so much, I may snap and take it out on your childhood crush. Stop, and he might outlive his usefulness. Nothing to keep me from killing him…or making him wish he was dead.”

I was clenching my jaw so tight my teeth ached.

“But, no. I’m not entirely without needs of my own, so I think I’ll fuck him first.” She tilted her head, and her pretty smile widened. “I’ll make sure those listening devices are working properly so you can get off too.”

I reached for her with a speed that still surprised me. Regan yelped, whirling and dodging as her glyph smoked hot on her chest, the realization she’d pushed too far stark on her face.

My face, I corrected mentally, and plowed a fist into it.

We were two opposing agents in our prime, and the fight was evenly matched, though it’d be a blur to mortal eyes, which is why the woman entering the restroom didn’t register our presence until a stool crashed through the wall behind her, imbedded there like an oversized thumbtack. She also had to be severely inebriated. She stood in place, staring at the stool as the whistling and howling of wind-our blows and battle cries in flight-accompanied a blur of motion so fast, it was like a dust devil had landed inside. I rushed Regan, continuing forward when I should’ve stopped, launching up her body like it was a climbing wall to send a knee flying into her skull. She face- planted into the mirror she’d been sneering into only moments before, which gave me time to reach the mortal’s side, gently pick her up, and deposit her back outside the restroom. Regan wouldn’t hesitate to use her life as leverage, and I couldn’t give the bitch an opportunity to harm anyone else.

“Keep guard,” I told the woman, and waited for her dazed nod before the door swung shut. I turned around…

And had my stomach caved in by a driving skull. My ribs wrapped around my spine and the door splintered behind me so the yelp from the other side seeped through the cracks, but I was too busy learning to breathe again to worry about spillover into the mortal world. I was also pretty concerned about the ice pick arching toward the large artery in my neck.

“Fuck,” I breathed, my glyph lighting in response to her conduit. Regan smiled.

Leaving my aching ribs exposed, I crisscrossed my arms against her weapon hand, and paid for it with a knee in my gut. My breath whooshed from me again, but I latched on to lift her wrists, reared back, and head-butted her. Twice.

Her arms went slack, my fingers scrambled; her hands wobbled, mine tightened, and the ice pick popped into the air like a champagne cork. One final swipe on my part sent it skittering across the sitting room and under the line of stalls. We both growled snaking sounds of fury and frustration, and redirected our assault.

An admittedly lucky left jab had Regan backpedaling, and I was back on her in two strides, a low kick connecting with her thigh, causing the muscles to contract in the mother of all charley horses. It was a tide-turning injury, and we both knew it. Regan’s retreat was so fast, she looked like a spider scuttling away on too few limbs. I was just as fast, and had her…until sound erupted like a flash flood, waves of it careening over us both. We doubled over where we stood, hands pressed to the sides of our heads in a humorless parody of Munch’s The Scream.

I tried to focus on Regan, but the narrow canals of my ears were closing up on me, like the cabin of a plane suddenly losing pressure. I cried out in pain, in silence, knowing what this was. This was stark elemental chaos, atoms and molecules compressed beyond anything this reality could hold, and the explosion of sound was as magnificent as an asteroid collision in space.

Except this sound wasn’t set to a frequency in a galaxy far, far away. It was in a Las Vegas bathroom, next to me, all around me. In me. Someone-someone strong-was fucking with the vibration of matter.

I tensed in anticipation of the final concussion. Paranormal turmoil operated on a different wavelength than normal matter, its pulse detectable only by those equipped to hear it. So it was a good thing no one entered the bathroom just then, because Regan and I would have looked mighty strange writhing in the perceived silence. But instead of winnowing away like regular sound waves, the tremor swelled, similar to the bubbles blooming over the heads of comic book characters, and not by coincidence. Those who were supernatural could sense the forming of that bubble, the crest between the waves making up the vibration, the enormous size of its pressurized core.

And this was a big motherfucker.

A high-pitched whine wheeled through the air, refusing to be absorbed before oxygen dropped from the room, the city, and then the earth. Then the accompanying pop ruptured the void, ricocheting off my eardrums like a puncturing jab, and the collapsing vacuum ate my scream.

There was nothing but a low-grade buzzing for a good thirty seconds. I used the blissful silence to regain my equilibrium, trusting Regan was doing the same. My hearing returned on a single note, like the pluck of an untuned guitar string, and marked the ebb of the invisible tsunami of sound. It receded degree by degree, and when it was finally gone, Regan and I both straightened. Breathing hard, staring at each other across a distance of no more than a jab, we inhaled deeply.

The air was chalky and static, and sapped the moisture from my tongue as I tried to taste the highs and furrows created on the shocked air. Scent was equally obliterated, at least for a few seconds more, and then a sour putridity crept into the room. Regan’s tensed shoulders dropped, and she found her smile again.

“What? Did you think we’d never fight back?”

The statement, and the stench, made it clear one of Regan’s allies had done this. Somehow he, she, or they had punched a hole through the plane between realities, and it was my job-mine and my troop’s-to fix it before the human element noticed. However, that wasn’t what had my response catching in my throat.

It was clear from her words that Regan thought the recent series of vibrational outbursts had been caused by the agents of Light. They hadn’t-and we hadn’t been able to detect a source on the damaged air-but I wasn’t about to tell her that. And I needed to go. This explosion was bigger than anything Regan threatened to make.

“No more bombs,” I told her. “Or I’ll send you to a place where hellfire feels like a spa treatment.”

“And I’ll bring Ben along as my cabana boy.”

She surprised me then by retrieving her conduit and leaving first, without another word, but as I surveyed the shattered mirrors, the upended furniture, and the holes in the walls and door, my eyes fell on something tiny and girly and black. I picked up her compact, flipping it in my palm before pocketing it.

Then I left to find out what exactly was ripping at the fabric of our world.


I was surprised, though I suppose I shouldn’t have been, to see the man as soon as I exited the bar. He was leaning against my black Porsche, dark eyes trained on me, and I sighed as I picked my way around the weeds and broken beer bottles scarring the dilapidated parking lot, gravel making little popping noises under my feet. Hunter Lorenzo, weapons master and fellow member of Zodiac troop 175, waited unmoving.

He normally wore tinted glasses when out about town, but had removed them in deference to the night. His hair was growing out-it was about the same length as Ben’s now-but he sported a five o’clock shadow, which meant, though it was Wednesday, it was his weekend free from his cover job in security at the Valhalla Casino. Though not overly groomed, he was impossibly good-looking, and if you didn’t know him, you might think he spent an hour in front of the mirror each morning.

Not that I should talk.

Not the same, I told myself as I flipped a curl over my shoulder. This silicone and self-tan and impossible blondeness hadn’t been my choice of urban camouflage. My sister’s appearance had been forced upon me.

“How long have you been here?” I asked as I came to a stop in front of him.

“Almost as long as you.”

I crossed my arms, looking up at him. “I almost got my ass kicked back there. Why didn’t you come in?”

He quirked one dark brow. “Because I don’t drink watered-down beer or date horses.”

I tilted my head. “You mean you ceased to have my back against one Shadow warrior-”

“And a bar full of twenty-first-century wannabe wranglers.”

“-just because you didn’t think you fit in?”

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