This bonus scene is narrated from Julian LeVeq’s point of view.
This scene takes place within the Billow timeline. At the beginning of the book, Julian leaves Haverleau on a secret chevalier mission to infiltrate a nix group later discovered to be Ian’s allies.
These nixes have remained a mysterious yet influential entity throughout the series. Not only did they take in Ian after the loss of his family, but they’ve also watched and helped elementals from afar in the hopes of shifting the long-held view of nixes as Aquidae sympathizers.
This first meeting between chevalier and nix illustrates an interesting counterpoint.
Julian and Holden come from entirely separate worlds, yet there is a stark symmetry between them. Both are loners and survivors in equal measure. Both see the world as grey, a place littered with bendable rules and lines meant to be crossed or erased. Both are masters of concealment. They use information as currency, obtaining it in whatever way possible – one through his physical/magical advantages, the other through cunning intelligence.
This scene inevitably contains a few minor spoilers from WHIRL and BILLOW. Curious to find out more about these nixes? Readers will officially meet Holden and the other nix characters featured here in BREAKER. 🙂
THICK AS THIEVES
The flat voice blasted out of the speaker mounted on the corner of the iron door.
“Take off your clothes.”
A familiar proposition.
But I’d expected to hear it from the girl standing in front of me, preferably while lying on a cozy rug in front of a warm fireplace.
Definitely not from a staticky male voice while standing in ankle-deep snow.
“Oh for…” Tara shook her head. “He’s the guy I told you about.”
She glared at the camera lens winking beside the megaphone. “He’s with me, Holden.”
A burst of feedback followed by an exasperated sigh. “Ain’t I told you not to use my name?”
“You told me not to use your name in public. We’re inside the perimeter and outside the damn door. Now open up. It’s freezing.”
I raised my arms and angled myself toward the lens, giving the camera a clear view of my Origin-free neck.
“What’s your name?”
“Sean McKinley,” I replied.
A few more moments of silence while Holden ran the bogus alias through the system. Gabe had set me up with an identity tied to a known nix family and a thorough backstory that should hold up under scrutiny.
My muscles tensed.
Someone who survived this long on the outskirts of elemental society was far from stupid. Haverleau better not have screwed up on this.
Static crackled over the connection. “How do I know you ain’t wired?”
“What does it matter? That jamming signal you’ve been sending out from a mile back would’ve blocked any device.”
“And before you start blaming me, no. I didn’t tell him anything.” Tara crossed her arms. “He noticed what we did to the electrical configuration.”
Only because my Virtue had already sensed the subtle change in vibrations when we entered the woods.
But it didn’t matter how I knew; all that mattered was I did.
It was simply another element of the illusion, the magic encasing me like a second skin to a skin that already fit poorly. The slight rasp of vulnerability in my voice, the mop of curly blonde hair, the wide, brown eyes, and the scrawny physique of someone subsisting only on ramen and convenience store food were this mission’s costume of choice.
All of it served one purpose.
Convince whoever was behind that camera that I was one of them, a nix seeking protection within a group.
Seconds ticked by. No static. Just a weighted silence underscored by the faint rustling of winter wind.
The sudden clang of unlocking bolts shattered the icy night. Metal ground against metal as the iron door slowly slid open.
Tucked in the woods of northern Wisconsin, the abandoned farm was cleverly located off a highway near Mill’s Ferry, a medium-sized town remarkable by virtue of its utter blandness.
The nixes had converted one of the farm’s storage facilities into their main home base.
Tara strode down the narrow corridor, the sharp click of her boots echoing off the walls. The faint scent of sweat and dust lingered in the air. Faded turquoise and red paint peeled off the walls, exposing steel bars rusted to a ruddy orange-brown. Moonlight spilled through cracked glass windows lined with wire mesh and splashed against the grime-darkened floor in grids.
Ahead, a halogen light turned on and the sudden, blinding white swallowed the world.
“You’re such an ass,” Tara muttered.
“No one asked your opinion.”
The same voice that had blasted through the speakers outside, but more subdued.
My eyes slowly adjusted. We were in the main section of the building, a large and unpartitioned rectangular room. Empty boxes, blankets, pillows, and assorted duffle bags and clothes cluttered each corner. To my right, two lumpy sofas of indistinguishable colors and a scratched up coffee table formed a makeshift seating area.
Three nixes, all male, waited for us.
The eyes always gave it away. And the gaze of the nix leaning agains the wall to my left was too sharp, too alert, against his mask of careful boredom.
He was the one in charge.
Using the lights had given him a few seconds to size me up first. Clever way to gain advantage.
A bank of monitors took up the entire back wall. Television news footage, video surveillance, and strings of code flashed across the screens.
A lanky teenager, dressed in a ratty t-shirt and faded jeans, hunched over a keyboard before the glowing monitors. Several cans of soda littered the table beside him and a long, unkempt tangle of black hair covered his face.
Tara gestured to him. “That’s Will.” Without turning my way, Will waved. “And that’s Grady.”
A skinny boy with shorn brown hair watched me. A nasty scar stretched from his right ear, across his neck, to his left shoulder.
He looked no older than twelve and when he spoke, his voice cracked slightly. “You want tea?”
He smiled, wide enough to display his missing tooth in the back.
Once he left, the last nix stepped forward.
“And that’s —“
I extended a hand. He ignored it.
The leader of this band of misfits was far younger than I’d expected. He was close to my age, if not younger. Gauntness shadowed his face and the tightness around his eyes created a look of perpetual hunger.
The shit he’d seen was etched into the flat planes and sharp angles of his face. He was a survivor.
Holden studied me a moment longer then walked over to the sofa. I accepted the silent invitation and settled on the one across him.
“Tara says you need a place to stay.”
I nodded. “Two Aquidae came into town a few days ago.”
“What’s your specialty?”
“Financial markets.” The lie easily rolled off my tongue.
“If you so good at playing the markets, why do you need our help?“
“Made a few mistakes. Trusted a few wrong sources so I’m staying off the grid for a bit.”
My gaze flickered toward Will and the monitors. On one of the screens, a series of documents opened in quick succession and the familiar letterhead jumped out at me.
Shit. They were accessing classified Haverleau files.
Holden’s voice grew quiet. “You seem real interested in our work.”
I shrugged and lazily redirected my attention back to him. “That’s the kind of equipment I need to handle trades.”
Grady brought me a mug of hot tea. Welcome warmth seeped under my skin. “Thanks, kid.”
The way his eyes lit up made me wonder if he didn’t hear that word so often. It was a feeling I understood.
Tara’s gaze caught mine and embarrassment suddenly swept over me. I placed the tea on the table and the warmth quickly faded from my hands.
The first hint of grudging respect stirred as I realized Holden hadn’t once taken his attention off me. He knew what he was doing.
“Any family?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Killed six years ago.”
His eyes narrowed slightly. “How you been surviving?”
“In and out of foster care. Took odd jobs —“
“What kinda jobs?”
I raised my brow. “Whatever I could get.”
“You ever been caught?”
“I assume you saw my file. You know I have no record.”
“Been questioned in a few white collar crimes, though.”
Thank you, Gabe.
“Cops had no proof.” I spread my hands. “So there was no crime.”
“And now you’re here.”
“Always knew it was time to move on to the next town whenever Aquidae showed up. Ended up in Mills Ferry two weeks ago.”
“Met him at the copy store in front of Ann’s burger joint,” Tara added. “He gave me the intel on our new visitors.”
Holden tilted his head. “Expect me to believe that of all the towns in this country, you just happened to show up in ours?”
“Actually, I’ve learned to not expect anything. The path to hell is paved with expectations.”
Tara’s mouth quirked into a smile. Cute girl.
Holden’s eyes narrowed. Guess he didn’t have much of a sense of humor. “How do we know those visitors ain’t looking for you? Maybe you brought ‘em here yourself.”
“You don’t know.” I paused. “But if I were working with Aquidae, why would I tell you about their arrival? I’d just lead them here and let them have their way with you. Instead, I gave you a free head’s up.”
“He needs a place to stay, Holden.” Tara’s gaze flickered to me, interest darkening her hazel eyes.
I smiled and a light flush crept up her neck.
“She’s right.” Grady piped up. His hands reflexively clenched and unclenched in his lap. “If two more Aquidae entered Mill’s Ferry, we can’t leave him out there. It’s not safe.”
Holden was in a tight spot. If he let me go, he risked the possibility I’d provide information on the group and their whereabouts to Aquidae in exchange for immunity.
If he let me stay, I risked becoming a hinderance to the group rather than a help.
“You want to hang with us?” He leaned in. “Fine. But I see you.”
“Hope so. I’m sitting in front of you.”
He didn’t find that funny. “You’re hiding something.”
I shot a pointed look at the equipment behind him. “And you’re not?”
He raised his hands. “Look, I ain’t got a problem with it. We all do what we gotta do to survive. Just sayin’ I don’t trust you.”
“What happened to honor among thieves?”
“It don’t exist.” He gestured toward one of the flashing monitors. “A thief sees through the flimsy illusion of security, the masks people wear to make them feel safe. One thief can’t fool another. There ain’t no honor in seeing the lies.”
Will suddenly swiveled on his chair to face us. “We’ve lost contact with Ian in Lyondale.”
“Who’s Ian?” I asked carefully.
“Our friend.” Excitement shot Grady’s voice up a pitch. “He’s chasing after an Aquidae and he’s real close to the sondaleur in Haverleau —“
“Shut up,” Holden snapped.
Grady flinched slightly but shot him a defiant look. “He don’t know who Ian is. Or the sondaleur.”
I shrugged, mentally thanked the kid for giving me a way out. “She’s a myth anyways.”
Just hearing that damned title brought every detail of her face to my mind. The curve of her cheek, the eyes flashing like green fire.
The longing that accompanied her image inevitably rose and I focused on suppressing it.
I’d have to find out more about this Ian.
At least Holden seemed to believe me. For now.
“If you gonna stay, then you gonna have to help out. We’re running low on currency.”
“What do you need?”
“Stock exchange in New York is opening in four hours and we got a few tips.” A hint of challenge colored his tone. “You in?”
Adrenaline hummed under my skin, easing away the icy boredom.
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