Prize Of Night by Bailey CunninghamPrize Of Night by Bailey Cunningham

Prize Of Night

byBailey Cunningham

Mass Market Paperback | June 30, 2015

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The author of Pile of Bones and Path of Smoke returns to the world of the Parallel Parks

In the city of Regina, they’re just graduate students. But after midnight—in Wascana Park—they are transported to a land where they can be anything: bards and archers, heroes or monsters….

In the nighttime world of Anfractus, the company of heroes has thwarted the basilissa’s plans to assassinate the queen of a neighboring city. Things seem somewhat back to normal, until Shelby learns that Anfractus isn’t what it seems. Wascana Park doesn’t take you to another realm; it just shows what’s beneath the surface of this one—and what’s there isn’t pretty.

Basilissa Latona is raising a new army, still determined to create her own empire. If she succeeds, both worlds will be in danger. Shelby knows she must rally the company of heroes against her, but, in the dark streets of Anfractus, telling friend from foe becomes harder than ever, as loyalties shift and shatter. Especially when the person who could do the company the most harm may be one their own…
Bailey Cunningham is the author of the Novels of the Parallel Parks, including Pile of Bones and Path of Smoke.
Title:Prize Of NightFormat:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:304 pages, 6.75 × 4.19 × 0.81 inPublished:June 30, 2015Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0425261085

ISBN - 13:9780425261088

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SHELBY is MORGAN, a sagittarius, expert with bow and arrow.INGRID is FEL, a miles—a sword-wielding gladiator.CARL is BABIECA, a trovador, skilled at music—and theft.ANDREW is ALEO, an oculus who sees spirits.ACKNOWLEDGMENTSCONTENTSThere is a glossary of terms at the back of the book.PRONUNCIATIONPART ONESAGITTARIUS1The Plains University campus was locked in snow. This wasn’t unusual, save for the fact that the snow was on the inside. Shelby made her way carefully along the ice-locked linoleum, trying to avoid the drifts that covered everything in silence. This wasn’t right. Winter couldn’t get through the doors. Weren’t there protocols and storm glass? In a province where the cold lasted for seven months, the one thing you could count on was the weight of doors, the barriers that people formed against the wind. How was this possible?Shelby saw Ingrid walking calmly across a snowbank. She wore slippers.Shelby blinked, and crystals flared against the white. Sparks that might have been eyes, bleached bones, or flashing LEDs.She was willing to admit that this might be a dream.Ingrid grabbed her hand. They’d been together for a few months, but touch was still a miraculous circuit. Plus, she always smelled like pomegranates.“You’re late for registration,” Ingrid said.“What? When did that start?” Shelby blinked once more. “And why is it snowing in the Innovation Centre?”Ingrid sighed. “That’s been happening for centuries. Come on.”“Where are we going?”“To get you the proper forms.”Now they were in skates, dancing across the ice floes. Ingrid casually executed a triple Lutz jump. Now Shelby was certain that she was dreaming. They reached the main office, and the ice turned into hard-packed snow. Her skates were gone, and so was Ingrid.“Tansi, dear.”Shelby turned. Her grandmother was sitting behind the desk. Her hair was plaited in two silver braids, and she wore turquoise earrings. The phone began to ring.“Nokohm?” Shelby looked at her uncertainly. “Are you going to answer that?”“Answers are overrated.” Her grandmother looked at the phone. “This is my first day on the job, though. I could be going about it the wrong way.”Shelby picked up the phone. She heard a voice. It was the cold of bleached roots and silt beds, a growl rising from Precambrian basalt. She hung up.“You’d better register,” her grandmother said. “If you wait too long, there won’t be any uncolonized space left.”“I know. Ingrid was—” She looked behind her, but Ingrid was gone. The only light came from her grandmother’s Tiffany lamp.“She left, of course. She has far more important things than you.”“That’s not true. I’m part of the collection. I’ve got my own shelf.”Her grandmother approached the faculty mailboxes, holding a wet cloth. “You should go. I’ve got my work cut out for me.”“Is that blood?”The cloth had become a dagger.“There’s blood on everything. Now go, or you’ll miss it.”Shelby left the office. She punched the down button on the elevator. The cables groaned, reminding her of the dark voice. She’d recognized a word. She knew that she could remember, if it would only stop snowing. But the flakes continued to gather in her hair as the drifts swallowed her feet. She should have bought those boots at Cabela’s, the ones with the rivets. Her toes were starting to go numb.The elevator doors opened. Her supervisor, Dr. Trish Marsden, emerged.“I need your help—”Trish grabbed her arm. Shelby felt winter in her blood. Claws brushed the surface of her skin, waiting to dig deeper. “You’re not going to pass. We can’t find anyone willing to examine your thesis. None of the usual sacrifices have worked.”“But I’m nearly finished.”“No.” Her eyes were yellow. “You haven’t even started.”Shelby sat up, breathing hard. It took a moment for the room around her to resolve itself. She wasn’t in a blizzard. The sheets were familiar. Down the hallway, she could smell waffles.A boy in dragon pajamas looked up at her, expectantly.“Neil.” She rubbed her eyes. “Morning. What did you say?”Ingrid’s five-year-old son held out a picture. “I have brought you whispering death.”“What?” For a moment, she went pale. Then she saw the drawing. It was of a dragon, smaller than average, with several rows of teeth.“Whispering death,” she said.He climbed onto the bed. “Can I tell you something? They are like little saw blades, when they are born. Then they start to burrow.”“That’s nice and unsettling.”“Don’t worry. They are quite rare.”“And you’ll protect me, right?”He looked nervous. “Don’t you carry a shield?”“I’ve already got a lot of textbooks. It won’t really fit.”“Your bow fits.”She stared at him. “What did you say?”Shelby thought about Anfractus—the city beyond the city. She’d discovered it two years ago, while walking through Wascana Park in downtown Regina. She’d taken a wrong turn, and suddenly, she was standing naked in an ancient metropolis. No bow then, just burning feet. She’d earned the bow later, as a sagittarius patrolling the battlements. In Anfractus, Ingrid carried a sword. They were shadows of themselves, distinct, yet never wholly different. They rolled with living dice that unleashed dangerous possibilities, guided by the fickle turn of Fortuna’s wheel. Shelby could almost feel the bow in her hand, the name that came with it. Morgan.Was it a character that she played, or was Morgan the real one?More importantly: what did a five-year-old know about any of this?But it was too late to ask. He was already heading toward the kitchen. She let him pull her down the hallway, bouncing. His small feet pounded against the hardwood floors.“Mum! Shelby is awake and ready for burrowing class!”“Waffles first,” she said. “Then . . . maybe some light burrowing.”The kitchen was full of light and smells that brought her back to her own childhood. She expected to see Ingrid’s brother, Paul, in the thick of it, fingers slick with yolk, but it was Ingrid who stood at the sink. The blast radius around her was considerable and included a spray of eggshells, glass bowls, and an upturned bottle of vanilla extract. She smiled as she caught sight of them.“I see the dragonrider woke you up.”“I did it gently, Mum,” Neil said. “Like you asked.”“That’s good, my sweet. Your waffles are at the small table.”“Where’s your brother?” Shelby asked.Paul didn’t know about Anfractus. When Ingrid returned home in the middle of the night, he assumed that she was studying for her comprehensive exams. They were all academics, tripping over themselves from lack of sleep, and the image worked to conceal their dangerous extracurriculars. They’d fought a homicidal satyr, rescued an empress, and chased a dragon made of smoke, all while Paul was asleep. Ingrid refused to tell him. Neil was also in the dark, though Shelby often suspected that he knew something. His comment about the bow only served to confirm this. She watched him spear a waffle. Maybe he knew more than all of them.Ingrid dried her hands on a tea towel. “He’s out with Sam. This is one of the four meals that I can cook without supervision. Impressed?”Sam also knew about Anfractus. In that other city, she crafted devices that were beautiful and dangerous. Here she was an engineering student. Ingrid, who moonlighted as a warrior named Fel, hadn’t quite come to a decision about their relationship. Whenever she mentioned her brother and his new girlfriend in the same sentence, Sam’s name had a certain intonation—as if her existence hadn’t yet been confirmed. Paul’s out with “Sam.” They’re dating. Allegedly.Shelby wanted to touch her, but she was wary of Neil’s presence. Ingrid had never laid down any rules about public affection. Shelby sensed that she didn’t want to answer certain questions, and Neil was a question factory. He accepted their occasional sleepovers, because Shelby would always read him extra stories before bed, and she had a passable talent for doing animal voices. But how to explain what this was becoming? And was it becoming anything at all? It felt both comfortable and fragile. Loads of laundry, stolen kisses, breakfasts on the run, limbs tangled in pomegranate sheets.Neil sometimes slept between them, when neither felt like carrying him down the hall. What surprised her was how natural it felt. Was she becoming some kind of stepmother? A fairy godmother with a quarrel full of arrows? She’d always had ideas about settling down. Plans and scenarios with illustrations. But they all dissolved when she crossed the street, hand in hand, with Neil and Ingrid. Parking lot rules, she’d find herself shouting as he burst forward. It was a perfectly reasonable thing to yell in public. And nobody gave them a second glance, because they might have been sisters, or friends. The more complicated questions remained forever on the horizon.Her phone buzzed. She checked it and saw that it was Carl, but the text was just a string of characters. In Anfractus, Carl was a musician named Babieca with a knack for screwing himself into corners. He was drifting on the other side. Not just graduate student malaise, but something more fundamental. She didn’t know how to talk about it.“Who’s that?” Ingrid asked.“Butt-text from Carl.”“Ah. So nothing out of the ordinary.”She texted him back: To Carl’s left butt-cheek. Are you hosting the game tonight?He answered a few seconds later: My place is too small and smells like cheese.Shelby sighed. “How would you feel about gaming here tonight?”“After the dragonrider’s in bed.”“So, around eleven?”Ingrid made a face. “Let’s be optimistic and say ten thirty.”“That doesn’t leave us much time, but we can make it a quick session.”“I’m under the thrall of a five-year-old. We’ll have to take what we can get.”She sent Carl a message: 10:30 at Ingrid’s. Bring chips.“I remember when I first discovered the park,” Shelby said. “I wanted to be there all the time. To be part of that impossible magic. It seemed to have all of the answers. Now I just want a break.”“I would like a break.”She suddenly realized that Neil was standing next to her, holding out his plate. She handed it to Ingrid. “A break from what, sprout?”“From the many demands of whispering death. And I am no sprout.”“My mistake. Your dragon sounds pretty high-maintenance.”“And I thought that he was low-maney-ance.” Neil sighed. “On the plus side, he has new rotating teeth. Can you believe it?”Ingrid handed her a plate of waffles. “Eat fast.”They finished breakfast in record time. Neil didn’t want to get dressed but ultimately agreed to wearing sweatpants and an oversized fleece shirt. Shelby glanced at her own outfit—jeans with a staple in the knee, an unwashed blue top that smelled like stale bread—and realized that she wasn’t doing much better. She was supposed to meet with her thesis supervisor, but the dream had shaken her. It felt best to avoid the campus.Outside, the snow was melting. She knew that it wouldn’t last, but it felt delicious all the same. A slushy reprieve from their winter captivity. Ingrid buckled Neil into the booster seat. He was coloring a picture of a monster with two heads.“Are you editing today?”“Yeah,” Shelby lied. “I’ll be done before sundown, though.”“Best of luck. Text me later.”“Absolutely.”She almost leaned in for a kiss, but just then, a neighbor walked by. Ingrid waved to him. Shelby ended up brushing the hem of her jacket, in a gesture that must have been a mystery to everyone involved. Then she got into her icebox of a truck and rubbed her hands together. The heater was acting up, but she had no money to throw at the problem. It reminded her of every online payment that she needed to make, and all the phone calls that she’d be receiving when she didn’t click send. All the stone-cold voices, demanding the bare minimum, which she couldn’t even give them.Shelby could still see her breath, but there was no use in waiting any longer. She pulled out of the driveway, her teeth rattling as she hit every rut in the snow. It was like being on a disappointing roller coaster that ended in vicious potholes. She merged onto Albert Street and joined the flow of traffic heading downtown. Ingrid would be arriving at Neil’s school, listening to his warm chatter. She would watch as he ran toward his very own locker, remembering the time—not so long ago—when he had to be peeled, crying, from her arms by the teachers. He has . . . things now, she’d said to Shelby, her expression bordering on wonder. Lunch in a paper bag, a space all his own, friends. When did it happen?She remembered getting lost on the first day of seventh grade. Wandering through the rows of lockers, which resembled Dante’s sinister grove. She was too old to be distraught but felt it anyway, silently. When the secretary finally called to her, smiling from behind her glass partition, the sensation was indescribable. Found. She’d flushed with relief, unable to explain her shivering as the woman in the broomstick skirt led her to class.The lie that she’d told Ingrid wasn’t gnawing at her, as she’d expected. Wasn’t that a bad sign? One day, you awoke to find a blemish on the skin of the relationship. For the first time, you found yourself doing harm, and the lies—however slender, necessary—didn’t keep you up at night. Of course, they were all in the business of telling lies. Ingrid still lied to Paul about where she went, after dark. Shelby’s grandmother may have suspected what she was up to, but her mother had no idea. There was no easy way to say it. At night, I go to a magical park and nearly die. I walk through a city of infinite alleys. It’s sort of like a role-playing game, only you forget who you used to be. And the forgetting is the sweetest, the most dangerous part.It had been Carl’s idea to play the game-within-the-game. He thought using paper and dice would allow them to try out scenarios before entering the park. Anfractus, the city beyond the park, was governed by the knife edge of chance. Your role was your prayer. In the safety of Ingrid’s living room, they would roll the translucent red die they’d bought from Comic Readers and imagine that the goddess of chance was there with them, peering through a diaphanous curtain. Behind her, the wheel turned on its primordial axle, pulling stars and lives and betrayals along with it.Strange to begin a role-playing game that you knew was real. They rehearsed the moves on paper, knowing that they would become reality, after dark. It gave them some semblance of control as they wrote down possibilities and saving throws. It may have been a lie, but at least it was a lie with nachos. A lie that their chosen family told each other. Perhaps Carl needed it most of all. He’d watched his companion die and carried what was left of him across the worlds. Like all of them, he feared what Andrew had become. What he might do. They’d lied to him for months, told him that his dreams were neurotic, that there was no such thing as a hidden city where powers moved beneath your desire.Maybe they’d even wanted it to be true. It ended, strangely enough, in a room full of old pianos. Andrew’s eyes were open, his hand stretched out to the woman who’d tried to destroy them. Now they were together, and she needed to know what that meant. If he could still be saved. If he even cared.Shelby found a spot on Rae Street, next to Andrew’s place. Everyone looked gleeful as they walked through the slush. The temperature was above zero, which signaled a citywide celebration. As Shelby watched from inside the truck, a young man unzipped his coat, slightly nervous, as if he might be breaking the law. Then he grinned at the blue sky, just standing at the corner. Paralyzed by sunlight. It was still cold, but people were dressed for a spring day. When winter lasted for seven months out of the year, as it did in Regina, you had to seize upon mild days. They were slushy little miracles.She should have brought a coffee. It wasn’t the first time that she’d done this. Maybe it always felt like the first time, because she was so close to turning back. All she had to do was drive away. It wasn’t as if she’d discovered anything. But curiosity drew her back. Would it be just the same? Or would he look up this time?Andrew exited the apartment. Like the young man on the corner, he looked at the sky. It swallowed his shadow. A couple walked by, pushing a baby in a giant stroller, with extra-large cup holders. Both fathers were trying to maneuver the pram around melting islands of snow. Andrew watched them as they passed. His expression was difficult to read. He rubbed his arm lightly, which ached in the cold—he’d told her that much. Then he zipped up his jacket and walked toward Thirteenth.Carl texted her: What kind of chips?Shelby stared at the message.Then she laughed. She sat in the truck, laughing until her sides hurt, until she could barely breathe. Then she stepped out, landing in a boggy puddle that devoured her boots. She followed Andrew. It was easy—he never turned around. Stalking is simple, she thought, and instantly regretted it. This was what programs liked Criminal Minds referred to as “escalation.”Andrew stepped into a nearby café. For a while, he just read at a table by himself. Then a man sat down next to him. It took Shelby a few moments to realize who it was. When she did, her stomach turned to ice.In Anfractus, he was called Narses. A fallen general—the former right hand of the woman who wanted them dead. Shelby’s hands were shaking. Any minute now, she would burst into the café. Any minute now. But she didn’t move. She watched them through the fogged glass, speaking like old friends. When they were done, Andrew grabbed his bag and left without another word. The man stayed behind to pay for their coffees.It would have to be now.Shelby stepped into the café. She sat down at the table, just as he was leaving a tip.“What are you doing here?”He looked at her mildly. “I believe it’s called lunch, Shelby.”“Sit down.”He assented. “You’ve been following us.”“Following him. This is the first time that you’ve turned up.”In Anfractus, he was a spado. A eunuch who’d served his mistress faithfully, on the other side. In the city of Regina, he owned a club. It was a place where they’d often gone, to dance beneath the lights, to vanish into fellowship and the pulse of music that begged them to be higher, better, stronger, younger. They hadn’t known that he owned the club until recently. It was a collision of worlds that nobody was pleased with.“How’s business?” she asked.“Not great. I’m this close to bringing back the snowmen.”She frowned. “Isn’t that more of an outdoor activity?”“They’re dancers.”“Oh. Clever.” Shelby folded her arms. “Why are you here?”“The last time we spoke, you weren’t interested in hearing what I had to say.”He was right. The spado had tried to give her advice, but she’d walked away. She remembered that warm night. Her first kiss with Ingrid. They’d still assumed that Andrew remembered nothing, that they had so much time to figure things out.“I suppose you’re working together now. Taking advantage of those trusty eunuch skills. Can you administrate someone to death? Fluff their pillows in some fatal way? I think there’s a capon in some play who gives poison ice cream to Cleopatra.”He didn’t move, but something shifted between them. His voice was granite. “Have a care, child. I’ve commanded armies. I saved your life.”“That was Narses. If we were all the sum of our characters in the game, then I’d be a crack shot with a longbow.”He shook his head. “You still haven’t accepted it. There are no characters. There is no game. The park doesn’t take you to another world. It shows you what’s beneath the surface of this one. All the dark seams.” Now he leaned forward. “Everything is wilderness. The city most of all. That’s where the really fantastic betrayal happens. But not every park leads to a place like Anfractus. Some lead to forgotten corners. Oubliettes of shadow and half-truths. One park leads back to the beginning, though nobody can find it.”Shelby frowned. “Like the little park on Osler Street?”She remembered that park. Barely a green footprint laid over the site of a warehouse fire. Cozy and overgrown. That was where she’d kissed Ingrid, while sitting on an art installation that may have just been pulverized stone. That was where she’d seen Andrew slipping sideways into a patch of darkness.“If it’s not a game, then what is it? Did some part of Andrew really die? Does anything we do there matter?”He stood up. “Meet me in Victoria Park at midnight. I’ll take you to someone who can answer at least one of those questions.”He walked out.Later that night, they met at Ingrid’s. It was only a practice run, but the whole company was there. Sam, who became an artifex when she stepped into the park at midnight, trailing sparks and machinae behind her. Carl, who made a passable trovador, when he wasn’t snapping strings. Ingrid, who wore a single bronze greave and carried the chipped blade that had protected them countless times. And Shelby herself, the sagittarius, who aimed her bow at horrors. They had lost their auditor, the one who fed bread crumbs to hungry spirits. Andrew had slipped away, just like that. Now he belonged to a different company. He was in league with Latona, the ruler of Anfractus. A month ago, she’d tried to raise hell with an ancient horn. Now she was watching their every move.It wasn’t a game. Shelby knew that, even if she couldn’t admit it. The parks led to different places, all of them real and dangerous. The magic didn’t choose everyone. She had no idea how it worked. But every night, people were carried off to treacherous cities, where salamanders breathed flame and worshipped Fortuna in her exquisite disarray. Nothing escaped the shadow of her wheel. And she loved games. So they rolled with their lives. They rolled for power, and salvation, and sometimes—predictably—for desire. Who wouldn’t? In the city of Regina, they were graduate students, overcaffeinated and burning with imposter syndrome as they marked endless papers. After midnight, in the park’s grip, they could be anything. Heroes. Monsters. Even whole.They played the pen-and-paper game on Ingrid’s floor. Neil watched in silence, eating his crustless grilled cheese with ketchup. His eyes danced as Carl described wine-soaked alleys, where assassins hid like rubies among the debris. The game was both false and impossibly real. It was a dream that they tried to catch hold of. She saw it in Carl’s eyes. The need for control. Let it work, just this once. The dancing die, the baited breath. This was the ritual that connected their ordinary lives with the extraordinary darkness beyond.When it was time for Neil to go to bed, they took a break, so that Shelby and Ingrid could read to him about Scaredy Squirrel and his fear of unexpected parties. After he was asleep, they returned to the campaign. Paul made appetizers. He took their game in stride, having no idea that it was connected to anything real.After the quest was completed and the dishes were done, they said their good-byes. When Shelby said that she wasn’t sleeping over, Ingrid’s expression was hard to read. Not disappointment, exactly. Something else.“Text me when you’re home safe,” she said. Keeping her dice covered.Carl pulled on his toque. “I think we’re ready for tomorrow night.”“Right now,” Ingrid replied, “I’m ready for the five hours of sleep that the universe has decided is my reward.”Shelby kissed her on the cheek. “Night. See you soon.”Carl politely looked the other way, as single people sometimes do. Shelby didn’t quite understand it. He used to go out every night. He was charming, when he didn’t try. There was no reason for him to be alone. She wanted to ask, but she couldn’t do it without raising dust and shadows. Instead, she said: “Careful. The stairs are slippery.”Albert Street was still at this time of night. She listened to A Tribe Called Red, nodding along to their drumbeats. In the dark, everything was honest. Music, fogged breath, maple, slush whisper, tire beat. Cars passed her, blind to her fear.She parked on the edge of Victoria Park. It felt perfectly empty, but she knew better. In the distance, she could see the giant light sabers, winking just beyond the trees. They were part of an installation, but from here, they could have been foxfire. Every blink turned the park a different color, rendering the trees as stained glass. Shelby let the dancing lights lead her to the war monument, where he was waiting.“There may be some turbulence. We aren’t going to Anfractus.”“Then where?”“Farther,” he said.Shelby tried to pierce the line of trees. All she could see were flashes and the white silence of the monument. This was more than a lie of omission. Like so many of life’s unexpected turns, it was a roll that she couldn’t take back.She began to undress.2The alley was the same. Yellow moss crept across the sun-warmed brick, trembling slightly, as if startled by her presence. The cobblestones were sharp against her bare feet. In the distance, she could hear the city’s thunder. The oaths and footfalls and thrum of flies were all familiar, but there was something strange about them. A new accent. It took her a moment to interpret everything that she was hearing. Sunlight made patterns at her feet, and as she watched them, some of the details returned. She remembered the spado’s invitation, the unfamiliar gateway, the metallic taste of her own lie. On the very edge of knowing, she felt the velveteen flutter of the other, the woman who was a part of her. Not her opposite, nor her complement, but rather a silent sister. They stood on different shores, gesturing to each other across fen-locked darkness. If she looked closely at the needlework of sunlight, she could almost see the woman’s face. If she listened past the din of imprecation and hammer-song, there was a word, perhaps a name. But it stayed out of reach.This was not her city. Anfractus was a world away. Even if she’d wanted to escape, she wouldn’t last long beyond the walls. Not with the silenoi hunting her after nightfall. The rest of her company had no idea where she was.I’m naked and alone, in a foreign city. My ally owes me nothing. He could sell me to the highest bidder and make a tidy profit. I’ve come full circle, to the vicious beginning.Only, this time, she knew her name. Morgan. She knew what she was capable of. Unfortunately, she also knew the array of fatalities that waited for her, just beyond the alley. Ignorance might have been sweeter. When you transitioned for the first time, it was like waking up in a different body. This was different. More like waking up in an unfamiliar house, with the unsettling knowledge that everyone in the next room had been up for hours.The first time had been a mixture of panic and wonder. She’d nearly died on several occasions, and escaped through some rogue turn of the wheel. This time, she was prepared. She knew most of the things that might kill her. That was something, at least.Morgan scanned the brick wall in front of her. It offered no secrets. But there was still a chance. She ran her fingers along its surface until she came to a loose brick. She managed to work it free, scratching her hands in the process. Another brick came away more easily. She set them both on the ground and peered into the hole. It looked empty, save for an outraged beetle that came skittering out. But nothing was as it seemed in this place. Offering a silent prayer to Fortuna, she reached in with her hand. Nothing but cool air. She reached in farther, until she was nearly up to her elbow. Something tickled her fingers, but she chose to ignore it. The darkness was heavy, like a shawl wrapped around her hand. Closing her eyes, she reached farther, until most of her forearm disappeared. That was when she felt it.Praise the wheel. I was right. Sometimes cities do keep their promises.She withdrew a familiar bundle. It was her bow and painted quiver. A small clay jar held wax for the bowstring, and there was also an assortment of poisons in glass vials. She laid these carefully on the ground and reached into the wall once again. This time, she nearly dislocated her shoulder. But in the end, she came out with the rest: sandals, cloak, boiled-leather hauberk, and smallclothes. They had transmigrated somehow, from her original alley to this one. Maybe this was her alley now. She had only the fuzziest idea of how it worked, but it didn’t surprise her that both cities were in correspondence with each other.As soon as she was dressed, she began to sweat. Morgan chuckled. She supposed that had she been a real lady, all those pretty jars would be filled with cosmetics rather than poison. In the end, she preferred to stink and stay alive. The weight of the bow was reassuring, even if it was more suited to the battlements. As long as she could find a breath of distance, she’d have no problem turning her attacker into a pincushion.She wondered if Narses was waiting for her at the mouth of the alley. She had no reason to trust him. But his fortunes had fallen. Now he was little more than an exile. Perhaps neither of them had much to lose at this point.Morgan took a breath and walked into the sunlight.The market was a wave of color and sound. Awnings fluttered beneath a stale breeze, providing little scraps of shade. The stalls dealt in every item imaginable. There were stacks of golden belt buckles, rich summer wines, blades, embroidered cloaks, and fine gloves. One stall was piled with birdcages, while another dealt in brooches made of amber and rock crystal. A domina was bartering with one of the vendors. Behind her, three servants waited, carrying baskets already laden with expensive cloth. She was smiling as she spoke with the vendor, but her hands moved swiftly, describing a number of complex shapes. The domina was fluent in the hand signs of the market, and whatever she was actually saying, the vendor didn’t like it one bit. He scowled as his own hands flickered a counteroffer. Finally, he stared at the ground and mumbled something. He’d lost the battle.Morgan looked up, expecting to see a familiar network of stone skyways, but they weren’t there. The city must have an alternate mode of transportation. Here, the sky was the pale yellow color of the domina’s stola. It shimmered like a newly minted coin beneath the heat. The cries of the vendors filled her head. She was thirsty but had no money. Fel had kept the coin purse. It had seemed like a wise idea, but of course, she hadn’t anticipated being stranded, penniless, in an unfamiliar city.Meet me at the hagia.Those were the spado’s words, before the world dissolved. She didn’t even know what a hagia was, let alone where it might be located. Her mouth was dry. Not for the first time, she had to question her shadow sister’s choices. A little preparation would have made this a lot easier. But she’d never been one for planning. If there was some twilight world in which they could meet, face to face, Morgan resolved to give the woman a piece of her mind.She saw an aquarius, hurrying by with a giant amphora of water. He was quite thin. Upon arriving in Anfractus, Morgan had tried out a variety of jobs, including water-bearer. It was dusty, exhausting work, and it had barely kept her fed. However, running up and down flights of stairs, in order to deliver water to rich clients, had made her quick and strong. That certainly helped when she approached the Gens of Sagittarii for the first time.Some people never joined a gens. They labored beneath the powerful, waiting. She used to wonder why they bothered. Why leave a comfortable life to work as a water-bearer? The answer seemed to revolve around power. If you wanted something badly enough, you’d start over, scrape the tablet clean.Morgan stopped the aquarius, making certain that her bow remained visible. She could still look as if she had money, however false that might be.“I have a question,” she said.The boy looked uncomfortable. He didn’t have time to dawdle, but he also couldn’t afford to be rude. After a moment, he inclined his head.“Yes, my lady?”“I’ve just arrived here, and I’m a little disoriented. Could you perhaps give me directions to the hagia?”She wasn’t even sure if she was pronouncing it correctly. The aquarius tried to hide his look of disbelief, but it was still obvious.“Where is your ladyship from?”Morgan froze for a moment. She couldn’t risk saying Anfractus, since Basilissa Latona had spies everywhere. But she didn’t know any other cities.“I move around too much to settle anywhere,” she replied. “I’m meeting a member of my gens at the hagia. What’s the quickest way there?”“All roads lead to the great hagia, my lady.” He made a vague gesture, as if directing her past the market. “Follow Via Scintilla until it widens. The song of the bells will lead you to the hagia. Have a care, though. Ambers are wild today.”He left before she could decipher what that could mean.“Ambers are wild,” she murmured. “Well, at least I’m armed.”She continued down Via Scintilla until the market was behind her. Wagons and litters clogged the street. Morgan kept to the edge of the paving stones, careful not to twist her ankle on the deep wheel ruts. People gathered by large white stones, waiting for traffic to disperse so that they could cross. Morgan passed by a taverna whose sign depicted a scarlet cock. She could smell pungent fish sauce and roasting chickpeas. Her stomach growled, and she tried to ignore it. Her next adventure would need to be better funded, that much was obvious. She didn’t even have a spare coin to buy a cold lemon sharbah. If the water boy hadn’t paid obeisance to her uniform, she might have wandered around the market forever, searching for a building that she couldn’t even describe.The song of the bells will guide me. That sounds rather nice. I can’t imagine being killed in a place with bells.She passed by a lararium, a shrine to the elemental spirits. The altar was pale green marble, and oil lamps burned upon it, their wicks freshly trimmed. Engraved bowls held scraps of bread and meat for hungry salamanders. Even spirits needed to eat. Representations of the lares had been carved into the surface of the altar. The undinae resembled little waves with sharp eyes, while the gnomoi clustered beneath a mountain slope, digging through the dark matrix of rock with their claws. The shrine was well tended, more so than any that Morgan had seen in the city of Anfractus. People stopped to throw in a coin or a bit of oil. They paused to look upon the faces of the lares, whose expressions were impossible to read. Shrines in Anfractus were generally worn-down, and a few had even been graffitied, but this one was burnished and well loved. Perhaps these people valued their ghosts more.A few tinted clouds moved overhead, and sunlight kissed the back of her neck. Morgan passed beneath the shade of the lime trees and followed Via Scintilla until it began to widen. Crowds of people were moving in the same direction. An artifex walked while studying a tablet, her coterie of mechanical spiders chittering behind her. She was oblivious to the heat and the sounds of life around her. The world had narrowed to lines drawn with a stylus, gorgeous formulae that might change everything, if she could only give herself fully to them. Morgan understood the impulse. Beside her, a medicus puffed as he carried his bag of instruments. Maybe he was late to a surgery. Two furs were stalking him, while maintaining a respectable distance. She gave them a long look and made as if to reach into her quiver. They took one look at her bow and scattered. The medicus was oblivious. He was probably thinking about how to lift a shattered bone, or what prayer to engrave on his polished brass instruments. If Fortuna bent an ear, the pain of a wrecked body might be softened. His patients needed luck more than anyone.Morgan spied a miles, keeping to the other side of the street. For a moment, it might have been Fel. But then the woman stepped into the light, and Morgan saw a long, puffy scar, like a rend in fabric, that traced its way down her neck. The miles saw her looking, and Morgan tensed, ready for some kind of altercation. But the woman merely nodded. Her eyes were strangely kind. Morgan nodded back. It was unusual for a miles to acknowledge her. Although their gens weren’t precisely enemies, there was no love lost between them. A sagittarius was expected to protect the battlements, while the miles patrolled the grounds below. One gens could quite literally look down upon the other. This had bred a healthy resentment for longer than anyone could remember, and Morgan was used to a much colder reception. At the very least, she expected the woman’s expression to harden as she placed one hand lightly on the pommel of her gladius. The flash of amity was unexpected.This really is a different city.In the distance, she heard cheering. There must have been a chariot race at the Hippodrome. They weren’t always bloody, but a race without at least a minor accident was considered a boring affair. That was where she’d first met Fel. The miles had fought after a successful chariot race. Blood on the sands always made people spend more freely. Morgan remembered watching her gladius dance, the sun flashing against her greave. The curious way that she refused to accept any praise for winning the match. And later, that same sword, parting bone as easily as an ivory comb might part hair. The look on her face, a cloudless sky, as she whirled in the heart of chaos. The nightmares would come later. A miles wasn’t supposed to regret. Polish the chips from the blade, oil the armor, test the cunning brass straps. In and out. That was the purpose of the gladius. The short sword had been invented to make combat quick and easy. In and out, like adding a line to a ledger, a stone to a mosaic. Simple. But grief remained. Morgan could see it in the lines around her eyes.She had killed, as well. She could never forget that night on the battlements. Watching the silenus come at her, eyes guttering like lamps in the dark. The click of hooves on wet stone, and the smell of him. It was deep earth, and water carried from the profound shadows of a forgotten well, and rust settling on the surface of a dead world. She’d won her die that night. The symbol of her gens. And regret was there too. She felt it against her chest. Morgan reached beneath the leather hauberk and touched the die. It was hers. This magic that she scarcely understood. She might choose to roll, so long as she was willing to pay.Morgan heard the bells. Soft at first, then louder. They moved through her in trilling vibrations that seemed to leave a mark on her body, a fleeting touch. Three streets intersected, and now people were merging into a large crowd, following the sound. The mechanical spiders nipped at her feet, but she paid them no attention. Even the medicus had stopped looking worried and was now staring straight ahead. The hagia rose before them, its bronze cupola gleaming like a second sun. The entrance was supported by massive pillars, carved with reliefs that depicted scenes from the city’s history. The façade was a mosaic, where Fortuna appeared in all of her guises. Her eyes were impenetrable black stones, while colored tesserae burst to life around her. A few vendors had set up stalls by the entrance, selling worship wheels and tablets of common prayer. The doors were blushing marble, and two miles flanked them. Rather than scanning the crowd, they were playing a game of mora, which involved rapid hand movements and guesswork. The miles on the left was clearly losing, but he didn’t curse. He just smiled sheepishly as people walked past him.She couldn’t shake the confusion that had been gnawing at her. Everyone in this place was serene, as if they’d just taken a draught of nightshade. They smiled politely and made room for each other. She could detect no smoldering grudges, no sense of real danger. Even the furs kept their distance. The shrines were well attended, and as people entered the hagia, she could almost feel their piety. In Anfractus, people cursed Fortuna and pissed on her relics. Here, she was the object of their devotion. As Morgan watched, two spadones entered the hagia, carrying painted icons of the goddess and her wheel. They didn’t whisper or nudge each other. Neither carried a flask. Something other than politics had brought them here.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for the Novels of the Parallel Parks“For fans of intense role-playing fantasies, [Path of Smoke] offers a complex world where power shifts back and forth in the shadows, dangerous players remain hidden until they’re ready to land the fatal blow, and flawed heroes struggle to do what is needed to save their friends and their world.”—Fresh Fiction“Cunningham’s expert storytelling, inventive plot and fascinating characters will hook readers right away, engaging them until the very last page.”—RT Reviews“A good bit of action and adventure…Fun.”—Paranormal Haven