Magical beings have been banned from the Golden City for decades, though many live there in secret. Now humans and nonhumans alike are in danger as evil stalks the streets, growing more powerful with every kill .
It’s been two weeks since Oriana Paredes was banished from the Golden City. Police consultant Duilio Ferreira, who himself has a talent he must keep secret, can’t escape the feeling that, though she’s supposedly returned home to her people, Oriana is in danger.
Adding to Duilio’s concerns is a string of recent murders in the city. Three victims have already been found, each without a mark upon her body. When a selkie under his brother’s protection goes missing, Duilio fears the killer is also targeting nonhuman prey.
To protect Oriana and uncover the truth, Duilio will have to risk revealing his own identity, put his trust in some unlikely allies, and consult a rare and malevolent text known as The Seat of Magic .
About the Author
J. Kathleen Cheney is a former teacher and has taught mathematics ranging from seventh grade to calculus, with a brief stint as a gifted and talented specialist. Her short fiction has been published in such venues as Fantasy Magazine and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and her novella “Iron Shoes” was a Nebula Finalist in 2010. She is the author of The Golden City.
Read an Excerpt
SUNDAY, 19 OCTOBER 1902
The library of the Ferreira home housed a collection of items Duilio’s father had brought back to the Golden City from his travels on the sea. A large round table stood in the center of the room, the polished marquetry surface half hidden by a collection of sun-bleached giant clamshells. The chandelier of white coral above it had never been refitted for gas lighting and so held candles that Duilio rarely lit. He kept the thing for its beauty instead. The shelves were lined with books of varying antiquity and origin, purportedly filched from this or that hidden stockpile during his father’s many adventures with the prince’s father years and years ago.
Duilio didn’t concern himself over the books’ provenances; he was more interested in reading them. Neither his father nor his elder brother had been fond of books, and his mother preferred to read her newspapers in her sunny front sitting room, so he usually had the chillier library to himself.
He’d selected a volume in French, cheaply bound in dark blue fabric—Les sirènes du Portugal—that called itself a truthful account of life among the sea folk, the sereia. The gold lettering on the spine was nearly illegible, worn from the many times he’d read the book as a young man. Duilio doubted its accuracy, but it served better than nothing. Even so, the cities of the sereia’s islands were depicted therein as pale reflections of human cities like the Golden City and Lisboa. There had to be more to their civilization, Duilio reckoned, but the author—one Monsieur Mathieu Matelot, a pseudonym if he’d ever seen one—apparently hadn’t had the access needed to make a decent study of their culture. Given how little most humans knew of sereia, the author wasn’t bound by the truth. Duilio set the volume on the small table next to his chair, wondering what Oriana would think of it.
Almost two weeks now, and he’d not heard a word. He leaned back in the leather chair and sighed, well aware that fretting did no good. Perhaps he should have gone to Mass with Joaquim this morning and prayed.
“Duilinho?” His mother had come into the library, a coffee cup and saucer in one hand, her newspaper in the other. Near fifty, she bore her age well—better than a human woman would. She wore a brown wool day dress that showed that despite having borne three sons, she’d retained her figure. Her dark hair, worn in a high bun this afternoon, likely didn’t require any padding, an innate advantage of being a selkie. She regarded him with troubled brown eyes. “Hiding again?”
Yes, he was. He’d returned from a late lunch with his cousin Rafael Pinheiro only to learn his mother had a visitor, Genoveva Carvalho. He’d ducked into the library rather than face the girl. The eldest Carvalho daughter had recently shown an interest in him, an interest that wasn’t reciprocated. True, she was a lovely girl from a good family. Her father had spoken to Duilio early that summer about arranging a marriage between them, but Duilio had declined the proposition. Unfortunately, the young lady appeared to believe persistence would wear him down. She’d visited five times over the last two weeks, an uncalled-for number of visits when it was obvious his mother didn’t care for society.
Duilio rose, laying down his book. “I’m afraid so, Mother. Thank you for dealing with her.”
“What else am I to do? I know you haven’t encouraged her.” She held out the paper. “I realize it’s Sunday, but I’m surprised no one has come to tell you. Maraval is dead.”
Duilio took the newspaper. She’d folded it so one column showed, headed by an article proclaiming that the Marquis of Maraval, the Minister of Culture, had been killed. Duilio scanned the printed words, grimacing when the newsprint smeared onto his fingers.
In a misguided attempt to recapture the past glory of the Portuguese Empire, Maraval had conspired to create a Great Magic, one that would change history. But his grand spell had been fueled by the deaths of dozens of servants. They’d been placed in pairs inside a large work of art under the waters of the Douro River, left to drown when the river’s water seeped into their prisons of cork and wood. The plot had only begun to unravel when the conspirators chose the wrong pair of girls to sacrifice—Lady Isabel Amaral and her hired companion, Oriana Paredes. Miss Paredes was one of the few servants on the Street of Flowers who, when placed under water, would survive. A sereia, or sirène as the French book called them, she had gills and could breathe water, which gave her time to escape. Unfortunately she hadn’t been able to save her mistress. She’d done her best to bring Lady Isabel’s killers to justice instead. The newspaper stated that the young lady’s father had gone one step further. The usually indolent Lord Amaral had gained entrance to the prison the previous evening and delivered the marquis up to a higher court of justice. Given that Duilio had been instrumental in the capture of the marquis, the police should have sent him a note at the very least.
“This doesn’t say what’s been done to Lady Isabel’s father,” he noted. “I’m relieved there’s no mention of the man’s motive.”
The Golden City’s newspapers, elated over a scandal to report, had been surprisingly circumspect in one regard—they hadn’t mentioned the names of Lady Isabel or her companion in connection with Maraval’s plot. Instead they’d published that Isabel had been murdered by bandits who grabbed her off the street for her jewelry. It was the only concession Duilio had asked of the Special Police handling the case, a request made to protect Oriana Paredes rather than Lady Isabel. Oriana would not have withstood the attention of the media. Nonhumans had been banned from the Golden City for almost two decades now, and the fact that she was a sereia would have been exposed as the reason she’d survived when Lady Isabel hadn’t.
His mother took the paper when he handed it back. “I noted that as well. It will make things easier when Miss Paredes returns.”
Duilio frowned, wishing he knew when that return would occur. Oriana hadn’t been certain what reception she would receive when she reached her people’s islands. He hoped things hadn’t gone badly.
His mother touched the polished table and then frowned when her fingers left inky streaks behind. Since much of the staff was off on Sunday mornings, the newspaper must not have been ironed to set the ink. “Duilinho, sitting here and fretting is not going to bring Miss Paredes back.”
He’d been thinking the same thing only a moment before. He drew a linen handkerchief from the inside pocket of his charcoal morning coat and handed it to her. “I know, Mother, but she told me she would try to return to us. It worries me that we’ve heard nothing.”
One arched brow rose. “To us?”
Duilio pressed his lips together, refusing to rise to his mother’s bait.
She sighed, wiped the table with the handkerchief, and then inspected her fingers. “I cannot tell you what keeps her. I wish I could.”
Despite sharing the ocean, his mother’s people rarely interacted with the sereia. He sighed. “I should have convinced her not to go.”
His mother looked up at him, her limpid brown eyes thoughtful. She had delicate features and a pointed jaw, neither of which he’d inherited. He had his father’s rectangular face, very human in appearance, with a wide brow and square jaw. He often wished he looked more like her, as his elder brother Alessio had.
“Do you believe you could have dissuaded her?” she asked.
“I had a bad feeling, Mother.” Like his father and brother before him, he was a witch—a seer. His gift was erratic and refused to answer the questions he most wanted answered, but when he did have an answer, it was reliable. “I wish I’d begged her to stay.”
“She would not have given in, Duilinho,” Lady Ferreira said as she handed back the smudged handkerchief. “Do not think her weaker merely because she is female.”
He’d never been one to believe women weak and helpless. His mother, with her soft voice and gentle ways, was far stronger than others guessed. “I will keep that in mind, Mother.”
“Good.” She took a deep breath, as if preparing to launch into a speech. “Now, I wish to ask a favor.”
She rarely asked anything for herself. “What is it?”
“I would like you to take me to see Erdano,” she said. “I think I am ready.”
Her eldest son, Erdano, lived north of the city at Braga Bay. A small bay, inaccessible to larger boats, it was a safe place for the selkie harem to call their own. But as it lay north of the river’s mouth, the trip was safest made by boat. For all of her familiarity with the sea, his mother wasn’t a sailor. One of the perquisites of being a gentleman, though, was that he was frequently at leisure to indulge his mother’s whims. “When do you want to go?”
“Tomorrow morning, I think,” she said. “Before I lose my nerve. I . . .”
A discreet cough in the hallway heralded the approach of Cardenas, the family’s elderly butler. A vigorous man in his seventies, he was the longtime guardian of the family’s consequence—whether or not that was merited. Duilio stepped forward, since Cardenas looked to him first.
“A visitor,” he told Duilio, his voice tight with disapproval. “One of those. He didn’t give his name.”
For the last two weeks Duilio had been facing down a string of Alessio’s old lovers. They’d slipped cautiously up to the door of the Ferreira house, the ladies veiled and the gentlemen with their hats lowered to hide their faces. At the Carvalho ball a couple of weeks ago, Duilio had revealed to an acquaintance that Alessio had kept journals of his romantic exploits. He’d not realized then how much time he would have to spend smoothing ruffled feathers as a result. He touched his mother’s elbow. “I’d better go take care of this, Mother. We’ll go in the morning, after breakfast if you’d like.”
She nodded gracefully, and Duilio accompanied the butler down the hallway toward the front sitting room. “Would you inform João that I’ll need the paddleboat in the morning?”
“Of course, Mr. Duilio,” the butler said. He withdrew a note from his waistcoat’s pocket. “And this came from Mr. Joaquim while you were out.”
Duilio stashed the note in a pocket. Probably the news about Maraval’s death that he should have seen earlier. He thanked the butler and stepped over the threshold into the sunny front sitting room. Like most of the rooms in the house, this showed the touch of his mother’s taste, all soft browns and ivories. Before the unlit hearth a pale beige sofa in leather and a group of chairs upholstered in ivory brocade surrounded a low table that served to invite conversation. The windows on the far wall looked out toward the Queirós house, but from the right spot Duilio could catch the glittering of the sun on the Douro River.
His newest visitor rose from the armchair in which he’d been sitting. A tall gentleman near his own age, the visitor looked familiar, but Duilio couldn’t quite place him. He was a striking man, with a handsome face and a marked widow’s peak from which black hair swept back neatly. His fine frock coat, matching waistcoat, and pinstriped trousers marked him as a gentleman. He had a charismatic air, which made Duilio wonder who he was. People like him usually attracted attention. But as Duilio had been abroad for a few years following his departure from the university at Coimbra, there were always people in society he didn’t know—although he’d worked hard in the last year to overcome that. Knowing society was his specialty.
“I’m afraid I don’t recall your name, sir,” Duilio began.
The visitor’s lips twisted in amusement. “I’ve never told you my name.”
That implied they had met before. “Do we know each other?”
“I was a friend of your brother’s.”
Duilio felt a sudden flare of recognition, placing where he’d seen that face before—years ago in Coimbra, where students from the same town would often rent a house together. On his arrival at the university, Duilio hadn’t wanted to live in his brother’s shadow so he’d found a different house to live in, but this man had been one of Alessio’s housemates. His widow’s peak and aquiline nose were a distinctive combination. “You and Alessio lived in the same república at Coimbra,” Duilio said. “I recall seeing you there when I visited him, but I don’t believe he ever introduced us.”
“Very good.” The man nodded approvingly, as if Duilio had passed a test. “I was not, by the way, one of his lovers.”
Duilio turned toward the marble mantelpiece to hide his smile. He was always amused by the swiftness with which others felt they had to inform him of that. It usually came within a few sentences of admitting they’d known Alessio. He suspected many of those quick denials were false. “So is this visit concerning his journals? I have no intention of publishing them, nor are they for sale.”
“May we sit down?” the gentleman asked.
Duilio stared back at him expectantly. “May I ask your name?”
“You may call me Bastião,” his visitor said after a split-second hesitation.
That definitely wasn’t the man’s name. Duilio gestured toward the pale leather couch anyway. The man settled there, and Duilio sat in the chair across from him. “Now, Bastião, what brings you to my house?”
“A number of things,” the man said, “but primarily to discover if you know why Alessio was murdered.”
Duilio did his best to keep his reaction from reaching his face. “My brother was killed during a duel. Why would you say he was murdered?”
“From what I understand,” the man said, “his opponent fired into the air, making one question how Alessio could have been shot in the chest. We know that the Marquis of Maraval had it done, fearing that Alessio would seduce the prince out from under his influence. That, however, was not the true reason behind Alessio’s occasional visits to the palace. He was working as an agent of the infante.”
Duilio kept from gripping the arms of the chair only by sheer will. Following Maraval’s arrest by the Special Police, their inspection of his private papers had revealed his mistaken assumption and decision to have Alessio killed. That last claim, though, was new. “I was unaware the infante has agents. He’s under house arrest in the palace. No one is allowed to visit him.”
Strictly speaking, that was a lie. In the last month Duilio had met a team of four investigators who were, as far as he could tell, working for the infante. That could be viewed as treason so long as his elder brother, Prince Fabricio, held the throne. When Duilio asked, the group of investigators hadn’t admitted the association. They hadn’t denied it either.
Bastião crossed one long leg over the other. “Alessio was acting as a messenger between the infante and Dinis. That was what took him to Lisboa so often.”
Cold spread through Duilio’s stomach. What had Alessio been up to? Prince Dinis II ruled Southern Portugal, which Alessio had visited regularly in the last year of his life. Perhaps this Bastião was trying to determine whether Alessio had revealed any such activities in his journals. But if Alessio had worked for the infante, he’d not recorded a word about it. “Why would my brother do so? He was never fond of the throne.”
Bastião smiled. “No, he believed things needed to change.”
Alessio hadn’t been a revolutionary, but he’d thought the usefulness of the twin monarchies of Northern and Southern Portugal was long past. “And you’re suggesting his efforts in the infante’s name were . . . ultimately intended to reform the monarchies?”
Bastião interlaced his fingers over his knee, looking perfectly at ease as he talked about treason. “Are you asking if I know the infante’s leanings?”
Duilio watched him carefully. His gift spoke into his mind, warning him that this meeting—this man—was important. Unfortunately, it didn’t tell him how. “Do you?”
“I also act in his name at times,” Bastião said, “so I know his mind on certain matters.”
Duilio pressed his lips together. Why had this man come to tell him this? That the infante of Northern Portugal was bypassing his elder brother didn’t concern Duilio overmuch. He’d walked that line for years himself. He was half selkie; living in the city at all was illegal for him. And he’d willingly harbored Oriana Paredes, a sereia spy, in his household.
“I know where the infante stands on the issue of nonhumans as well,” Bastião added, as if he’d read the path of Duilio’s thoughts.
“How interesting,” Duilio said in what he hoped was a neutral tone. He had a feeling this man Bastião was trying to winnow out his personal leanings on the matter. He didn’t intend to be drawn. Not when he didn’t know who this man was.
Bastião smiled at his vague comment, apparently recognizing it for evasion. “The infante could not, after all, be friends with Alessio Ferreira if he felt nonhumans were to be abhorred.” His eyes flicked downward to consider the kid-gloved fingers laced over his knee. “The ban on nonhumans is a ridiculous abuse of power by the prince.”
Did that mean this Bastião was aware the Ferreira family wasn’t purely human? Or had he thought Alessio a Sympathizer? “Seers have predicted the prince will be killed by a nonhuman,” Duilio pointed out. “Is that not sufficient reason for the ban?”
“Something will kill each of us one day,” Bastião said with a shrug. “Shall we banish the river to assure no one drowns?”
That was, word for word, what Alessio had said once when speaking of the ban. This man had to have known him.
Duilio rose and crossed to the mantel again. At least he now had a better answer to why his brother had been killed, a reason more dignified than being killed in a duel over a lover or because of Maraval’s strange idea that Alessio would seduce the prince. This new information made sense of what had previously seemed a pointless death . . . even if it meant that Alessio had been committing treason. “So if you’re not here about Alessio’s journals, what do you want from me?”
“Society seems to have painted you as a dullard, you know, Ferreira,” Bastião said. As he’d worked hard to cultivate that image, Duilio didn’t argue. “Yet Alessio once told me you got all the brains in the family, while he got all the beauty. I wanted to see for myself if that was true.”
Alessio had been fond of saying that, even if it was insulting to both of them. “Very well, you’ve seen me.”
“And if your infante needs your services, will he be able to call on you?”
Now that was a dangerous question. Duilio considered Bastião with narrowed eyes. Someone had sent this man to pry into Duilio Ferreira’s political leanings—a fruitless task, since he wasn’t entirely sure of them himself. Would he serve the infante in defiance of a prince he found detestable? Was his distaste for the current prince grounds to risk his life as Alessio had? Duilio decided evasion was his safest course. “I’ll answer that when the infante asks me himself.”
Bastião rose, a wry smile twisting his lips. “I’ll leave you then, to decide that another day. I’ll show myself out.” Nodding once in farewell, he walked out of the sitting room. A moment later, Duilio heard Cardenas speaking to the man, and the front door closed behind him.
Duilio paced the strip of Persian rug behind the couch, trying to parse out what had just happened. He’d endured enough bizarre interviews in the last two weeks that not much surprised him, but this one had been different. The fact that Bastião had known Alessio at Coimbra a decade ago wasn’t enough to ensure his loyalties. Duilio had no way to know for whom the man worked now.
After a moment Duilio stopped pacing and withdrew Joaquim’s note from his coat pocket. He read the contents and quickly stepped out into the hall, calling for Cardenas.
The butler emerged from the end of the hallway. “Yes, sir?”
“I need my gloves and hat immediately. I’m heading out to the cemetery.”
Cardenas frowned. “It’s Sunday, Mr. Duilio.”
“Unfortunately, the dead don’t honor the day of rest.”
Inspector Joaquim Tavares perched on a stool at the far end of the barren stone cell. It was chilly in these rooms. This row of cells with their unadorned granite walls, once dedicated to prayer and meditation, was perfectly suited for preparing the poor of the city for burial. The Monastery of the Brothers of Mercy had once stood on the Street of Flowers not far from where Duilio’s house was now, but had been moved to this spot high above the river, outside the Golden City’s medieval walls. That placed it close to the city’s seminary for orphans. When the city had set a new cemetery in this area in the mid-nineteenth century, the brothers had been the natural choice to handle the final disposition of paupers.
The girl on the stone slab was destined for one of those pauper’s graves marked with a small stone cross. Slim and pretty, with her dark hair trailing off to one side, she lay on the slab as if asleep. Joaquim knew her name—Lena Sousa—but little more. It likely wasn’t her real name anyway. She’d been found Saturday, crumpled in a doorway on Firmeza Street, by the elderly woman who owned the home. There had been no blood, no sign of any injury, and her small coin purse had still been in a pocket sewn into the seam of her skirt. If Joaquim hadn’t been notified, she would have gone to her grave nameless. Her disappearance had been reported to the police by another prostitute the afternoon before. Her life had come down to a few lines written on a report and a tattered photograph, quickly forgotten, one of too many dead in a city of this size. The paperwork had been handed off to Joaquim but he had no way to find her family, not without her true name or hometown, so the police turned the body over to the brothers.
But something had told Joaquim not to let this one go.
When he’d asked to have the body autopsied, his captain shrugged it off. The police didn’t have the funds for a skilled physician’s services every time a prostitute died, particularly when there was no indication of violent death. Joaquim had considered applying to the medical college but that would have taken longer than he liked. So he’d taken a step he wouldn’t have been willing to pursue if he hadn’t needed answers—he asked Duilio to pay for the doctor’s time. The money was nothing to Duilio, so now Joaquim sat in this cold cell on a sunny Sunday afternoon, his jaw clenched and his stomach churning.
The girl hadn’t been dead long so there was surprisingly little smell, but watching a doctor take apart a young woman and put her back together always bothered Joaquim. He had never developed the strong stomach he needed for this job.
A discreet tap at the door preceded portly Brother Manoel opening it to allow Duilio inside. Joaquim gestured him over to another empty stool, and Duilio came, looking winded as if he’d run all the way from his house. Likely he had. He shifted his morning coat as he settled atop one of the other stools, then adjusted his well-tied necktie. Joaquim might accuse his cousin of being a dandy if Duilio’s up-to-the-mark garb didn’t make him self-conscious about the shabbiness of his own brown tweed suit.
Joaquim shot a glance at the doctor’s square shoulders. He didn’t know Dr. Teixeira well, but he’d run across the older man at Mass several times. Teixeira hadn’t looked up from his work at Duilio’s intrusion, occupied with replacing things he’d previously removed. Joaquim turned away, glad he hadn’t eaten lunch.
“How long have you been here?” Duilio asked.
“Hours,” Joaquim said with a heavy sigh. “I’m sorry I didn’t get to see Rafael before he headed back to Lisboa. But I caught Dr. Teixeira at Mass and he preferred to do this right away. You’ll be paying extra, by the way, for doing this on a Sunday.”
Duilio shrugged. “So what has he found?”
“Nothing. Not yet.”
“No sign of it,” the doctor intoned without glancing over. “There’s surprisingly little bloating, though, despite the time passed since her death. I don’t know that it’s pertinent.”
Duilio got to his feet and crossed the room to where the doctor was replacing the last of the organs he’d removed. Not willing to miss anything exchanged there, Joaquim followed, doing his best not to look at the body lying on the table.
“There are, of course, poisons we can’t trace,” Teixeira added, “but we usually see some damage in the affected organ. Nothing here looks out of the norm except for the heart.”
Duilio leaned closer to peer down at the body, probably looking inside, which was a ghastly thought.
“Is there a poison that affects only the heart?” Joaquim asked.
The doctor shook his head. “Not this way. Not that I’ve ever seen before. It’s possible one exists, but . . .” He exhaled and said, “If you look at the damage to the heart and the tissues around it, it resembles damage done by a bolt of lightning. But that’s not what happened to her.”
“Why not?” Duilio asked.
The doctor laid his hand somewhere on the body and Joaquim forced himself to look. The doctor had pulled the sheet back up to cover most of the girl’s body and her skin had been pulled closed, saving Joaquim from casting up the nonexistent contents of his stomach, but the long incision running down the center of her chest and up to each shoulder was grisly enough. The doctor pointed to the skin above the girl’s left breast. “No evidence of an entry or exit. When lightning strikes, the electricity passes through the body and usually leaves a burn on each end. This is localized to the tissues directly around the heart.”
Joaquim looked up at him. “And what would do that?”
Teixeira glanced over at Duilio and then back. “How familiar are you with healers?”
“A healer did this?” Duilio asked before Joaquim had the chance.
The doctor shook his head. “That’s not what I said. But”—he scowled down at the body—“keep in mind that I haven’t seen this kind of thing in a very long time. When I was a young man at the medical college, I had a chance to observe a healer at work. They don’t actually heal, you know. Instead they encourage the body to heal itself. They can control the flow of not only the blood, but of energies in the body.”
Joaquim estimated Teixeira’s age between forty-five and fifty, although on the younger end of that spectrum. Teixeira’s dark hair had little gray in it and he seemed in the prime of his life. That would put this memory of the medical college twenty years or so past.
Duilio crossed his arms over his chest. “Do you mean electricity?”
“That isn’t the term they use for it,” the doctor said patiently, “but there are similarities between tissues that have been damaged by an accidental electrical discharge and tissues that have been . . . manipulated . . . by a healer.”
“And you think a healer could have killed this girl without leaving any external mark?”
While Duilio continued questioning the doctor, Joaquim gazed down at the girl’s peaceful face, trying to ignore the neat incision just past the edge of her scalp. She hadn’t been more than eighteen. She’d come to the Golden City from the country—unfortunately, her friend hadn’t known from what town—looking for work. It saddened him that prostitution was the only work she’d been able to find. He should stop by a church tonight and light a candle for her. Since her family couldn’t know she was dead, he doubted anyone else would be praying for her soul.
Duilio had gone on with his questions. “. . . unethical to use their abilities to take a life? Like doctors and their oath to do no harm?”
“There is no regulating body for witches,” Joaquim reminded him.
Duilio cast an exasperated look his direction, one not entirely unearned. Being a seer, even one of limited ability, Duilio was considered a witch as well. The gift passed to all the males of the Ferreira line, father to son, so it bypassed the Tavares family. There were times that Joaquim had been envious of Duilio’s talent, since Duilio used his ability to help solve crimes. But those with such gifts had an equal potential to use them wrongly. Although the Church had tried to control them in the past, now that was usually left to the Public Security Police, a body with little experience dealing with such people.
“Inspector Tavares is correct about that,” the doctor said with a shake of his head. “This could, conceivably, have been an accident. But if it happens again, we may have a predator of sorts on our hands.”
Joaquim licked his lips. The doctor didn’t need to know this wasn’t the first girl to die without any apparent cause. In the last two weeks, the brothers had buried two other girls, both of whom Joaquim had identified as prostitutes who’d gone missing. Neither had any mark on their bodies, making it possible they’d died the same way. He took a deep breath and asked, “Was she raped?”
The doctor shifted from one foot to the other, brow rumpling. “She recently had relations with a man, but not directly before death and my best guess is that it was . . . consensual.”
“The vast majority of healers are female,” Duilio pointed out.
Had he known that? Joaquim mentally ran through reasons one woman might kill others, but they were very much the same reasons men might kill. He didn’t see how that changed the equation. Even so, according to the brothers neither of the other two girls had shown signs of rape. That linked the deaths more closely. Joaquim puffed out his cheeks. “Duilio? Any more questions?”
Duilio pressed his lips together, considering. “Can the brothers leave her until tomorrow afternoon, perhaps? I was wondering if the Lady might come and take a look at her.”
Joaquim had wondered if Duilio would think of her. The Lady—who was literally nameless as far as they knew—was one of four investigators who’d arrived in Northern Portugal only a couple of months ago. They’d been brought in to clean out some of the less desirable elements of the Special Police, apparently at the behest of the infante. Their inquiries had become entangled with his and Duilio’s investigation of The City Under the Sea, that work of art and death being assembled under the river’s waters. Each of the four investigators had a particular skill that made them more suitable for chasing down witches than Joaquim himself. “But the Lady specializes in witchcraft, not healers.”
“I’d bet she knows more about healers than we do,” Duilio pointed out. “How this might have happened, and if it was intentional.”
The Church held that there was a clear distinction between witches and witchcraft. Craft was learned, a way of augmenting one’s inborn abilities instead of working only with what was given by God. Witches like Duilio, so long as they didn’t seek to increase their natural abilities through witchcraft, were tolerated by the Portuguese Church, even though the Spanish Church still hunted them. And while the Lady had studied witchcraft all her life, she’d claimed she’d never practiced the art, which made her blameless in the eyes of the Church.
Joaquim scowled. It wasn’t the Lady who bothered him so much as the Lady’s usual escort, Miguel Gaspar. An inspector brought from the former colony of Cabo Verde, Gaspar had eyes that saw too much. He was a meter, a witch who could merely glance at another and know what gifts that person possessed. When he’d first started to work with the man, Joaquim hadn’t found that too disturbing, but it had become clear as the days progressed that Gaspar wanted something from him. The man was convinced he was a witch, and wanted Joaquim to admit it, surely unaware of the questions such an admission would raise. And Joaquim wasn’t convinced of it himself. Not quite.
“I don’t want to hand this case over to the Special Police,” he protested weakly.
“Just a consultation,” Duilio said. “I’ll talk to Brother Manoel and see if they can put off preparing the body until afterward.”
And with that, Duilio left the cell, leaving Joaquim alone with the doctor. Joaquim turned back to Dr. Teixeira. “Do you know any healers in the area who might have done this?”
“Well”—the doctor cleared his throat—“science tends not to get along with magic, Inspector. We doctors rarely meet up with healers, and I have to admit there’s a growing tendency in the field to think of them as . . . charlatans.”
There were dozens of healers to be found in the Golden City, and Joaquim suspected half of them had no talent at all. Then again, not all doctors were as competent as Dr. Teixeira, either. “If you do think of anything else,” he said, “please let me know.”
The doctor nodded his head vaguely. “I’ll go ahead and close her up,” he said, “and the brothers can decide what to do from there.”
So Joaquim thanked the man again, reminded him to send his bill to Duilio’s man of business, and took one last look down at Lena Sousa’s still features. He wished he could have prevented this, but the doctor believed she’d been dead even before her friend reported her missing. If the Lady could help them pinpoint Lena’s killer, then he would go along with it.
Joaquim nodded one last time to Dr. Teixeira and let himself out into the cool hallway. He retrieved his hat from the low table near the entry door, where Brother Manoel waited on the hard wooden bench, and made his way outside into the crisp fall air.
Duilio lounged against the monastery wall, gazing out over the cemetery, the Prado do Repouso, in the late-afternoon sunshine, top hat pulled low to shade his eyes. The Ferreira family had a mausoleum there among the collection of stern granite and gleaming whitewashed edifices. Duilio’s brother Alessio and their father were interred there in appropriate splendor. Joaquim’s own mother lay in this cemetery as well, in one of the less ostentatious sections. He needed to visit her grave; it had been months. But today he had to get back to the station out in Massarelos Parish and see what could be done about finding a killer.
“Do you want to stop and get something to eat?” Duilio asked him, as if they’d just visited the market instead of viewing an autopsy.
Joaquim considered his roiling stomach. It might actually feel better if he put something in it. “Where do you suggest?”
Duilio smoothed his hair and resettled his top hat on his head. “That new place on Santa Catarina Street?”
Joaquim guessed he could find something appropriately bland there. He fell into step beside Duilio as he headed up toward Heroismo Street. From where they walked they could see the cathedral with its subdued gray walls standing high over the river, and beyond that the elegant white Bishop’s Palace, which now housed many of the government’s ministries. Representing the other major power in the Golden City, the fanciful royal palace rose atop a hill farther inland from the river. An imitation of a palace built by the royal family of Southern Portugal, it had crenellated walls painted in gold and red. The hill on which it stood had been built up to assure that the clock tower of the royal palace rose higher than the Torre dos Clérigos, exerting the claim of the throne over the city.
Joaquim wasn’t sure either power, Church or State, was watching over the commoners who bustled along the Golden City’s cobbled streets, rode its trams, and sailed the river. There were too many beggars on the streets, and too many children with neither schooling nor trade. Having lived much of his early life in the Ferreira household, he knew what wealth was like, but as a police inspector he saw a great deal of poverty.
On Heroismo Street, they walked toward the older parts of the city, the road lined by houses of three and four floors, their whitewashed facades gleaming in the sun. Pedestrians strolled the street, men and women in their Sunday finery, children dashing around and through their elders. A gold-painted tram rattled past, heading out toward the train station on the far eastern edge of the city. Joaquim glanced up in time to spot a lovely young woman out on her small balcony, leaning on the wrought iron railing not far over their heads, a basket of laundry at her feet. Her dark eyes caught his and she smiled at him. He tipped his hat to her, but walked on.
“Not even going to ask her name?” Duilio asked with a laugh in his tone. “She’s pretty.”
He wasn’t going to court women met while hanging their laundry. Joaquim changed the topic. “Have you heard anything from Miss Paredes?”
Duilio’s eyes drifted to the cobbles, his shoulders hunched as he walked along, an uncharacteristically resigned posture. “No, still nothing.”
Upon meeting the sereia woman, it hadn’t taken long for Joaquim to see that Duilio was smitten with her. And although she wasn’t to his taste, he thought she suited his cousin well. Unfortunately, she’d been forced to leave by her superiors, and Joaquim wasn’t sure she would ever come back. He wasn’t going to say that to Duilio, though. “And how is your mother?”
That got a smile out of him. “Very well. She wants to try to swim tomorrow, so we’ll sail out to Braga Bay in the morning. We should be back by early afternoon. I can ask if the Lady will meet me at the monastery at, perhaps, three? Would you be able to come then?”
Joaquim chewed on his lower lip. He could avoid the meeting altogether, but that would be awkward since it was his investigation. Duilio was merely helping out. “I’ll try to be there.”
* * *
Mrs. Rodriguez lived in the back of her shop near the Ribeira. Duilio had come down the steep streets to the quay in hopes of talking with the old Spanish woman, and she was happy to sit with him for a few moments. Since he’d come to her a dozen times over the last year with this or that minor injury, she knew he would pay her well for her time.
The shop wasn’t on the quay itself, but on one of the narrow twisted streets that led away from the quay, Fonte Taurina Street. Her store was wedged between a tavern and a pastry shop, the first hosting a number of men drinking at their counter and the second, several customers picking up pastries to enjoy in the fall sunshine on the stone quay itself. Mrs. Rodriguez limped over to draw the white linen curtains at the front of the building, granting them a modicum of privacy. “Now how can I help you today, Mr. Ferreira?”
“I’ve come to ask a few questions about healers,” he told her. “Is that acceptable?”
She made her way over to the high counter from behind which she sold her herbs and infusions, and eased onto the tall stool so her eyes were nearly level with his own. “Certainly, Mr. Ferreira, although I can only answer for myself.”
He’d always liked Mrs. Rodriguez, so he chose his words carefully, hoping not to offend. “Is it possible for a healer to hurt someone? Not you, but healers in general?”
She shook her head. “Without a doubt. Take on a task too big and you’re assuring your client’s death.”
That didn’t sound to him like what had happened to the dead girl in the monastery. “What kind of task?”
“Well, if I were to try to heal over a deep cut, it might go septic,” she said. “So I send anyone with a deep wound on to the hospital. If they’re infected inside, it’s always better to send them on. That manner of problem.”
He nodded slowly, his lips twisting as he worked through that idea. He knew healers couldn’t mend certain types of injuries, witnessed by the fact that Mrs. Rodriguez used a cane. As a girl she’d endured a savage beating from the villagers in the Spanish town from which she came. Her broken leg had never healed properly. But that sort of lapse wasn’t what he was after. “What if a healer intended to harm someone? Could they do so?”
Her dark eyes slitted and she drew her black shawl closer about her shoulders. “That’s not the way God meant us to work, Mr. Ferreira.”
Duilio had an uneasy relationship with God on the best of days. He doubted God had anything to do with this situation. “If one decided they wished to harm others,” he persisted, “could they use their gift to do so?”
She shifted uncomfortably on her stool, eyes on the counter. Then she took a deep breath and answered. “It’s possible. A healer can, if they’re particularly strong, stop their patient’s blood in its tracks. They could stop the heart that way. Or they could steal the patient’s energies, which would do much the same.”
Energies. That could be what had happened to the dead girl. “Why would someone do that?”
“Kill?” The old woman shook her head. “I don’t know myself, but people seem to do so with frightening regularity, and they don’t need a healer’s power to do it.”
She did have a point there. Why had the killer chosen to kill in this manner? Why not a knife or a gun? It does keep the hands clean, but . . .
Duilio felt his jaw clenching as another idea formed in his mind. “You said steal. Do you mean the healer could take another person’s energy . . . and keep it?”
“I have never done that,” she said firmly. “It is the worst sin for a healer, a corruption of one’s gift.”
That had been a yes. “What could they do with that energy?”
“I do not know. I heard stories from my mother, of healers who stole from others, but . . .” She made the sign of the cross, muttering a prayer under her breath. “Those are demons if it’s true, Mr. Ferreira.”
MONDAY, 20 OCTOBER 1902
Duilio guided the boat north, along the rocky coastline. He’d received a note that morning informing him the Lady would meet him at the monastery as requested at three that afternoon, which gave them several hours to get up the coast and back. The paddleboat had a shallow draught, making it a good choice for hugging the shore so long as the sea remained calm. Fortunately, since the storm on the day of Oriana’s departure, mild weather had ruled.
His mother’s pelt lay at her feet in the small boat. Like all selkies, she was tied to her pelt. A little over three years before, a footman had found it in the house and stolen it. Duilio’s father had immediately blamed his bastard half brother, Paolo Silva, the prince’s favored seer. The footman had been hired by Silva, it turned out, but he’d sold the pelt instead to a collector of magical items, none other than the Marquis of Maraval. Duilio had found the pelt on the man’s yacht two weeks ago, nailed to the wall of the captain’s cabin.
Now that she had it back, his mother would be able to take seal form for the first time in years . . . but at a price. Since there were nail holes in the fur, when his mother donned her pelt again, she would have open wounds there. They would heal in time, Erdano insisted, but in the interim they would bleed and seep—an unpleasant prospect in either seal or human form. Nevertheless, his mother was determined to go back to the water, and Duilio would never deny her that.
Even aware of the pain she would have to endure, she smiled up at the brown-winged gulls peppering the rocky headlands and trailed a hand in the calm water. Duilio hadn’t seen her this happy in years.
As they approached the opening of the secluded bay, seals slid by the boat, dark shapes in the water. Erdano’s harem had come out to welcome them. One thumped the side of the boat with her tail. Duilio opened the valve and let the engine die, then slipped out a pair of oars to take them the rest of the way into the bay—a safer approach for the sake of the bay’s inhabitants. While the adults knew to keep a safe distance from the boat’s paddles, Erdano had several children too young to be wary.
Duilio had once attempted to count them. He’d estimated between twenty-five and thirty females in the bay, although his mother had told him a handful of those were true seals, living within the selkie harem for safety. He hadn’t inquired further into that. As much as he liked his half brother, he truly did not understand the way Erdano’s mind worked when it came to females.
Duilio rowed the boat into the bay and shipped the oars. Rocky cliffs as high as a three-story house surrounded the circle of beach—a narrow strip of pale sands. The bay itself was shallow, so Duilio slipped off his rubber-soled shoes and jumped over the side to drag the boat onto the beach. Several pups sunning themselves there cried in dismay at the sight of a human until a pair of females came up onto the sand to comfort them.
Duilio helped his mother off the boat. Her bare feet still in the water, she stopped to watch as, in the center of the beach, a bull seal heaved his bulk awkwardly onto the sands—Erdano. He rose on his hind flippers and stripped off his pelt, dropping it there where a couple of the females could watch over it. Unabashed as always, he strode naked along the beach toward where their mother waited.
Try as he might, Duilio had never gotten used to their complete lack of concern over nudity. He’d spent too many of his childhood years clothed. He had, however, become adept at pretending it didn’t bother him. As they also spent much of their lives in the water, Oriana’s people shared the seal folk’s nonchalance about nudity. Duilio had succeeded in hiding his blushes around her, mainly due to his olive skin.
A roaring voice brought his attention back to the present. “Mother! Little brother!”
Erdano’s handsome face lit with a smile. He embraced their mother, dwarfing her—selkie females never had the bulk the males did—and then slapped one beefy hand onto Duilio’s shoulder. “What are you doing here?”
In human form, Erdano was a large man, a hand taller than Duilio and half again as wide. His dark hair hung in damp curls over his shoulders to the middle of his back. There was little resemblance between them, save about the eyes—they had both inherited their mother’s eyes.
Duilio smiled up at his brother. “Mother asked me to bring her out today to try her pelt.”
Erdano’s thick brows drew together. “Are you certain, Mother?”
“Yes,” she said with a brisk nod. “If I’m going to heal, I must start sometime.”
Erdano looked to Duilio, brown eyes wide. Reading his brother’s expression as a request for verification, Duilio simply nodded. If his mother had made up her mind, he didn’t intend to fight her. Erdano made a barking call then, and several of his harem came swimming over.
Duilio watched as three of the seals rose out of the water, removing their pelts as they did so. It still baffled his eyes, that moment when one of the seal folk slid a flipper across their chest to draw off their pelt. The shape of their bodies altered as they did so, and they withdrew first human arms and then shoulders from within the sealskin. It was a feat he would never be able to imitate; he had been born human, with no pelt to remove.
As the women waited in the gently rolling water, Duilio’s mother undressed on the shore, pulled her pelt from the boat, and began to wrap it around herself. Then she shrank down next to the water, a seal again. Duilio hadn’t seen her do that for years. He folded his arms across his chest, worried, even though he’d held his tongue in front of her.
Dark blood seeped from her flippers onto the sand. She shivered, ripples running along her dull pelt, but shuffled out to the water anyway. She barked when the salt water came up over her wounds, then dove farther in, swimming on her own.
The other females donned their pelts again, all save one. That one boldly walked over to the sands where Duilio waited—Tigana, Erdano’s queen. She had beauty to equal his, her nearly black hair streaming over slender shoulders. Like Duilio’s mother, she had borne a son, which gave her superior standing among the harem. She settled gracefully on the beach with her pelt laid across her lap and patted the damp sand next to her as an indication that she wanted Duilio to join her there.
Erdano eyed him sharply, but went back to the center of the beach to retrieve his own pelt. Duilio sat on the sand, carefully picking a spot where he wasn’t looking too directly at Tigana’s nude body. Erdano did have limits to his permissiveness.
Tigana’s fingers stroked the dark pelt in her lap. “Erdano has not noticed,” she said in her velvety voice, “but one of the girls is missing—Gita. She followed him into the city two nights ago and didn’t return.”
Duilio didn’t pretend to understand the dynamics of the harem. Why so many females stayed attached to one man—who was not by his nature faithful to any of them—eluded him. Erdano wasn’t even faithful to his harem as a whole, since he had several human lovers as well. Two of the housemaids were in that group, despite the fact that his mother had previously asked Erdano not to seduce their staff. Yet for some reason Tigana and the others didn’t seem to mind his excesses. “Why would she have gone into the city?”
“She was following him. Gita thought if she could approach him outside the harem, he would lie with her. Foolish.”
It had never occurred to Duilio that his brother didn’t mate with all the females of his harem. Erdano had never mentioned that curious fact. “Why would he not?”
Tigana’s eyes flicked up toward his and her hands stilled. Her rigid posture suggested offense, although her expression didn’t show it. It was often the case with the seal folk that they didn’t display their feelings the same way. “She is too young. She is only thirteen.”
“Ah,” Duilio said quickly. “I didn’t realize there were females that young in his harem.”
“She became disoriented in the recent storm and washed up here,” Tigana said with a graceful roll of one shoulder. “It was either kill her or take her in.”
Duilio wondered if his own mother had ever said such a harsh thing when she lived on these sands, when she’d been the queen of Erdano’s father’s harem. “So she’s new here,” he said. “Does she know anything about the city? About the laws there?”
“She has been warned,” Tigana said, “but I doubt she listened. Too young.”
Duilio’s gift presented him with a feeling of ill-fatedness for the missing girl. He shook his head to drive it out. “Did you want me to look for her?”
Tigana’s brows drew together slightly. “Why else would I tell you?”
Conversation was not one of her amusements, Duilio remembered. “What can you tell me about her, then? What does she look like?”
“As a human?” When he nodded, she continued, “Small like Darina. Brown hair, lighter than Guisa’s. Paler than me.”
He tried to recall either of those females, but failed. “How tall would she be if she stood next to you?”
Tigana held her hand just above her dark-tipped breasts, which told Duilio the girl fell short of five feet. Short, with brown hair and fair skin, slight build—that described far too many of the young girls of the city to be helpful to him. “Did she have any scars? Marks?”
Tigana considered for a moment and then shrugged. “I do not recall. I will ask the children if they remember.”
Duilio hoped she didn’t expect him to provide a miracle. The girl would likely have been nude when she came up on the docks, and that would serve as the only point of distinction for describing her. Without her pelt, she would appear completely human. He would have to start at the quays and track her from there. “Do you know where Erdano went that night?”
“She works in a tavern. Her name is”—Tigana scowled again, but Duilio suspected that was frustration, not dislike of the other woman involved—“Zenaide.”
That would help him retrace Erdano’s path, as he knew in which tavern Erdano had met that girl . . . unless there were two tavern girls named Zenaide in Erdano’s life, which seemed unlikely. “That’s helpful. I will try, Tigana, but I do not think I will find her.”
“You are better to look for her than Erdano. He is too easily distracted.” She rose, bundling her pelt under one arm, her delicate feet white against the black sands. Duilio managed to keep his eyes on those feet. “I will ask the children,” she said, and left him alone on the sand.
The day felt chillier then as Duilio contemplated the impossibility of hunting a nonhuman girl in the Golden City. Young Gita must be strong-willed if she’d defied Tigana and set off on her own after Erdano, but that didn’t mean she could make her own way in the city, not in the harsher parts of it, and not when revealing her identity would mean her death.
The city had once welcomed all of the peoples, human and sereia, selkie or otter folk. Duilio was old enough to remember that time. He remembered sereia walking through the streets among humans, with no enmity between. When the prince’s father died, young Prince Fabricio had closed the city to nonhumans after ascending the throne. The Ferreira family had always kept his mother’s bloodlines secret—simple enough to do since she wore human form—but from that day on they had lived with the fear of exposure.
It was more dangerous for one of the sereia. When Duilio had noticed Oriana back in the spring, though, it had never occurred to him to expose her. He’d noted the reddish cast of her curling brown hair, her large and dark eyes, her hands always hidden in silk mitts rather than gloves. He hadn’t been certain, though, until he saw her in the bathtub. He’d walked in on her there intentionally, citing a need to know the truth. Her skin bared, she could never pass for human. Her belly and thighs had a silvery coloration that mimicked a fish’s scales. Her webbed fingers had been visible as well, the pink-edged gill slits on the side of her neck vibrating as she lay with her eyes closed under the surface of the water, singing to herself. And while the teeth hidden behind her full lips resembled a human’s, he knew them to be much sharper.
Only when she’d dived into the water that last morning had he gotten a glimpse of her dorsal stripe. She had never turned her back on him before that. A glittering black band several inches wide, it stretched from a point beneath her shoulder blades and tapered down again to her heels, defined by a narrow edging of royal blue. Golden stippling ran down her sides and thighs. A strikingly attractive combination, even though it was merely an imitation of a tuna’s markings. The memory of that morning made him smile . . . and then fret again when he thought of her continued absence.
Sighing, he leaned back and watched the seals in the bay breaking the surface as they swam. He didn’t know enough of the females to make any sense of what was going on, but it seemed as if they supported one of their number. That had to be his mother, even though he couldn’t see enough of her pelt to be certain. Over at the center of the beach where the pups sunned themselves, he saw one larger female moving among them, her almost-black fur marking her as Tigana. Seagulls flew overhead, enjoying the warm morning.
Water rushed up toward the spot where Duilio sat, warning him a second before Erdano threw himself up on the beach, bearing a wave of seal musk with him that offended Duilio’s nose; he’d never liked the scent of other males. The bull seal waddled onto the sands and rose up out of seal form, slipping off his pelt once more. With a grin, Erdano came and settled nearby. He reclined propped up on an elbow, his pose reminding Duilio of an odalisque, as if he was displaying himself for his harem’s enjoyment. Duilio resisted the urge to roll his eyes.
“She come back yet?” Erdano asked. “Oriana?”
“No, she hasn’t returned,” Duilio admitted. Erdano had more than once hinted he wouldn’t mind seducing Oriana. Duilio didn’t think she’d give in, but women did seem to find Erdano irresistible, part of his selkie charm.
“Too bad.” Erdano smiled past him. “Mother is in pain, but swimming strong. That’s good. She will stay at the house if the other one comes back, won’t she?”
How could he answer that? “There isn’t any understanding between myself and Oriana.”
Erdano rolled his eyes dramatically and snorted. “I’m not that stupid, little brother.”
She’d agreed she would try to come back, no more. Somehow Duilio doubted Erdano would believe him. “Of course, Mother would stay,” he said. “It never occurred to me that she would leave.”
“Good. She doesn’t fit in here anymore. Been among humans too long.” Erdano nodded his head, watching the seals in the water now. “Did Tigana tell you one of the young ones is missing?”
So much for Erdano not noticing. “She mentioned it to me.”
“Can you find her?”
Duilio pressed his lips together. “I can try, Erdano, but I have a bad feeling about her.”
Erdano fixed him with a worried gaze. “Is she dead?”
Birds chattered in the rocks above them. The sun went behind the clouds for a moment, taking the glare off the surface of the water, and Duilio could see the seals swimming calmly in the midst of the shallow bay—a peaceful scene. “I believe so.”
“Then find out who killed her,” Erdano ordered.
Duilio’s mother, exhausted and in pain, huddled on the boat’s deck all the way back, swathed in a blanket and dozing lightly. On each hand an area of raw and reddened flesh marked the tips of her fingers, with matching injuries on her feet. She managed a pair of his felt slippers for as long as it took to get her into a cab on the quay, but Duilio was grateful when they reached the alley behind the house. He carried his mother to the servant’s entrance and along the halls up to her room, trailed by their butler.
“Duilinho, put me down,” she protested. She craned her neck around to catch the butler’s attention. “Cardenas, could you send for Felis for me?”
The butler leaned toward the hallway and beckoned over a footman while Duilio set his mother on the delicate wooden-backed settee at the foot of her ivory-draped bed. She’d held her fingers tucked into the sleeves of her blouse, hiding the worst of the injuries, and he cringed when he saw the raw flesh. But she’d prepared salve and bandages, expecting this.
He still worried. “Can you do that yourself, Mother?”
“Felis will take care of me,” she insisted, naming her maid of many years. “Aren’t you to go back to the monastery today, Duilinho?”
Duilio ran a hand through his salt-spiked hair. It was almost two, and he needed to bathe and dress before meeting with Joaquim and the Lady. So he gave in, leaving his mother and her pelt in the hands of her maid.
Not an hour later he was bathed and striding up the Street of Flowers toward the monastery. His valet Marcellin had rigged him out in a three-piece suit in dark gray. The man had been arguing that since his mother had left off her mourning, Duilio should do the same. The truth was that Duilio simply didn’t care to wear color. Gray and black suited him fine. But saying so to Marcellin would have given the elderly Frenchman a fit of apoplexy, so he’d vaguely promised to consider purchasing a few waistcoats and neckties in brighter colors. Poor Marcellin.
Duilio walked up the steep street, amazed they’d had two sunny days in a row. He reached the Monastery of São Bento de Avé Maria, its white-painted and granite walls bright in the sunshine. The square before the monastery was full of traffic, mule carts vying for space with fine carriages. Near the heart of the old city, this intersection held a collection of granite buildings, most in the neoclassical or baroque style. Businessmen strode by at a purposeful clip, for this was the city of business. Several moved with the same intent as he—to catch the tram at the intersection. Duilio had to jog the last bit but managed to jump on in time. The tram trundled away from the square, carrying them on to Batalha Square with its old palace and theater, and then turning out in the direction of the cemetery.
Duilio jumped off in front of the cemetery and walked down toward the Monastery of the Brothers of Mercy. When he reached it, he spotted Inspector Gaspar waiting for him outside the cells. A mestiço—part Portuguese and part African—Gaspar was hard to miss in conservative Northern Portugal. And while his darker skin surely made him stand out, his specialized abilities would have earned him a place in any police force in the world. Gaspar was a meter, able to measure others’ powers with a single glance. Supposedly the meter was the rarest form of witch known to history, perhaps one born per generation in the whole world. Duilio had initially found the man’s direct gaze unsettling, but he’d quickly grown to like him.
Gaspar gestured for Duilio to accompany him inside. “Good to see you, Ferreira. I suppose you’ve heard about Maraval’s death?”
The hallway was cold, making him jealous of Gaspar’s tweed overcoat. Gaspar always dressed particularly well, his dark suit revealing an excellent tailor’s touch. Duilio tilted his head to one side, wondering why Gaspar had waited outside in the hallway. The man certainly wasn’t squeamish, as Joaquim sometimes was. “Yes, although belatedly.”
Gaspar stroked his chin thoughtfully, his green eyes narrowing. “A setback there. He took a great deal of information with him to the grave that we would rather have had.”
They’d had the man in custody for two weeks, so that was surprising. “I thought Inspector Anjos and Miss Vladimirova could get anything out of him.”
“Anjos needed to rest,” Gaspar said with a shrug. “His illness has good days and bad days.”
Duilio suspected he was staring blankly. He’d noted before that the Brazilian inspector often looked tired, but he’d put that down to overwork. “Illness?”
“Tuberculosis,” Gaspar said. “He’s been better for the last couple of days, but he was pretty weak for several before that.”
Tuberculosis was an indiscriminate illness, often inflicting differing symptoms on its victims. While Duilio had noted that Anjos coughed at times, the man also smoked more cigarettes than could be healthy. He’d ascribed the coughing to that. He tried to recall whether he’d ever been in direct contact with the inspector, but in their previous interactions, Anjos had always kept his distance. Duilio had thought him aloof. Perhaps the man had been trying not to pass his illness to anyone else. “What do his doctors say?”
Gaspar set his hat on the long table next to the outside door. “He doesn’t see a doctor.”
What could doctors do anyway? They would simply stick the inspector in a sanatorium, and Duilio doubted Anjos wanted that. “Why are you waiting out here?”
“I’m sure Tavares would prefer I keep my distance.” Gaspar smiled wryly. “Shall we?”
Duilio waited while Brother Manoel opened the door and then followed Gaspar inside the stone cell. The smell was worse than the previous day, although not nearly as bad as it should be. Duilio made do with pressing a gloved finger under his nose. The body on the stone table was still covered with a sheet. Joaquim stood to one side, speaking urgently with the Lady, a striking woman with black hair, pale blue eyes, and a very fine wardrobe. Today she wore a fashionable suit in dark blue, the hem of her box-pleated skirt brushing along the granite floor.
She cast her pale eyes over Duilio and nodded regally to him. Then she turned toward Gaspar. “Miguel, I think you need to look at her.”
The inspector crossed to her side and carefully drew back the sheet. The doctor had neatly sewn up the Y-incision on the girl’s chest, but Gaspar’s eyes immediately fixed on the girl’s left breast. The pallid skin over her heart showed no sign of the damage the doctor had mentioned. Gaspar stretched his hand over the girl’s heart, an inch above her skin.
“This isn’t good. Someone drew her life force out of her.” His eyes rose to meet the Lady’s. “A healer did this, or a witch with very similar powers. Someone who can drain another’s life away.”
The Lady’s mouth tightened into a thin line. “What are you saying?”
“I spoke to a healer last night,” Duilio interposed. “She told me a healer can do that, but it goes against everything they’re taught. That the ones who do this are like demons.”
Joaquim shot him an annoyed look that accused him of withholding information. Duilio shrugged apologetically. The cathedral bells began to toll the hour, and the Lady discreetly laid her gloved hands over her ears, even though at this distance the sound wasn’t overly loud. Once they’d announced the time, she dropped her hands and shook herself.
“The question isn’t whether it’s possible for a healer to kill,” Gaspar said quickly. “It is, I assure you. I can see the print of the killer’s hand on her skin. The question is why. Why steal her life?”
Duilio had a feeling Gaspar was leading them slowly to his point. He nudged Joaquim’s shoulder. “Tell him.”
Joaquim scowled at him and then turned back to Gaspar. “When you released me from the investigation of The City Under the Sea, I returned to the Massarelos station and picked up working on my list of missing persons again. The officer who does morgue duty usually calls me to look at unidentified bodies. We’ve had three girls turn up dead on the streets like this in the last two weeks. There might have been more we’ve missed.”
Gaspar stroked his chin. “So we have a predator in the city, one who was probably a healer at one point in their life. One who can kill by touch.”
The Lady’s eyes flicked toward Gaspar. She rubbed one gloved hand down her dark skirt. “It can’t be,” she protested softly. “We would know if Nadezhda . . .”
Gaspar held out one hand, almost a gesture to hush her.
Duilio still wasn’t sure of the hierarchy between the four members of their team. He’d thought Anjos—their Truthsayer—was nominally in charge of Gaspar, and they both seemed to answer to the Lady. Now he wondered if Gaspar was actually at the head of the pack, especially with Anjos being ill.
If he recalled correctly, though, Nadezhda Vladimirova was the full name of the fourth member of their team—the rusalka. When Rafael Pinheiro had been questioned by Miss Vladimirova during the early days of their attempt to clear undesirables out of the Special Police, he’d been uneasy. He’d called her unnatural. Paolo Silva, Rafael’s father, called the woman undead. That matched with what Duilio had learned about rusalki in the previous two weeks. Various legends abounded about them, but a common strain held they were the spirits of young women who’d been murdered or drowned . . . which suggested undead might be the best description.
The Lady stepped away from the stone table as Gaspar pulled the sheet back over the girl’s body.
“Why would they be doing this, then?” Duilio asked him. “Why steal others’ lives?”
Gaspar gave him a level look. “If they’re stealing others’ lives, there are a few possibilities. It could be they crave the illusion of life they feel when they’ve consumed another’s life force. Or they could be passing that life to someone else.”
The Lady opened her mouth and shut it quickly.
“Earlier this year Anjos was shot while in the countryside near Lisboa,” Gaspar said. “Miss Vladimirova actually has no life to share, which is a healer’s primary tool. She was able to save his life, though, by killing a bull in a nearby field and using that strength to heal him.”
Duilio puzzled over that. Using a death sacrifice to enhance her own abilities had to be considered necromancy and forbidden, but did it count if she’d killed an animal? Joaquim’s brows were drawn together with disapproval.
“She saved his life,” the Lady said to Gaspar, facing him with a level stare. “Don’t forget that.”
Duilio had the feeling they’d argued this before, and often.
“I’m not convinced that Nadezhda actually is dead,” she said to Duilio, as if he needed to hear her justification. “I believe her life is paused instead.”
“My gift tells me she’s dead,” Gaspar told them. “Totally devoid of life. Empty.”
Excerpted from "The Seat of Magic"
Copyright © 2014 J. Kathleen Cheney.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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“Political thriller, serial-killer mystery, gaslight alternate history, paranormal romance …This is not your everyday paranormal mystery-thriller. It has a sinuous charm that wraps itself around the reader, soft but impressive…These characters glisten with humanity, even if they aren’t really human.”—Kings River Life