prophecy in motion.”
“Wait, promises and prophecies? What is this about?” Will’s voice is sharp and I am startled out of my thoughts. He gestures at the woman with short, jabbing motions. “I thought you wanted to see Rose to tell us about money?”
She doesn’t answer him, her eyes focused on me. “The King is waiting.”
“The King.” It takes me a minute to realize I spoke aloud. Beside me, Will shifts his weight, narrowing his eyes as he looks between us. He reaches up and gently takes my elbow, giving it a quick tug to let me know he wants to leave, but he’s brought me here and the woman knows things—things I haven’t heard of in almost a year.
“No,” I tell her, “that was a hallucination.”
She stands and walks toward me, reaching out a pale hand that stalls in the air inches away from my face. I can’t make out what she’s thinking, her eyes flashing side-to-side as if trying to pick the right words to say.
“The invasion is coming and once it’s here it will be too late. The King is waiting; he has something that can help you, but only if you help him first. Both of you.”
“Mary? Do you mean Mary?”
“Both of you,” she repeats as if I haven’t spoken at all. “But be warned, darkness will always follow. You must listen—” Her finger lowers until she is pointing to my chest. “You must listen to your—”
“Do not say heart,” I hiss and she freezes, her eyes widening until the unclear blue is surrounded by white. She takes a step back and Will inches closer to me, his face flushed with concern, but I don’t care, not anymore.
“You don’t know,” she says, still backing away. It is almost like a question, but not quite.
When I speak again, my voice is low, dangerous. “Know what?”
“About your heart.”
A strange flutter rocks my chest and I gasp, falling forward with a breathless huff. Will reaches for me quickly, wrapping his arms around my shoulders, and keeping me upright. A hot pulse flashes behind my sternum and I look back up at the psychic, wonder and alarm flooding through me.
“What have you done?” I demand. There’s a hollow heaviness in my chest, echoing something that has not been there for hundreds of years.
“I have done nothing. He has.”
“The King. He wants you to know that coins and gems are nothing compared to the thing you most long for—the thing that he has—the thing you must earn back.”
My voice is shaking as I ask, “And what is that?”
She smiles but her face is stiff.