In the third in the “richly detailed and diverse” (io9) urban fantasy series, the time has come for the dead to rise up against the shady powers-that-be...
The time has come for the dead to rise up...
Trouble is brewing between the Council of the Dead and the ghostly, half-dead, spiritual, and supernatural community they claim to represent. One too many shady deals have gone down in New York City’s streets, and those caught in the crossfire have had enough. It’s time for the Council to be brought down—this time for good.
Carlos Delacruz is used to being caught in the middle of things: both as an inbetweener, trapped somewhere between life and death, and as a double agent for the Council. But as his friends begin preparing for an unnatural war against the ghouls in charge, he realizes that more is on the line than ever before—not only for the people he cares about, but for every single soul in Brooklyn, alive or otherwise...
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I open the door, blade ready, and the first thing I think is, Oh, Carlos, what have they done to you?
The thought comes with a startling pinch in my chest, and I step back from the shimmering, hunched-over figure, suddenly sadder than I thought I'd be.
Thought I'd be if ever-
Because surely one day-
I shake off the threads of worry and sorrow, and blink once at the ghost in my doorway.
His flowing cloak and notched helmet mark him as one of the Council of the Dead's Soulcatchers Prime. He's tall-Carlos tall-but his shoulders slump forward, one lower than the other. His head slumps down like a hanged man, face hidden behind the caged face guard. He clutches a cane, just like Carlos. And he's trembling. But the energy is all wrong; something vastly more desperate and mournful radiates from this wraith. And for Carlos, half-dead like me, to be a ghost, they would've had to catch and kill him the rest of the way, and somehow, deep inside myself, I'm sure I would've known if that had happened.
"The Council pardoned me," I say. It comes out hoarse, like I've been crying. "Almost a year ago." Nine months and seven days. The last time I saw Carlos. "Maybe you didn't get the memo."
"My lady." The ghost bows. His voice is a thin, unraveling whisper.
Definitely not Carlos.
Tiny muscles I didn't know I had unclench themselves. But if not Carlos, who?
"What do you want, soulcatcher? I don't politic with the Council."
He shakes his head. "A word, is all. I'm not here on Council business. Not exactly."
Down the hall behind me, the twins sit perched on their big, old babysitter's lap. I shut and locked the nursery door as soon as I'd heard the knocking. Baba Eddie has ghostproofed, sanctified, cleansed, and spiritually booby-trapped their room hundreds of times.
And still, it's never enough. Still my slow, slow heart cantors into overdrive at the gentlest hint of something off.
I narrow my eyes. "I have no words for Council goons."
"You don't have to have any," the soulcatcher assures me. "The words are all mine."
Just before I slam the door the ghost says, "I knew you."
He says it very quietly. It's not desperate, not a plea. Just a fact. I glare at him through the crack of the doorway. "Excuse me?" A fury rises up and I push it away.
"I knew you," he says again. "In life."
A moment passes, then another. My stare doesn't waver.
It could be a lie. A trap. I could somehow force it not to matter, but I'd be pretending. No matter how many ways I try to ignore it, the truth about my life matters.
Still, I already dislike this phantom. First of all, he's with the Council. I'm inbetween-full flesh and blood but neither fully dead nor alive-and the Council has no tolerance for folks like us, unless we're doing their dirty work.
Who I murdered once-a lifetime ago, before we fell in love.
Who this ghost strangely resembles.
"Wait here," I say, and shut the door.
I unlock the twinsÕ bedroom and poke my head in.
Their babysitter sits like a giant Cuban Santa Claus, a toddler on each leg. He squints at the handwritten letter through his bifocals. I don't know if it's old age or all that coffee he drinks, but his hand trembles slightly. "It was maybe the fourth time Mrs. Overbrook has called me," Gordo reads. "I think she just likes having someone to talk to." He makes it sound like a fairy tale, Carlos's never-ending cycle of ridiculous adventures. Xiomara and Jackson are enraptured. There's no way they can grasp what's going on, but their wide eyes are glued to Gordo's face as he reads.
"I'm going out," I say.
The twins train their how dare you interrupt story time, Mami faces on me, and I almost come curl up with the three of them, the Council's limping ghosts be damned.
But no. My life-even if it's a cruel joke, it's one I need to get to the bottom of.
"We know this," Gordo says. "You already said goodbye."
I puzzle at him for a half second and then remember: it's Saturday and my friend Reza gives me what she calls "offensive driving" lessons on Saturdays. That's why Gordo's here in the first place. I'd been on my way out when the knock at the door sounded.
"Right." I smile, but it's forced and Gordo knows it. I'm already off my game.
I shake my head but say, "Yeah. Change of plans, though."
Xiomara cocks an eyebrow at me, because she was apparently born knowing everything. I come back in the room, a flurry of jingling keys and all my weird stress, kiss both their foreheads-little Jackson squirming already at his mommy's love-and Gordo's cheek. He's so warm; they're all so warm and wholesome, and I'm so aware of my chilly skin against theirs.
Gordo smiles at me, takes my small, cool hand in his big, hot one. Of all the fully alive folks I've met, Gordo is the only one who never missed a beat realizing how neither/nor I really am. Without a word spoken, he just gets it, and I will always love him for that.
"Ten cuidado, nena," Gordo says.
I nod. "Always."
I start to leave but he doesn't let go. "Yes, Sasha, always. But much more so now."
He lets go and turns back to the letter, suddenly Santa again. "And then we had to help a group of suicides out of the riverway. What a mess that was!"
Xiomara giggles; I shake my head and walk out of the room.
"Should I cut him?" Harrison Range's voice shivers. "I mean, I mean . . . I feel that I should probably cut him, right? I'm not sure though, to be honest."
I hate new guys.
Harrison is clinging to a support beam of the Manhattan Bridge. He's a ghost, and ghosts don't really fall unless you push 'em, so there's really no need to be clinging. But that's not what's put the tremor in his voice, at least not the only thing. A river giant stands astride the Manhattan-bound lane of traffic, sobbing.
The answer to Harrison's question is an unequivocal and enthusiastic yes, according to Council protocols. But it's Saturday, and I haven't had any coffee yet, and I'm not in the mood for even the pretense of following these inane bylaws. Anyway, I think I know this river giant. Got into a tiff with a group of 'em not too long ago on the west side-they were trying to resurrect an ancient serial-killer god. We murked the whole squad except one, who disappeared back into the dirty waters of the Hudson. I think this is that one, even though my friend Krys warned him not to come back with the business end of a ghost bazooka.
Then again, all river giants look alike to me, so what do I know?
"Do what you want, Harrison."
Harrison whimpers. The giant sniffles and sobs.
Traffic is snarled, mostly because our lumbering, distraught friend caused a fender bender. No one can see him, at least not most folks, but his very presence sends discord rippling through the congested air above the East River. It's the third mash-up this week, and the Council finally caught wind, and, well, here we are.
"I'm not sure I should cut him," Harrison reports.
Surely one of these passing cars has a spare cup of coffee in it.
"The thing is, according to Council Bylaw 89.2, the river giant is a Causal Disturbance Entity, and I should thereby cut him and send him to the Deeper Death, thereby ending his existence entirely and for good."
I peer through the crisscrossing tension wires, into the window of a black SUV. That guy has two coffee cups in his drink holder and no one in the passenger seat. Dickhole.
"However, there are two complications: the river giant has not technically made himself visible to the general public, and he hasn't caused any mass loss of life or property damage in excess of forty thousand dollars-not by my guess, anyway. Wouldn't you say, Carlos?"
"Not unless that Winnebago that got trashed at the exit ramp was full of cocaine." My arm doesn't quite reach, so I slide my cane through the steel crossbeams.
"Ha, no, we probably would've heard about it if it was."
"What's the other thing?"
"What other thing?"
Success! The tip of my cane clacks against the side of the SUV. The window slides down with a whirr. "What the fuck!" the driver yells. He's burly and wearing those Terminator sunglasses that grandmas realized weren't cool in 1994. I'll take the L.
"You said there were two things, Harrison." I walk a few steps out of range while the driver continues his curse-out. "What's the second one?"
"Oh! River giants are almost extinct."
"How can a dead thing be-"
"Therefore, as per subguideline 91a, they are technically protected entities."
Didn't seem like that a few months ago when we were trying not to get stomped by them on the banks of the Hudson. "Well, damn. Didn't realize that. So what you gonna do, man? I'm cold, and I gotta be somewhere at two."
Above us, the river giant lets out a warbling cry-something like a thousand dying goats simulcast through a screechy megaphone. I scowl. I'd forgotten about that shit. Harrison squints, steeling himself.
"I'm gonna cut him!" he announces.
As it turns out, I have my own little set of protocols, and one of them is don't announce you're going to cut a gigantic river demon before you do it. It's too late for all that though; the warbling peaks in intensity and then cuts suddenly short. The giant looks at Harrison.
Harrison says, "Oh sh-" and then the giant backhands him off the bridge.
Then the river giant looks at me.
There aren't enough fucks in the world. I turn around and run.
For a dead guy, Juan Flores is remarkably ungraceful. Most ghosts flit around with that edgeless, flowing abandon you'd expect from a being that's all soul. Even the ones that stride, like Carlos's friend Riley, strut like walking water in a seamless swirl. It's a glory to behold, when you stop to take it in, and soulcatchers more than anyone else are supposed to be unflappable, ferocious, and yes, graceful.
Not Juan Flores, though. He limps along beside me like a busted San L‡zaro / Darth Vader mash-up, phantom cane clacking on the pavement as his bum leg drags along behind.
"Anyway," Flores says, "the Council is in the midst of a lot of change. Several Remote Districts are in open rebellion. No one knows when they'll replace the slain minister . . ."
"I hate the Council, Mr. Flores."
"I want nothing to do with them. Ever. I told them as much when they brought me in to say they wouldn't be trying to kill me anymore. You said you weren't here on Council business."
The ghost sighs. Snow from a blizzard three days ago still covers the park in pristine blankets. Some kids run around a playground, squealing, and I think of Xiomara and Jackson, wonder briefly if they'll ever know a life so perfectly simple.
"You're right," Flores finally says.
"You said you know me, Flores. Out with it."
He stops walking, turns to face me. "April nineteenth, Grand Army Plaza."
My back straightens without me telling it to. Tiny beads of sweat form along my spine.
"A rainy night."
Even hunched over, Juan Flores's face reaches a little higher than mine.
He lifts the visor of his soulcatcher helm. Inside, it's just a hazy fog.
"We were seven," Flores says. "All died. Five survived."
It's the only information Carlos could track down about the night we died-the resident house ghost at the plaza told him before being annihilated by a powerful sorcerer named Sarco, who orchestrated the whole thing. Then Carlos and I killed Sarco.
"You were there?" I try to make my voice sound unimpressed. It doesn't work.
"But you . . . you remember?"
"My passing was less violent than yours. Or the other four."
The other four. Carlos and my brother Trevor, who Carlos later killed on orders from the Council. Marie and Gregorio, who formed the Survivors with Trevor and me, and died in the infighting last year.
My blade is out; it's pointed at that swirling emptiness where Juan Flores's face should be.
"Who was I?"
"Sasha . . ."
"Before I died. You said you knew me."
Juan Flores nods. "Aisha," the ghost says in that trembly, soft voice. "Aisha Flores."
I lower my blade, raise it again. "I was . . ."
"My wife," Juan Flores said. "My dearly beloved wife."
I shove through a gaggle of tourists-German, I think. I grunt an apology without stopping. None of them mind too much-apparently assholes are just part of the local flavor. One even snaps a picture, but then the river giant is on them, which must feel like some huge, invisible tornado just dropped out the sky. They collapse, screaming.
The river giant doesn't apologize; he just roars toward me with those humongous strides, crashing along the walkway like a deranged oak tree. I turn back to look where I'm going just in time to see the cyclist I'm crashing into.
For a few seconds, everything is a tangle of gears and sudden aches and the biker's cursing. Then I'm right side up again and still running-my odd, lopsided gait even more slanted.
"You can't goddamn just do that, man!" the guy yells. "I mean! I mean!" And then he too is swept aside with a yelp. The whole fence shivers, the cyclist grunts and collapses, and me? I run.
I'm only halfway across the bridge when I start running out of breath. Blame the Malague–as. But I still hear the thing clambering along behind me, even if a little less enthusiastically now. I steal a glimpse and then stop entirely, leaning my hand against one of the huge concrete support pillars to catch my breath.
The giant's wild flush forward has slowed to a pathetic, uneven clamor. He keeps stopping to wipe his eyes like he has something in them and then hock giant ghost loogies into the river below.
The bumps-and-bruises carnage we caused is far enough back not to trouble us, and besides the gridlocked traffic and passing seagulls, we're alone on the bridge. The giant stops a few feet away from me and just breaks down sobbing. One hand clutches the tension wires above him, the other massages the center of his wide face, right between those two beady eyes.