Another Oriceran series is about to release! Check out this sneak peek of Sign Your Fears Away, book 1 of The Agent Operative. Be sure to preorder your copy! It releases Monday, November 7!
Norah watched the flame dancing across the man’s fingers with the sinking realization that she was mesmerized. The fire, a candle’s worth, flickered over his fingernails, which were crusted with half-burned grease. She tried to look away, but her neck was stiff, and what could be better to look at than this captivating blaze? Her corneas stung, trapped unblinking in the cool Los Angeles night air, and she snorted.
The man in front of her was supposed to fall into her trap, not the other way around. Rude! Half-dwarf and half-elemental, he was short and almost as wide as he was tall. With his tight black jeans tucked into dainty-heeled cowboy boots embroidered with flowers and skulls, he looked like a triangle balancing on its point. Her old friend Stellan, a dwarf who worked in the props department of the latest superhero blockbuster, had told her a teamster named Vince was not-very-subtly offering to sell information about some ex-Silver Griffin agents in the Bay Area who sounded like Norah’s parents.
Now, Vince was here. Through Stellan, Norah had passed a message to him that she was interested in buying whatever he had to sell. She’d said the Silver Griffins had imprisoned her father in Trevilsom, and she was out for revenge. A decent cover story. No one would find out Lincoln was quietly tending goats in Northern California.
Something had been off when she’d arrived. Normally, the grid of 202 lampposts in front of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was lit all night, controlled by an astronomical clock that turned them off at dawn. Instead, she’d found them dark, except for the one Vince leaned against as he coolly manipulated a small flame with his hands.
Now she was fucking mesmerized. This was why she hated art. She sighed internally and painted a dazed smile on her face. “Pretty,” she said, doing her best brain-dead ingenue impression.
Vince grinned, his eyes cold beneath eyebrows so thick she half-expected birds to fly out of them when he scratched his face.
“That’s right, princess. Look at the lovely lights.” The flame brightened, and its arabesques accelerated. She had to move fast.
She reached into the pocket of her vintage 1980s windbreaker. Thankfully, her fingers were still under her control, and she wrapped them around her trusty blue gum eucalyptus wand. Without pulling it from her pocket, she traced a one-inch circle in the air, then slashed through it with a violent stroke—a simple spell for breaking an enchantment.
The magnetic tug of the flame on her eyes released with a soundless pop, and Norah blinked. Her poor eyes were grateful for the moisture. She pulled her wand out of her pocket and pointed it at Vince’s chest. The hair of one bushy eyebrow undulated as it quirked up. Norah looked down. The tiny flame flickering in Vince’s hand hopped to the tip of his middle finger and stayed there. Fuck you too, Vince.
“Nice stick. Hand it over,” he directed, his low voice unruffled.
His middle finger flickered and the candle flame roared into a fire rope and slithered through the air. Norah ducked behind the nearest lamp post, which sizzled when the flame hit.
“This is iconic LA art!” she screamed, running between posts to escape the elemental flame.
“I hate art!” Vince shouted after her. Norah agreed with him about Urban Lights, which struck her as a sterile bastard forest.
The fiery rope gouged halfway through a lamppost behind her, sending sparks toward the electric wires at its core. Her occasional glimpses of the flames blinded her, bright orange against the deep blue night.
She raised her wand again, intending to cast a stunning spell, but she was forced to improvise an energy shield to divert the fire.
She needed a better view of the battlefield.
“Fly, my pretties,” Norah murmured, and the soles of her white-and-orange Hermes sneakers, a gift from a grateful popstar siren, glowed dark green. She bent her knees and jumped, soaring away as a tentacle of flame snuck up behind her and snapped the empty air at her feet. What self-respecting witch wanted a broomstick when she could have couture?
Hanging in mid-air, it was easy for Norah to forget she couldn’t fly. It was just aggressive jumping. As she landed on a lamppost, she saw Vince dead center in the grid. His fingers traced complex patterns to control the fire around him. The air rippled with the heat radiating from his body. Every hex she knew would burn before it touched him. Except… Maybe she didn’t have to touch him.
Norah swiveled a quarter turn to the light post-Vince had gouged with fire moments ago. She fed more energy into her shoes and hopped across the tops of the other poles. When the movement caught Vince’s attention, his hands gestured so fast they disappeared. The fire rope shot up between two posts to her right, twisting into a massive lasso.
Norah focused on her wand. Abandoning any pretense of spells or hexes, she shot pure power out of the tip to the half-severed lamppost. She wanted to yell, “Timber!” as her magic sheared the streetlight off its base. It toppled toward Vince, the fraying electrical wires in the exposed core sparking.
A thud and a scream echoed through the air, and Norah floated back to the ground, sneakers dimming. When she reached Vince, she understood why he had shrieked.
He had tried to melt the post coming down on him with fire. That had worked, but being hit by globs of molten metal wasn’t much better than being hit by a two-ton post. There wasn’t enough Elemental DNA to withstand the superheated metal.
Dwarves’ burns healed quickly, and the red welts on his body would feel like a bad sunburn in a few days. For now, he was in a lot of pain.
He’d used his hands to shield his eyes, and they were now raw and useless on his lap. Norah stood over him and drew an icicle in the air with her wand. Vince froze. She took pity on him and sent a wave of blue light cascading over his hands. Blue gum eucalyptus was finicky on offense but more than made up for it with its healing power.
She tapped Vince’s mouth with her wand. His face unfroze and crackled like ice.
“You can’t kill me, or you’ll end up in Trevilsom like your old man!” His lips wobbled.
“Give me your info, and I’ll let you go.”
“Let me go, and I’ll tell you,” Vince countered.
“Tell me, and I’ll pay you. At a steep discount, of course. Say, seventy percent off.”
“That’s not fair!”
“Fine. Eighty percent. Call it a fire sale. Now choke up the goods before we have to explain ourselves to Interpol’s art crimes division.” Norah didn’t know if Interpol had an art crimes division, but it sounded threatening.
“Look, all I know is that two former Silver Griffin agents live in Oakland. They run an organic apiary.”
“What are their names?” Norah demanded.
“I don’t know! How many organic apiaries can Oakland have?”
In Norah’s experience, the answer was “more than he’d expect.” Vince didn’t have the details right. Her parents ran a goat farm, not an apiary, and lived near Berkeley rather than Oakland. It was still too close for comfort.
“What else can you tell me?” Norah asked.
“Not much. They took a couple of relics with them when they fled.”
Norah inched back. She’d never taken her folks for looters. Maybe he was lying. Still, she filed the information and peered at Vince. His eyes watered in the smoke blowing off the broken lamppost.
“The icicle hex should wear off in about ten minutes. I suggest you repair the damage and hightail it out of here.”
As promised, she tucked two crisp hundred-dollar bills into the tops of his boots. Twenty percent of her original offer.
“If you sell any more information about any Silver Griffin agents, I will find you and do things to you that make these burns look like a hot-rock massage. Understand?”
She moved to poke him in the chest, stopping before her finger touched his burned skin. Vince winced and nodded.
“Hey, you’re not hiring, are you?” he asked, looking at the hundred-dollar bills. She shook her head.
As she ran across the LACMA courtyard, her feet left glowing forest-green streaks.