Two steps into Abbott’s Agora open air market, the scent of roasted meat and garlic siren-called to me. Color sprouted from hand-dyed fabrics. Fruit and vegetables laid on trestle tables smelled so vivid, I could taste them. The air buzzed with a dozen languages. And the magic suffusing everything? Well, that was neither smell nor sight, taste nor sound but a bastard blend of all these. A blend only someone with the keening power could sense.
Someone like me, Kyra Greene—exiled Valkyrie, failing entrepreneur, sucker for a furry face.
In my younger days, the Agora’s magic would have overloaded my keening. A seizure wouldn’t have been out of the question. But since returning to Montreal—with all the post-war magic flying around like explosive shrapnel—I’d learned to ward myself against such an awful alchemic assault. I took a moment to reinforce that ward now, one psychic block at a time.
Breathe. Block. Breathe. Block.
Learning to ward myself was the only magic my mother had given me—that and the three-foot long Valkyrie sword strapped to my back. But neither swords nor wards could defeat the lure of roasted souvlaki. And a few minutes later I found myself standing in front of the meat merchant’s shack, drooling over a slowly turning lamb shank like a vampire at a blood drive.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten meat.
“You buying?” The cook’s pale aura fizzled. When I didn’t answer, he held up one beautiful, blackened skewer of meat.
I wanted that meat.
I pulled out my widget and scrolled to my bank account.
Not even enough to cover my looming mortgage payment, and I still had to buy feed for my abaia eel and an injured ice sprite. Souvlaki was a luxury I couldn’t afford. But hunger prowled in my gut, sharpened its claws on my resolve, and I tapped my widget to the merchant’s, making the payment.
“Thanks.” I wandered along the cobblestone path, nibbling my meat hoard. Maybe if I took longer to eat it, my stomach would think it was a full meal.
If my pest control business made money, I could buy plenty of food. But so far, that hadn’t panned out. Maybe my Sayntanne neighborhood was too far outside the city. Maybe I needed to advertise more. Maybe I’d overestimated the rampancy of fae infestations.
To cut costs, I needed to harden my resolve and find homes for some of my rescues. Which was the mission behind today’s trip.
I finished my treat and tossed the skewer in a recycler. Shouts came from ahead, and two Viking-wannabes pitched out of a beer garden, punching and cursing. A bottle of beer smashed on the cobblestones, filling the air with the smell of hops. Their scuffling knocked me off my feet, and I landed hard, scraping my palms on the stones.
My sword, sensing a battle, squeed in its sheath.
The men—one red-headed and one dark—struggled to put each other in headlocks. They weren’t really fighting. I’d known enough true Vikings to recognize a brotherly brawl, but they punched hard enough to rattle bones. Red flipped the other one, pinning his legs and arms like tying a hog, and accidentally pinning my leg too. I squirmed to free it and he glanced up, teeth bared in a feral grin. Our gazes locked. His eyes were Icelandic blue, his beard robin-breast red and…
…and suddenly I was transported back to my grandfather’s hall in Asgard. My Aesir cousins were brawling over spilled mead. Aunt Dana watched with a pained but patient frown. And Aaric was kissing and tickling and teasing me—always teasing me.
My heart lurched.
I closed my eyes and opened them again, forcing my brain to see what was in front of me. By the One-eyed Father, they were just a couple of guys. Human guys. I had to stop seeing Aaric in every face in the crowd.
Aaric was dead. Dead by my hand and no combination of wish-regret-denial would change that.