“You know, if Asa doesn’t work for you, you could just call me Jeremy.” The demon sauntered in as if she were to do his bidding, instead of the reverse. “Beast is rude.”
She flicked her hand toward him, calling up spell ingredients without even having to ask, the malachite ring around her finger automatically providing the grounding. Asa staggered backward, gripped by pain of some nature she didn’t bother to recall. As he slumped against the wall, she said, “You let your human guise deceive you. Don’t believe that you have their freedoms. Their souls. It will hinder me and hurt you, when once again you face the truth of what you are.”
“How kind—of you—to remind me,” he gasped. But already he was straightening; the pain had been vicious but had not lasted long. She had gauged it well. “Name your task.”
“For now I only want you to stay close to Nadia Caldani and her friends.”
“Difficult, seeing as how Mateo remembers Jeremy Prasad’s death. And Nadia’s more than far enough along in her training to know a demon when she sees one.” Asa lifted his chin, attempting to display a bit of his earlier nonchalance; it would have been more convincing if his skin weren’t still shiny with the cold sweat of pain.
“Do what you can,” she said. “I still don’t understand how Nadia made him her Steadfast. No man should be able to hold that power. They’re trying to learn more about the fate of the Laughtons, which is meaningless on its own, but could lead them too close to things they cannot discover.”
Asa’s eyes darted over to the stove, to the unearthly glow that flickered through the narrow slits of its door. He understood. Good.
“Eventually they’ll think they can use you to get to me.” Elizabeth slid her dress back on her shoulders, once again felt the distant sting of pain on her arm. Probably she should bandage that. Though her earthly body only needed to serve a brief time longer, there was no point in being weakened by illness or injury when the One Beneath’s work had to be done. “Maybe you’ll think so, too. But we both know how this ends.”
“Yes. We do.” Asa looked down on the symbol in blood; the two lines she’d already drawn on her flesh had begun to glow slightly. Elizabeth felt the answering heat on her skin.
THE TOWN HALL FOR CAPTIVE’S SOUND WAS IMPRESSIVE, for a small town—almost too impressive—so much so that the contrast drew comic attention to itself, like a balding, middle-aged man with a red sports car. In the middle of this small, dreary town was an enormous, white Palladian creation with pillars and a dome. Nadia thought it looked more like the Supreme Court than the venue for a community chat about how the Halloween carnival had gone wrong.
“Thanks for coming to this with me.” Verlaine was scowling down at her phone as they walked through the square, trying to get her Voice Memo app to work. “Not even a paper as lazy as the Guardian can ignore the haunted house burning down in the middle of town. And of course, the Lightning Rod will be the source for real news, if anybody ever reads it.”
“Oh, come on. Someone has to read it.”
“The week before I went into the hospital? We got fifteen hits, not counting my own log-ins. Eight of those clicked straight through to find out when Shangri-La was having two-for-one drink specials.”
“The local nightclub.”
Nadia was still new to town, but she would have thought she’d have heard of this place, if only because sources of fun here were so rare. “I can’t believe Captive’s Sound has an actual nightclub.”
“You can’t believe it because we don’t. You have understood our Podunk nature perfectly. But Shangri-La’s just in the next town over. They don’t card.” Verlaine paused. “At least, I hear they don’t card. I never had anybody to go with, so I don’t actually know for myself.”
“We’ll go,” Nadia promised, really without thinking about it. But when she saw how Verlaine lit up, she felt guilty for how much Verlaine needed to hear that.
Remembering the dark magic that screened Verlaine away from the rest of the world was a constant challenge, and tonight it had been one of the last things on Nadia’s mind. Mostly she had come to the meeting to learn precisely what people had seen the night of the Halloween carnival—whether they would mention details that just seemed odd to them but might, for Nadia, be recognizable as signs of magic. Those signs could give her some clue as to what Elizabeth’s master plan really was.
But I have to remember Verlaine, Nadia thought as they went up the steps, falling in with other people coming to the meeting. Verlaine’s gray hair was now in a sloppy bun held back by two cloisonné chopsticks; the hairstyle revealed her neck, and showed just how thin she was, how fragile. She needs me and Mateo. She doesn’t have anyone else.
The meeting hall had rows of seats not unlike those of a theater, the fabric a little shabby in comparison with the high ceilings and big paintings of what Nadia assumed were famous people from Rhode Island history, though none of them was famous enough for her to recognize. For Verlaine’s audio to work, they had to sit in the very front row, dead center. Nadia felt a little self-conscious and glanced around—just in time to see the Prasads come in, Asa behind them.
“Demon in the house,” Verlaine said. “Crap. What is he doing here?”
“Right now he might just be pretending to be Jeremy,” Nadia said. The Prasads obviously hadn’t realized anything was wrong. Mrs. Prasad was even now affectionately pushing Asa’s hair out of his eyes. “But Elizabeth brought him here to help her. So we can’t ever trust him or anything he does. Remember that. Demons can make it hard to deny them.”