Death Magic - By Eileen Wilks


Typically writers use this space to acknowledge the help others provided. I’m using it to offer an apology. There are inconsistencies between what we call the real world and some of the details in my fictional world that may disconcert some readers. A female president, for one. The building and security systems at the FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C., for another. There are more, but if I describe them, I’ll give away too much about the story.

What can I say? The realm Lily and Rule live in isn’t ours. For some reason, they elected a female president a couple years ago. We didn’t. The architect of the FBI building there had a slightly different plan than ours did. And they have lupi. And dragons . . .


LILY Yu was at the shooting range at FBI Headquarters when she saw the ghost.

Her ears were warm beneath the headgear. Her bare arms were chilly, with her left arm out and steady; the right one ached and trembled. She’d fired a few clips right-handed before switching, which was dumb. Should have started with the left so her bad arm wouldn’t be bitching so much. To bring her new Glock in line with her dominant eye while keeping her stance and grip neutral, she had to twist her right arm in a way that her damaged bicep objected to.

It objected to a lot of things. The humerus might be healed, the skin grown back nice and smooth over the entry wound, but the exit wound was bigger, bumpier, and dented. Lost muscle didn’t regrow.

Except that Lily’s was. Slowly, but it was returning.

A whiff of sulfur hung in the air. Sound slapped at her ears through the protective muffs as her neighbor to the right fired steadily on the other side of the divider. The fur-and-pine tickle in her gut—the reason her shattered bone had knit so quickly, the cause of her muscle’s gradual, impossible regeneration—made her feel as if she should burp.

Fifty feet away, a drift of otherness obscured the paper target she’d been putting holes in.

It was white. Maybe that’s why she immediately thought ghost. It drifted on a diagonal like three-dimensional rice paper—translucent, not transparent, its edges too clearly defined for smoke, shaped right for a human, but faceless. Even as it floated closer on a steady, nonexistent air current, it remained out of focus—four limbs and a trunk in human proportions, the details blurred like a smeared chalk-drawing.

It was coming straight at her. The quick clamp of fear stiffened Lily’s spine and widened her eyes.

As the faceless thing floated closer it stretched out one hand—and yes, that was clearly a hand. For all the vagueness of the rest of the form, that milky hand was painstakingly vivid, as if an artist had etched in every minute detail from the mound at the base of the thumb to the lines crossing the palm to the wrinkles at the joints. There was a ring on the third finger of that hand.

A gold ring. Glowing. On the left hand, palm up. Beseeching.

Lily’s heart raced and ached under the weight of a terrible pity.

The filmy shape drifted to a stop. As if it were, after all, only smoke, it began to tatter in an ethereal breeze, wisping away into nothing.


AMERICA was not a classless society.

No place was, of course. Not if that place counted humans among its residents. Humans were every bit as hierarchical as werewolves, from what Lily could tell. Just less honest about it. The official line was that the United States was a meritocracy: the talented, the dedicated, the extraordinary would rise to the top.

Maybe so, if you were willing to stipulate that money equals competence. Lily wasn’t. That tidy metric also didn’t account for another American preoccupation that fed into class: beauty. A woman who had both, she reflected as she zipped her jeans, might come across as cold because she felt isolated and wary of other women. Or she might be a stuck-up bitch.

Maybe today she’d figure out which was true of her boss’s wife. Their one encounter last spring inclined Lily toward the “bitch” summary, but it had been a very brief meeting. Maybe she was wrong. After all, Ruben had picked Deborah and stayed with her, and the woman did teach seventh grade, so . . .

“You’re sure it was a ghost?”

“Of course not.” Lily saw red for a moment—the red of the stretchy sweater she tugged over her head. Then it was down and she saw the gray