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Jecia Singh. Venday, Pisces 17th, 2351 AA. 10:10 PM. Downtown Los Angeles (LAKF Central Precinct).

The death toll hit two thousand the first night after the quake, and it kept climbing the following morning. It had surpassed Kathrina and become the worst natural disaster in Erician history, putting aside pandemics and wars. Assuming it actually was natural.

Jecia was stunned to learn that the quake began immediately after Sevardin interrogated Shapiro. Egregores have a much broader perspective than humans. They are extremely long-lived, and they can draw from the collective conscience to see patterns that escape our notice. But the timing was so conspicuous that it really fucked with Sev’s head.

Juel and Jecia were in the break room. Jecia had already worked her mandated shift and Juel was going on twenty-five hours without sleep. She had managed to persuade him to go home to Elamni and Ethano, but he was dragging his feet because Sev still wasn’t picking up his phone.

The last time Jecia had seen him, he looked so dead in the eyes that he didn’t realize he needed rest. He looked like a goddamn zombie, in either sense of the word. Eithera walking corpse, or a person who had surrendered their autonomy to drugs and magic.And he had left for the Epicenter Cordon Zone, AKA, No Man’s Land; the area of the city that had been hardest by the quake.

“I’m worried,” Jecia said. “I know he can handle himself well, but No Man’s Land is called ‘No Man’s Land’ for a good reason.”

“I’m pretty sure the only people who actually call it that are you and Sev,” Juel said mildly. “‘Epicenter Cordon Zone’ is ominous enough.”

Jecia had no rebuttal. She had indeed heard Sev call it that, but it struck her as a fitting title. Instead of replying, she crossed her arms and looked away. Childish maybe, but I’m too tired to be more adult at the moment.

“I just wish he’d pick up his damn phone,” She muttered.

“You like him, don’t you?” Juel teased.

Jecia froze. Shit. Juel’s approval of her—as partner for Sev, specifically—was vital. He means a lot to Sev. More than any of my old friends mean to me. She turned to him, ashen-faced. Fortunately, he was beaming. His smile was almost cartoonishly broad.

“I knew it!” Juel said and gestured apologies before she could dissemble or retreat. “No! No, listen. I think he likes you too.”

“Don’t joke with me on this, Juel,” Jecia warned.

“I wouldn’t,” he said, suddenly solemn. “There was a time when I would have been able to tell for sure, but we’ve drifted apart since he went to Cold Cases. Or since he broke his legs, really.”

“What was he like before?” Jecia asked.

Juel considered the question carefully.

“Hard to sum it up, but… less sad, I guess. More confident that he was the hero of his own story. Which is something I learned to do for myself by watching him. I’ve gotten glimpses of that since he started this case… but after the quake. Well. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him like this.”

She was quiet for a long moment, then asked:

“Do you think I’m his type?”

Juel seemed to consider the question with due weight.

“To be entirely honest? He doesn’t date enough women to have a type I can recognize,” Juel said. “There are some promising signs though. He likes women in uniform. He dated one detective from another venture—though technically she retired before they started going out. And he also dated a girl in the athenaeum who was much smarter than him, so you’ve also got that going for you as well.”

She snickered.

“I’m happy for you.” Juel said. “And happy to play Elthiel to your Ashael and Lothaine.”

Elthiel was the third wheel to the most famous Amagiate couple the world had ever known: Ashael and Lothaine. Theirs’ was a much embellished, oft re-imagined, and generally over-scrutinized story. They belonged to a venture at the height of the second Amagium’s power, renowned for killing monsters, saving innocents—all that good hero shit.

Jecia smiled. A hidden tension in her chest and shoulders seemed to subside.

“It sounds stupid,” Jecia said. “But I fell for him the moment I first saw his wyrd. I stood there like a swooning schoolgirl. It was extremely awkward.”

“What’s so special about his wyrd?” Juel asked. “I mean, Sev has extremely powerful output, don’t get me wrong, but in terms of talent, he always struck me as an arch-generalist.”

“You never noticed the Inherences?” She asked.

His expression was all the answer he needed.

“It must be my psychometry that allows me to see them,” she said apologetically. “He carries the ghosts of objects with him. The first time I felt them in his wyrd, I thought they were just things that are close to him. His motorcycle is the most prominent, but…” She shook her head astonished. “He feels the spirits of objects around him. It’s like his wyrd is made of them. The less important things will come and go—rocks he sees on the sidewalk that remind him of something, a particularly bad cup of coffee—but the things he cares about… He really cares about.”

“Sev’s always been good with foci,” Juel realized.

Jecia nodded. They were quiet for a long moment, then he asked her:

“What is Sev’s favorite gift I given him? I mean, like, physical gifts.”

“Are you sure you want me to say it out loud? Kind of embarrassing.”

“Now I’m really curious.”

“His current Locke. He lost the one your dad gave him the day he was abducted. You cheered him up by taking him to the range, even though he had to shoot from a wheelchair. And you let him try out a fancy new model you just bought, because he always likes things on the cutting edge—which is why your father bought him a new gun, and gave you his original. Anyway, you let him keep the new gun and tried to act like that wasn’t your plan all along.”

She was dead on the mark judging by his stupefied expression.

“Damn lady,” Juel said. “You’re scary.”

“If everyone in the world was like Sev, I would be nearly omniscient,” Jecia said, casually.

“Not helping my assessment.”

Jecia laughed.

“So how long before you can use each other’s wyrds to annihilate entire armies?”

Jecia pivoted and punched him in the stomach just hard enough to make him double over, but not hard enough to leave a bruise.

“Oof! You actually believe in it don’t you?!” he laughed.

She gave him a sour look.

The main reason Ashael and Lothaine’s were canonized in literature was their legendary, much mythologized ability; the Mortal Breath. The name had many stories behind it and even more interpretations. Growing up Jecia thought it was a flavorful way to describe a storybook climax, and was disappointed to later learn that it was a morbid metaphor for intimacy. Supposedly like inhaling someone’s dying—read orgasmic—breath, only to revive them with your exhalation. Leave it to medieval Europe to turn sex into something macabre and stupid.

Admittedly, using the etheric energy in somebody else’s wyrd was an exceptionally intimate gesture, to the point of being a common religious taboo. Without consent, it was considered dolomancy under amagiate law. And it was also outright illegal in several states of the Republic.

“It’s a verifiable arcane phenomenon, okay?” Jecia said with exaggerated snideness, and folded her arms.

Juel squinted like he was completely reassessing her based on that single statement.

“I did my thesis defense on the Mortal Breath, Juel. I actually think it is an example of biological Inherences.”

He scoffed and rolled his eyes.

“Okay, now you’re just messing with me.”

She wasn’t surprised and couldn’t blame him. The whole notion of biological creatures gaining Inherences had been viciously mocked throughout the arcane community until very recently. Now people were discovering that Inherences might explain all sorts of magic anomalies, like physiological quirks, the various disorders that people callously referred to as ‘being cracked.’ And it also explained the Mortal Breath.

“My argument was that the Mortal Breath was possible among people who developed Inherences with each other, rather than objects. Except they don’t just resonate as with objects; they force magnify each other because their connection taps into something broader. Something egregoric.”

“You mean like, the Grace?” Juel asked, referring to the strange, egregoric magic that members of the Rosary Squad could perform.

“Yes,” Jecia said. “The Grace draws on the power of a specific faith. The user becomes a conduit for everything it stands for, an avatar of its gods’ will on earth. And I believe the Mortal Breath is similar, but it’s areligious.”

“What fuels it then? The literal power of love?”

She could tell that he was trying to be good-natured, but his skepticism was getting the better of him.

“Not quite that broad, I think. It’s more like… using the full bandwidth of a human’s ability to communicate. Couples are the most common people capable of it. But it is also common among twins. In fact, it becomes more common in triplets, and quadruplets, and so on. The Japanese Amagium was planning a study on it—” Jecia caught herself before she could start rambling in earnest. “Sorry. My point is, it is real. And it supports the theory of biological Inherences.”

Juel acquiesced, though she was unsure whether he actually persuaded him or not.

“So what kind of things can it do? I remember Ashael burning—”

“—Lothaine’s army of captors by inflaming her wyrd. Yes. Boys always remember the fireballs. And as these things go, Ashael and Luthaine’s Mortal Breath was very martial. Their second most famous skill was sensory cohabitation. By linking their wyrds, they could read—and even influence—each other’s movements in battle.”

“‘They were as one mind, between two bodies,’” Juel said. It was a direct quote from The Gryphon and the Phoenix, one of Elthiel’s more famous accounts of his adventures with Ashael and Luthaine.

It was Jecia’s turn to be surprised. She folded her arms, impressed.

“For a skeptic, you have a pretty good grasp on the classics.”

“It’s one of Sev’s favorite quotes,” Juel said, snickering. “Though he substitutes however many bodies are involved with the task and thinks he’s being clever.”

Jecia giggled. It’s one of my favorite quotes too. And it is clever.

“I’m going to bring him back,” Jecia said.

He hesitated. He’s going to want to come with me. She swatted his shoulder.

“Hey. You promised me you’d go see your wife and son. I promise I’ll bring Sev home.”

Juel put on the stupid expression he always wore when considering jokes that were better left untold. Jecia sighed and turned before bad judgment could get the better of him. But as she started to walk away, Juel called over his shoulder:

“Go get him tiger!”

Jecia blinked and briefly—but very vividly—considered breaking his kneecaps.

—Sevardin Harker. Venday, Pisces 18th, 2351 AA. 3:10 AM. Southeast Los Angeles—

Sev felt like a corpse. His body had been reduced to an estranged meat puppet, wired on adrenaline, guilt, and frustration. No time to feel sorry for yourself. He’d seen too much real death over the past two days to afford to mope or rest.

The timing of the quake was too exact. It haunted him. He couldn’t help but feel that the entire city’s devastation was punishment for failing to save Esmine Carter.

He only managed to get six fitful hours of sleep following a twenty-hour shift. After discovering Carter, he had flung himself headlong into the Amagium’s disaster relief efforts, starting with search and rescue. But toward the end of the first day, once the survivors became fewer and farther between, the bodies got the best of him.

Anguish gave way to anger, and he volunteered for an ad hoc patrol in an area that had been designated as No Man’s Land, stretching from south Compton to East Los Angeles. The epicenter of the quake lay somewhere in those less affluent districts of the city, and entire neighborhoods had been leveled. Now egregores and monsters stalked their streets.

Officially, Sev’s marching orders were to maintain a cordon to prevent the entities from spilling into the rest of the city. But Sev found his posting redundant and ventured into the depths of the ruins to search for survivors. That’s my excuse, anyway.

Most of the entities were little more than pests. Demons and ponophages that managed to slip through the veil, or monstrum that sensed the opportunity to feast on weakened prey. Paradoxically, the weaker an egregore was, the easier it was for it to physically manifest in reality; the opposite of fae. But one of the entities was different. It was intelligent, organizing the lesser demons into more threatening hunting packs.

Sev found himself hoping it was a demon. Demons are smart. Demons know things. And if you know what you’re doing, demons can be interrogated. He carried equipment that was traditionally reserved for Rosary Squads: Christian talismans, a silver longsword, and holy water. But he had declined the prayer beads that were typically used to defend against demonic assaults. He wanted to make himself as appealing as possible.

Maybe I have a death wish. The thought lingered at the periphery of his mind, but it was faint, and seemed somehow insignificant.

There had been no developments in the Black Lotus case since the quake. No third recipient had come forward. He supposed it was possible that the demon he was hunting was Shapiro’s former patron, who had already crossed over. After all, the quake was severe enough that it may have killed both of the remaining victims. He doubted it though. These rituals follow rules, and based on what Shapiro told us, the murders needed to be discrete and sequential.

It was possible that the victim had not come forward because she knew the curse fed on notoriety. And under normal circumstances, that could be a smart play in the short term. But eventually the threat of death will prey on you, steadily gaining power until you finally succumb to the spell.

As he surveyed the wreckage from the vantage point of a mostly intact parking lot, he thought of Esmine Carter again. That girl held out far longer than we could have asked of her. It was silly, but he had come to think of her resolve as the last bastion standing between Los Angeles and the quake. That if they had saved her, they may have averted all this. But we failed her. Even if Shapiro’s demon had merely predicted the quake rather than catalyzing it, Carter gave us her all, and we were too late. Too slow.

“Help!” A voice called from below. It was hoarse. Feminine. “Please, help me!”

Sev peered over the edge, searching for the source of the voice. He caught sight of a ragged figure dragging themselves across the ground. He used sorcery to hastily jump from landing to landing on the parking structure’s staircase, reaching the street in seconds.

“I’m coming, miss! Stay calm!” Sev called.

“Please help! Please help!” The voice repeated, almost mechanically, and the figure continued to drag herself forward, largely obscured by a heap of rags.

Sev drew his Locke and emptied it at center mass.

The beggar-spider shrieked and reared back, her pale, unnaturally long human arms flailing next to her quivering mandibles. She had not expected him to see through the ruse—it was the unnaturally pale flesh and repetitive cries that gave her away.

The Locke’s high caliber bullets bought Sev enough time to work out a clean and vicious fire contract. He instructed the animus to superheat the creature’s blood. She began to shudder and twitch before the bulk of her rag-camouflaged abdomen burst into smoldering green ichor. Her wyrd flickered out instantly.

“Fucking mimic,” Sev spat.

Mimics were particularly exploitative in times of disaster, possessing more intelligence than most beasts. He had read a paper in the Athenaeum that suggested that they had a sort of psychic prey drive, emerging amidst emergencies, and hibernating when humanity was not otherwise threatened.

His phone started ringing. Jecia. She and Juel had called him a couple times, but he had yet to answer. He knew they were worried. He knew they would try to talk him out of his semi-suicidal fool’s errand, and quite frankly, he didn’t want to hear it. He wanted to be alone with his anger.

Another anomaly drew Sev’s attention as he started to reload his gun: traffic signals at a four-way stop started pulsing red. The entire area was still without power. Sev regarded the lights warily, finished his reload, and then approached the empty intersection.

The lights continued to throb, painting the street bloody against the spilled water of a broken, long-depleted fire hydrant. When he reached the center of the crosswalks, he felt a hot, caustic presence against his wyrd. And when he turned to face it, a thing that looked like a man in a biker’s outfit and dark sunglasses stood waiting. He had peroxide blonde hair that came up in two spikes at either side of his temples, like horns, and had a near-luminescent smile.

“Detective Harker. You seem a bit hot under the collar.”

“I’ve just been eager to make your acquaintance mister…?”

“Oh, no honorifics necessary. You can call me Baphoset. Not to be confused with my older brother, Baphomet.”

That’s quite a name to drop. Baphomet was a Big Deal Demon. Extremely powerful. Famous enough that every Keeper knew his name.

“If you’re meeting me head on, I assume you want to treat,” Sev said.

“Indeed! I’m a lover, not a fighter,” Baphoset said, smiling.

“Coward, more like. You responsible for the cacodemon hunting packs?”

“Detective, I merely provide people with information,” he said in a wounded tone. “Those little scamps would starve if they didn’t have some guidance. So yeah. I gave them some pointers. Little pep talk. Many hands make light work and all that.”

An informant. Sev said nothing. Wait for him to tip his hand. Baphoset smiled again.

“Look. Your city’s hurting and you’re pissed about it. I get that. If you’re determined to vent your frustrations, we can go ten rounds, and you’ll almost certainly win. Then you’ll try to torture me for information, and I tell you to go fuck yourself because I’m no stranger to pain and I’m not inclined to do bargain with people who will kill me anyway. It’s just bad business practice.”

“What do you propose?”

The demon smiled again, broadly.

“I give you information on the Black Lotus demon.”

“In exchange for what?”

“All you have to do is listen to a prophecy. Hell, I know you’ll try to kill me after anyway, so I’ll sweeten the deal: hear me out, and I will voluntarily go back to Hell after telling you what I know. If I’m headed home, I’d prefer it to be on my own terms.”

Sev’s hackles went rigid. Auguries and prophecies were extremely dangerous. Typically traps. Partial knowledge of the future would mislead the recipient, trick them into making bad judgment calls or fulfilling an undesirable future.

“What does this prophecy concern?” Sev asked.

Baphoset laughed, and removed his shades, revealing a pair of yellow eyes with goat-like pupils.

“I really shouldn’t tip my hand when we’re negotiating, but I’m feeling generous. What if I told you the prophecy concerns you specifically? It’s about you and you, alone.”

“You’re gonna have to be more specific than that,” Sev said.

Baphoset scoffed and shook his head, putting his shades back on.

“Jeez, you really drive a hard bargain! How about I answer your question with one of my own?”

Sev gestured for him to speak.

“Have you ever wondered how you are going to die, detective? Because I got a little prediction, and I think it is spot on!” Baphoset drew an exclamation point in the air with a streak of fire.

Sev hesitated. I could be signing my own death warrant. If I make this deal, that knowledge will haunt me the same way the Black Lotus cards haunt their victims. Baphoset continued:

“It’s a win-win, detective! I mean, how do you expect to cheat death if you can’t see her coming? And besides, you don’t seem terribly concerned with your own wellbeing at the moment anyway.”

“Do you know who the third victim is?” Sev asked.

“I do,” Baphoset said amiably. “But all you get is my colleague’s True Name. That should be plenty sufficient to summon her prematurely and banish her for a good long while though. Curse broken. Girl saved. Everyone goes home happy.”

I’ve already learned something. The Black Lotus demon hasn’t crossed over yet. But Sev realized he was being baited. This is a bad idea. He could feel it in the roots of his teeth. But it may be my best bet for saving the city. What’s one life compared to millions?

“Now, I hate to be pushy, but I’ve got things to do back home, so if we could speed this up, I’d really appreciate—”

Baphoset’s head exploded sideways, twisting his body, and exposing him to another five shots that all struck home. His wounds blazed with magnesium-white fire, and he hocked up black ichor. Sev turned to see Jecia at the far-right wing of the crossroads, reloading her Locke and advancing with murder on her face.

“Rude,” Baphoset coughed.

Before he could say anything else, Jecia started firing again, advancing until she stood over his body. She continued shooting at him point blank, reducing his head to black and pink pulp. Before he could start to regenerate, she whipped her fingers across her body, writing an arcane sigil in the air, and an argent column of lightning came crashing down from on high, even though the sky was clear. She held the spell until the demon’s body was reduced to seething ash. The caustic presence vanished, and the demon perished.

Sev looked on, dumbstruck. Jecia reloaded her Locke again, then turned to him with a harsh glare.

“Pick up your fucking phone.”

Sev stared at her open-mouthed. He felt frustration first. That might have been our last lead. It wasn’t your call to make. But gratitude won out in a matter of seconds. That was stupid. I was signing my own death warrant.

Jecia couldn’t even look at him. She is pissed. I’ve never seen her this angry.

“When was the last time you ate?”

“About seven hours ago,” Sev said truthfully. “Before I went on patrol.”

“Well, I’m working on about twelve hours of hunger. Buy a girl a bite to eat.”

Sev was taken aback. It wasn’t like her to make requests, much less demands.

“Not sure what’s open, given the hour and the recent apocalypse, but I’d be happy to.”

“Then drive us around until we find a place. I saw your bike back at the north perimeter.”

“How did you get here? And how did you find me?”

“I asked dispatch for your last check-in. Four hours ago,” Jecia said, finally meeting his eyes again. “I caught a ride with a cruiser looking to send relief, and I’ve been combing the area ever since.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You should be. Juel wanted to come with, but I insisted he go home to be with his wife and boy. Would have been a lot easier if you at least let him know you were alive.”

“Yeah,” Sev said.

Jecia stopped walking. When Sev turned to look at her, she folded her arms, angry again.

“I guess I should call him now,” Sev hazarded.

Jecia smiled thinly and resumed walking as Sev dialed. Juel picked up on the third ring.

“Jecia find you?” he asked.

“Yeah. Seems like she was watching out for both of us. How’s Elamni? Ethano?”

“He’s been asleep since I got home. But Lami said he’s been more excited than scared. Wants to know how he can help.”

“Apple didn’t fall far from the tree,” Sev chuckled.

“Tell me about it. While I’m on dad duty, she’s back out saving the world. The reservation wasn’t hit that hard, so she volunteered to help the APD with their relief efforts.”

Sev didn’t know what else to say. An apology was in order, but he didn’t want it to seem forced, and he wasn’t sure how to begin.

Juel spoke up before he could start: “Heard you were patrolling the epicenter. By yourself.”

“I had a possible lead,” Sev said, stealing a glance at Jecia. “But I got in over my head, and she bailed me out.”

“You alright?”

“I’m good now,” Sev said. “Though she’s giving me a serious side-eye right now.”

“She’s worried about you, pendejo. There’s more than enough of that to go around without you playing Lone Ranger. If you want to pick fights with monsters to work off steam, take a friend.”

“Roger that. We’re going to get some food.”

“Good,” Juel said.

There was a noise in the background and Juel spoke away from the receiver before coming back to Sev:

“Lami just got home.”

“Go take care of her,” Sev said.

“Take care of yourself man. And thank Jecia for me.”

“Will do.”

Sev hung up.

“He chew you out?” Jecia asked.

Sev smirked and shrugged.

“Not really.”

“He’s too gentle with you.”

— 5:06 AM | Downtown Los Angeles—

Sev brought his bike to a slow halt at Grand Park. Over the course of nearly two hours, they had wended inland in an ever-broadening zig-zag, from the northern edge of the No Man’s Land cordon in Vernon, back to downtown.

There were little pockets of hope everywhere. People handing out food and water. Community organizations that had prepared for something like this and quickly set up ad-hoc clinics. But businesses were closed, and street vendors were wary of getting too close to the cordon. They found a food vendor. Street cart hotdogs. Sev’s stomach growled. And so did Jecia’s.

But they rode on.

Too many asfalis folks. They don’t need to feel afraid in the few places they can feel safe.

Jecia broached no objection, so she seemed to understand his reasoning. They seldom spoke throughout the ride, and even then, only in nods, single syllables, and emanatory blips. Her presence and concern, the feeling of her arms around his waist, were therapeutic, however.

It started to rain.

“Doubt we’re finding breakfast this morning,” Sev said.

“I’m willing to take a raincheck,” Jecia said.

“I still have some groceries. I could cook you something,” Sev offered.

“Of course he can cook,” Jecia murmured.

“I can!” Sev said, misreading her. “Nothing fancy, but I can throw together a mean stir fry. But I understand if you would prefer to play things safe.”

“No, now I’m curious,” Jecia said. “Besides, I don’t trust you to cook for yourself.”

“It is lonely business,” Sev acknowledged. “Less filling too.”

“I think we’re both plenty hungry,” Jecia said.

Her words hung between them for a long moment, and they were quiet for the rest of the drive back to Sev’s place.

— 7:03AM | Gladecrest (Sev’s House)—

“Before this goes any further, I need you to know I won’t do casual. I refuse to be a booty call. And I don’t want to play games. I want to be in a relationship with you,” Jecia said.

They lay tangled and sweaty in the sheets of Sev’s bed. Her left ear was on his chest, and her right arm was draped over his shoulder. He decided he liked her there. But to the matter at hand:

“I can’t promise you this will last forever. We are still too new to each other for that. But I promise to take it seriously. I promise to take you seriously.”

“Don’t give me a fae answer, Sev,” Jecia chided. “Will you be my boyfriend?”

She intoxicated him. Looking back, it was hard to tell who made the first move. At first, she merely watched him cook in silence, shedding her wet jacket and letting her hair down to dry. Then he said he was thirsty, and told her to pick what they were drinking. She settled on red wine, which made him laugh, but also sounded decent enough with bacon and egg-fried rice.

Even though they went through the bottle quickly, he was plenty sober, and so was she—he had seen her drink at the Book. But they were both acting drunk. They were silly with each other. They kissed. When they would tell friends the story later, they would say that they met each other halfway, and give everyone present a toothache.

He kissed her forehead. I don’t think I could douse this chemistry if I tried. Because I have been trying. And this feels so much better.

“I will.”

“Despite the office politics?”

“We should probably try to keep it quiet to begin with,” Sev said.

“Quiet is good, but I also don’t think we should try to hide it. That implies that we have something to be ashamed of. It’s not against regulations.”

Sev had not thought of it that way. But it’s true.

“Alright,” Sev said. “Do we just tell Juel then?”

“He, uh, may have given me a little encouragement.”

“Oh really? So he’s happy to play Elthiel?” Sev chuckled.

“His exact words. Except our Elthiel has a wife and kid,” Jecia giggled, and then kissed him on the cheek. “And your Lothaine isn’t a beard.”

“Oh!” Sev backed away sharply. “You really buy into that post-modern stuff? I’m a classic romantic. I like to believe that Ashael and Lothaine were the real thing.”

“I’m a romantic too,” Jecia smiled. “But I like to give the nod to Elthiel because I feel that possibility deserves some consideration. It would have been horribly lonely for him if he was in love with Ashael. Can you imagine? Watching your soulmate proclaimed ‘the icons of true love’ with somebody else for politics and marketing?”

“Fortunately, no such worries about Juel,” Sev said.

Jecia sat up, eyes sparkling.

“I’m warning you now: that this is what I want, Sev. I don’t want to be content. I don’t need to be happy. I want a love for the ages. And I feel like—it sounds stupid—but the moment I saw your wyrd… it was like finding the key for a lock inside myself.”

Her words melted him. I want that too. And even though I barely know you… I feel like it’s possible. And if there’s a possibility for something like that… for something as mythological as true love… how can you deny it? He had been infatuated with Delle. Sparks flew. But the dynamic between him and Jecia was different. It was like resonance. Harmony.

“Anybody ever tell you that you come on strong?” Sev said.

Jecia smiled.

“Only when it comes to what I know I want.”

— 9:58 AM

Sev and Jecia resolved to sleep until noon before starting another shift. It would have been nicer to take the whole day off. But in times of crisis, Keepers had to meet a daily requirement of service hours rather than following their usual schedule. Working overtime secured bonuses, but only to a limit of four hours, at which point Amagia were supposed to take a compulsory break.

Just before ten, Sev’s symphone started ringing. It was Juel. Sev answered. Before he could say anything, Juel said:

“We have a lead on the third victim.”

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