Ten hours after escaping the Shadow Game, Levi Glaisyer found his destiny slapped onto the side of a dumpster behind St. Morse Casino. Criminal Wanted Dead or Alive Accomplice in the Assassination of the Chancellor If asked, Levi would deny believing in destiny. Five years on the streets of the City of Sin had taught him that destiny and luck were for the desperate and the thickheaded. As a card dealer, he’d often encountered believers bemoaning the mirrors they’d shattered or the white cats they’d passed. They’d rub lucky coins between their fingers or kiss the shriveled remains of a rabbit’s foot, praying for divine intervention in a game that Levi had already rigged. For Levi, when the cards no longer ran in his favor, he cheated—simple as that. Luck was a mechanism to be devised, and luck and destiny were merely two sides of the same coin. Yet as he stared at the wanted poster, sirens wailing across New Reynes in search of him, he couldn’t deny that something felt inevitable about this moment. The thought made his heart pound, even with the Augustine bodyguard looming beside him. Everything in Levi’s life, all his dreams and follies and tragedies, had led to this afternoon, to this alley, to this poster, to this single flip of destiny’s coin. Dead? Or alive? Maybe he was meant for more, the feeling of inevitability whispered to him. Maybe this was his new beginning. He checked his watch. His new beginning was late.
At half past noon, the Casino District was unusually vacant. Gone were the unlucky gamblers, the slovenly drunks, the outrageous street performers, the wandering tourists. The honest and the crooked, the naïve and the wicked had all found their ways home to sleep off whiskey hangovers and mourn empty purses, leaving backwash-filled bottles and half-smoked cigars clustered in the gutters. Despite the lack of patrons, the street’s neon signs continued to flash, the ragtime music continued to hum, and the shows continued to play. No matter who you were, what you’d done, or how little you had, Tropps Street was open for your business. It was remarkably hot in New Reynes today, even for the mid-June afternoon. Levi’s bodyguard wiped the sweat collecting from his brow and aired out his reeking shirt. Levi didn’t know or trust this man. But anyone who worked for Vianca Augustine—the owner of St. Morse Casino and the donna of the notorious Augustine crime Family—knew better than to cross her.
Regardless of the three-thousand-volt bounty on Levi’s head, this man would follow Vianca’s orders and protect him. Greed always answered to fear. Again, Levi checked his watch. He’d pace if he weren’t so exhausted and achy from his collection of injuries: two broken ribs, a black eye, several bruises, and a bandaged knife wound. The City of Sin hadn’t been merciful to him these past few days. After he and Enne had escaped from the Shadow Game and returned to St. Morse, he’d managed a mere five hours of shut-eye before the bodyguard had knocked on Enne’s apartment door and informed Levi that his ride to Zula Slyk’s safe house would soon arrive. Zula owned an illegal monarchist newspaper in Olde Town and, several days prior, had been the one to coldly inform Enne that her mother was dead. If Levi had a choice, he’d never see that heartless woman again. But thanks to Vianca’s unbreakable omerta, Levi never had a choice.
Zula’s was safe. What mattered right now was moving from here to there without meeting trouble along the way. But Zula Slyk was the least of his problems. For the past two years, Levi had been running an investment scam, which was how he’d earned the enemies who’d invited him to the Shadow Game. Once the scam started to crumble, all he’d wanted was to clean it up so he could focus on his gang, the Irons. He still wanted that. To build his empire, just as he’d always dreamed. But Levi was in a predicament. The lords of the other two gangs were wanted criminals as well, but Ivory and Scavenger could count on the loyalty and protection of their associates for their safety, whereas half the Irons would probably sell Levi out simply to watch him hang. If Levi was spending all his time trapped under Zula’s watch, he’d have no shot at rebuilding his gang.
He’d broken out of one cage only to stumble into another. He tore the wanted poster from the dumpster and crumpled it in his fist. Maybe he was meant for nothing. A swanky Amberlite motorcar appeared at the mouth of the alley, painted black and matte as if coated in gunpowder. Levi ducked closer to his bodyguard. Vianca had scheduled his ride, and Vianca didn’t do inconspicuous. The car had no metallic fixtures or studded bumpers to be seen. It could be a trap. Once the car eased deeper into the alley, the driver’s window rolled down and a gloved hand beckoned Levi inside. Beside him, the bodyguard nodded for Levi to depart.
Apparently this was his scheduled ride after all. Wanted men don’t do flashy, Levi reminded himself oh, so tragically. He groaned in pain as he slid onto the plush leather of the back seat and shut the door. The motorcar lurched forward, leaving the St. Morse escort behind. Inside was utter darkness. As his eyes adjusted, he took in a shape in the seat across from him and realized, breath catching, that his private getaway wasn’t so private. He snapped the fingers of one hand, sparking a faint flame that offered a pinch of light—one of the few useful tricks his orb-making blood talent provided him. His other hand instinctively felt for his pistol. The man looked nearly forty.
A patch concealed his left eye, but there was no hiding the ugly pink scar that snaked across his brow into his receding copper hairline. His skin was fair, his gray trench coat designed by Ulani Maxirello, and his teeth whiter than a tooth-polish advertisement. “It was time we met,” the man said, as if assuming Levi already knew his identity. Levi never forgot a face, and although he’d never seen this man before, there was something familiar about him. Perhaps in the reptilian green of his remaining eye. In the sharp slant of his nose, the narrow shape of his jawline. Even if his individual features were neither unattractive nor unsettling, collectively and without explanation, his appearance made Levi’s skin crawl. Maybe this wasn’t his scheduled ride after all. “Let’s not have any trouble,” Levi warned, clicking the safety off his gun loud enough for his companion to hear. Rather than reacting to Levi’s threat, the man tossed him that day’s copy of The Crimes & The Times.
Levi’s heart skipped several beats as he examined the matching wanted posters on the front page: him and Séance, whom he knew better as Enne Salta. She’d arrived in New Reynes only ten days ago, but since then, she’d managed to earn a more noteworthy reputation than Levi had in five years. In the portrait, Enne had on the same silk mask she’d worn during the Shadow Game, obscuring all but her black lips. Her bounty is five hundred volts more than mine, he noted sourly. Still, they made quite a handsome duo on the front page. Looking at them, that same feeling of inevitability stirred inside him. For a moment, he let himself fantasize about destiny, about how his and Enne’s were intertwined, about how badly he wished to intertwine them further. He knew he shouldn’t—couldn’t. Falling for Enne held its own dangers. Levi eased his grip on the gun.
If this man was an assailant, he wouldn’t be updating Levi on today’s current events. Still, Levi didn’t let go of the weapon. Not yet. “We’ve never met, Pup, but I know your reputation,” the man started. Levi quietly seethed. He hated that nickname. It came from his split talent—his weaker talent—for sensing auras, but he hardly smelled auras like a dog, like everyone assumed. The nickname was just another way to belittle him. The North Side had always viewed him as a kid playing gangster. “I didn’t think you’d be the quiet type.
” “I’m still guessing at your name.” Still guessing at why a stranger had hijacked Levi’s getaway, if not to collect the reward. “How quickly the city’s forgotten.” The man pouted, a rather strange look for someone his age. He didn’t seem to wear his years comfortably. “But I should think you, of all people, would see the family resemblance. Why do you think it was so easy for me to intercept your car?” He inspected Levi. “I’m told you’re my mother’s favorite.” Harrison Augustine. Vianca’s estranged only child and the Augustine Family prince.
It was easy now to spot the resemblance. They carried the same serious, noble features, the same paleness that revealed the green of their veins snaking across their foreheads and necks. He even spoke like his mother, purring names as if he owned them. If he was anything like Vianca, then he couldn’t be trusted. “I know who you are now,” Levi said. “But I still don’t know why you’re here.” Harrison tapped the newspaper’s front page. “You and this Séance character, escaping the impossible Shadow Game and killing both the Chancellor and Sedric Torren in a single night. You’re the talk of the town. As soon as I heard what happened, I knew I had to meet you.
” Levi stared at the man and reflected on his words. Even without his inheritance or his mother’s empire, Harrison was powerful. The Augustine and Torren crime Families were notorious in New Reynes, and Harrison, in his eighteen years of absence, had graduated from prince to mystery. No one knew why he’d left or what he’d been doing since. Yet here he sat, claiming he needed to meet Levi, of all people. If he was after the bounty, then this seemed a roundabout way of acquiring it. But he’d made a mistake if he thought Levi had anything to offer him. Levi had nothing but the stolen clothes on his back. “They used to say this city is a game,” Harrison mused, drawing a cigar from his pocket. He offered one to Levi, but Levi shook his head.
He hated smoking. “Do they still say that?” “They do.” “Even so, New Reynes must’ve changed a lot.” Harrison lit the cigar, and the car filled with its musky odor. “A seventeen-year-old street lord. I’m impressed you’ve survived this long.” Levi stiffened, even though he was used to this sort of condescension. “I survived the Shadow Game. The Chancellor is dead—” “Yes, yes.” Harrison blew a cloud of smoke in Levi’s face, making his eyes water as he scrunched his nose and held in the urge to cough.
“And street lords who kill chancellors don’t live long. So tell me—why should I bet on you? Even though you were the one who killed the Chancellor?” Levi narrowed his eyes. Was Harrison trying to test him? “I don’t know where you got such an idea, but—” “Don’t play coy. The papers say that Séance killed him, but I know the truth. I have friends in the House of Shadows.” Yet another reason not to trust him. Maybe this was death coming for Levi after all. He kept his hand on his gun. “They’re embarrassed. Chancellor Semper, the revered Father of the Revolution, killed by some scrappy card dealer? But this Séance character… Well, she’s a more impressive villain.
” Levi’s moral compass didn’t point north past the North Side, but if it was Séance’s identity that Harrison wanted, he would never give that up. Besides, Levi felt he was an impressive enough character in his own right. “I’m sorry the wigheads feel that way,” Levi answered, unable to resist the empty boast. “I’m sure they’ll find me a formidable enemy.” “That’s what I’m hoping.” Levi’s spirits lifted at those words. No one ever saw potential in him. Right now he could barely see potential in himself. Harrison turned the page of the newspaper. SENATE CALLS FOR WAR ON THE GANGS “War is a strong word,” Levi murmured.
“It’s been said before,” Harrison replied. “And it’s why I’m here.” Before the Great Street War eighteen years ago, two street lords, Veil and Havoc, had ruled the city like kings. It was the golden age of New Reynes crime. But then the wigheads had forced the North Side to its knees, and both of the lords were hanged in Liberty Square in a spectacle of justice and judgment. Ever since then, gangs like the Irons, the Scarhands, and the Doves had attempted to replicate those empires of old. But no one had succeeded, in part because the North Side had never truly recovered from the war, or from the Revolution seven years before it. “They’ve talked about clearing out the gangs for years,” Levi said. “The Chancellor was assassinated by—as the city dubs you both—two street lords,” Harrison said. “This isn’t just talk.
It’s a promise. And the war has already begun.” Nerves quivered in Levi’s chest, and he had the urge to raise his hand to his throat to assure himself there was no noose knotted around it. New Reynes had raised him on its legends; he knew the Great Street War’s bloodbath as if he’d lived it. He scanned the rest of the article, which included the bounties not just of Levi and Séance, but the other lords and seconds, as well. It was the most informative write-up of the gangs he’d encountered since Enne’s unusual and questionable tourist guidebook. Levi grinned. His bounty was the same as Scavenger’s and Ivory’s. Even so, he had a few grievances with the article. For one, the Orphan Guild wasn’t a gang—it was an enterprise.
Second, breaking the law once hardly made Enne a criminal mastermind. And last, his title wasn’t Pup; it was the Iron Lord. To his shock, each of those named also had a wanted poster—other than Ivory, of course, as no one alive had ever glimpsed her face. Levi’s pulse hammered as he studied each of them. In comparison to their fairer features, like those of the majority in New Reynes, Levi’s brown skin stuck out. He would be easier to spot, and more at risk. Then his eyes fell on the detailed sketch of his best friend, Jac Mardlin, with his messy gray-blond hair and lazy grin. He was the only one depicted smiling. Jac was likely still sleeping on Enne’s floor where Levi had left him. Jac always knew his association with Levi would cause him trouble, but he probably had no idea his wanted posters were already plastered across the city.
Before he’d departed, Levi had shaken him awake and asked to meet with him this afternoon. He hoped Jac hadn’t ventured outside yet. The sirens were searching for him, too. “They should put these posters on trading cards.” Levi faked a laugh, trying to lighten the mood. “You’re rather cavalier about all of this.” Harrison slapped the paper. “This is a death sentence.” That, too, he said like a purr. “So was the Shadow Game,” Levi countered.
“Now tell me—why are you here?” Harrison drummed his fingers on the window ledge. On his middle finger, he wore the Augustine emerald ring, same as Vianca. “I’ve returned to destroy my mother,” he said. For the second time that morning, Levi had come face-to-face with his destiny. The sirens outside grew quieter, and the nerves knotting in his chest began to unravel. It was a second sign. Too blatant for Levi not to pay attention. A New Reynes without Vianca—that he’d risk nearly anything for. Maybe this was a new beginning after all. “You know I can’t help you.
” The omerta, an unbreakable oath Vianca had trapped him into taking, prevented Levi from hurting her. Harrison’s blood name was Augustine, which meant he’d inherited his mother’s talent for omertas, so he knew their rules better than anyone. And, of course, all of New Reynes—and certainly Harrison—knew that Levi was at Vianca’s mercy. “But you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have a plan,” Levi added. “I know my way around omertas. You can’t directly hurt her, but you can do almost anything else so long as she doesn’t expressly forbid it,” Harrison explained. “The Senate election for the New Reynes representative seat is in November. It’s one of the most influential positions in politics. Sedric Torren was the First Party’s candidate, but now that he’s been so conveniently removed, I’ll be taking his place.” Levi’s breath hitched.
It was no secret that Vianca supported the monarchist party, the First Party’s only opposition. However, despite radical measures, the monarchists had never once won an election, and they likely never would. Politics was Vianca’s crusade, and she would view Harrison’s campaign as the ultimate betrayal. “You’re certain you’ll replace Sedric?” Levi asked. The city hadn’t seen Harrison in eighteen years. He seemed like a dark horse candidate taken to a new extreme. “The new chancellor herself asked me to. You see, unlike previous years, the monarchist party has a growing amount of support—primarily here, in the North Side. Being from the North Side and with his Family’s connections, Sedric provided votes that are now crucial to whoever wins this election. So she gave me a call.
” “But you’ve been gone for years,” Levi said, furrowing his eyebrows. “What do you know about anything that’s been happening here?” Harrison leaned forward. In the darkness of the car, all Levi saw was the glow of Harrison’s cigar and the outline of his once-broken nose. Nervously, Levi wondered if he’d offended him. “That’s exactly why I need you to work for me in the North Side. I don’t have friends here anymore, but you do. We could become powerful together.” That was almost funny enough to be a joke. The whole city was after Levi. His own gang had betrayed him.
Even if the Shadow Game had given him a slight boost in reputation, he’d always been the boy in way over his head. Before Levi could correct him, Harrison said, “In return, I’ll kill my mother. It will have to be after the election, after I win. I won’t let her be hailed by the monarchist party as some sort of martyr.” Not only would Harrison see his Family’s empire destroyed, but he’d end Vianca along with it. Levi was struck speechless. “I realize, with the headlines, you’re in a tough spot,” Harrison added, “so if you do agree to help me, I’m willing to leverage my own assets to ensure you won’t need to worry about the bounty.” It was too good to be true—of course it was. And Harrison had expectations Levi would certainly fail to meet. But even with his heart racing in warning, all Levi asked was, “How?” “I know the whiteboot captain,” Harrison answered, his voice slick as a businessman’s, even as they discussed murder and war.
“He can be convinced to ignore Iron Territory, if given enough voltage. I’ll purchase local property to make it seem like my interests in Olde Town are purely financial. It should provide you some safety. But while I pay him off, you’ll still need to do your own work increasing your personal protection. You might be safe from the whiteboots, but you’ll be vulnerable to betrayal. I hear you know a thing or two about that.” Harrison Augustine hears a lot of things. He was referring to Chez Phillips, Levi’s previous third in the Irons. A few days ago, Chez had turned the Irons against Levi and challenged him for lordship—nearly killing him. In the end, Levi had overpowered him, but he’d gone further than he’d meant to.
Chez would bear those scars for life, and he’d never be back. If Harrison knew about Chez, then he knew Levi’s friends were few. Yet still he saw potential in him. It made Levi want to prove him right. Harrison rolled down the window to let out the smoke building in the back seat. The noise of sirens filled the car, but Levi stayed focused on Harrison’s words. “Visit the Catacombs. Ask for Narinder Basra. He’s on the Street of the Holy Tombs in Olde Town, and he’s well connected. He’ll find you a replacement for your third.
Maybe even a new reputation.” Hesitance pinched the back of Levi’s mind. This was too simple. If Harrison was offering him the world, then what would Levi need to sacrifice in return? “You’ve thought of everything. This would solve all my problems,” Levi conceded. “So what would you have me do for you?” “I’m nervous that any violence between the North and South Sides will only fuel the monarchist cause. They believe the First Party has taken advantage of the system to keep themselves in power, to keep the North Side weak. I’m not sure either of us can stop the conflict from escalating, but what I need is information. You were friends with Eight Fingers—become friends with the other lords. I need to know about everyone who matters in the North Side.
I want to know the plans before they happen.” Though it was true Levi had been friends with Reymond—Eight Fingers, the previous lord of the Scarhands—he had no reason to be friends with the other lords. Despite what The Crimes & The Times reported, Levi barely was a lord anymore. And if he was going to cultivate any relationship or influence with them, at the very least he needed to have the Irons back. The Irons might have betrayed him, but they were the slickest, most cunning tricksters in the city, and Levi had spent years scouting his gangsters and building their clientele. He wouldn’t turn his back on them yet. But regaining their trust would mean taking deadly risks, rising up when he should be lying low. Even with the protection Harrison offered, it was a dangerous gamble. It was lucky for Harrison that what Levi wanted, more than anything, was to have the Irons back. Lucky for Harrison that Levi was a gambling man.
“That could be arranged,” Levi said. Even as he tried to keep his voice steady and professional, his own excitement betrayed him. This was truly an offer he couldn’t refuse. Harrison smiled. “I like your confidence.” “It won’t be easy,” Levi admitted. “But it can be done.” “There’s one job in particular, though, that my entire plan absolutely hinges upon. What Sedric Torren was providing that I cannot,” Harrison continued, and Levi leaned closer. “The gangs might have monopolies on certain crimes, but the Augustine and Torren Families control almost the entirety of the North Side.
If they don’t directly employ someone, they own their building. They provided them a loan. They did them a favor. With the monarchist support growing, the votes that Sedric would have provided for the First Party are pivotal to the whole election. Without them, as things stand now, I would lose by a landslide.” Levi’s eyes widened. He always thought the monarchists were a radical minority. He had no idea they wielded that much power. Maybe he should’ve paid more attention to Vianca’s political lectures. “It seems Chancellor Fenice should’ve just tapped Sedric’s Family successor, then, rather than you,” Levi said.
“That’s true, but the Torren Family is likely to be without a don for a long time—maybe months. Neither Charles nor Delia—Sedric’s cousins, brother and sister and equally bloodthirsty—will relinquish their claim without a fight. I could help one of them win, but I can’t ensure it. So I need to know who to sponsor. I need the next don of the Family to be in my debt, otherwise my election and your freedom are off the table.” “You’re asking me to call the winner,” Levi said slowly. “I don’t have the means to do that. I still owe the Torren Family ten thousand volts that I have no intention or ability to repay. I can’t give you more than fifty-fifty odds.” “Well, it wouldn’t be you.
You’ll send someone inside the Torren empire, someone you trust.” Levi could count the number of people he trusted on two fingers: Enne and Jac. Vianca was certainly already concocting her own plans for Enne as Séance. Which left Jac. Levi’s stomach churned. There was no way he could send his best friend, barely two years clean, into the very narcotics empire that had nearly destroyed him. Levi couldn’t manage even a smile of false confidence. “Surely you have someone you trust?” “I don’t want this traced back to me,” Harrison answered. “The monarchists—somewhat correctly —believe the First Party is corrupt. The other advantage I offer as a candidate is my blank slate.
I might be able to bribe some whiteboots for what appear to be business ventures, but I can’t be caught rigging power struggles in crime Families or making deals with the person who killed the Chancellor, can I?” His smile looked uncomfortably wide. Levi took a deep breath and swallowed his nausea. He knew what Jac would say, of course. That Harrison was too great of an opportunity to lose. That Levi always had too little faith in him. That Jac was ready for it. Levi wasn’t so sure. “These are my terms,” Harrison told him. “Will you accept?” “Can I think on it?” Even if this opportunity meant everything and then some to Levi, it meant asking a lot of Jac—Levi needed to speak to him first. “There’s no time for that.
I have campaign strategy meetings in a few hours. I need your decision now.” The car was coming to a stop. Harrison flicked what remained of his cigar out the window. What Harrison was offering Levi was invaluable. A chance to escape Vianca. A level of protection while Levi built his empire. An opportunity to ally with power instead of merely playing with it. Harrison was offering Levi his destiny.