According to legend, dragons still roamed this city, imbibed with incredible magical power, furiously searching for their mates. What a load of horse shit.
The only power I could rely on was my own. My two hands. Two eyes. My brain.
Magic wasn’t real. Dragons were imaginary.
And finding a mate? The lost half of your soul, bound to you by fire?
That kind of naivete could get you killed in Requiem City.
No, my life was defined by one word. Hustle. I had no time for tall tales of magic and love.
Until I met them. The two brothers who changed my life.
With bodies sculpted by the gods themselves. Identical, twisted smiles.
And eyes that glowed like burning embers.
I would soon find out that the legends had it wrong.
Because I wasn’t about to find one lost half of my soul.
I was about to find two.
I breathed in the morning air as I perched on the ledge of an abandoned building in the skeleton quarter of Requiem City, a real honest-to-god shithole, but it was also my home—the only home I’d ever known.
This high up, the stagnant stench of the city was replaced by the scent of fresh pine needles that wafted in from the forest.
The view of the horizon was storybook perfect, straight out of a fairytale, but all it took was one glance downward to remember that the reality of my life was anything but a fairytale.
My life was struggle and suffering
My life was doing anything to make a little cheddar on the tough streets of Requiem City.
My phone started buzzing wildly, and I pulled it out from my pocket with a sense of dread—I knew exactly who it’d be.
I could smell the gold before I could see it. One of the richest men in Requiem City was sitting there among the riffraff, sipping an espresso, showing off just how fearless he was.
I recognized him immediately from the billboards. Loch Dobrzycka of the Dobrzycka fortune.
To be honest, I wished I could say he was as appalling in person as in my imagination, but the chiseled chest peeking out of his unzipped hoodie and his perfect cheekbones certainly weren’t eyesores.
There was something about his slouching manner, his free-spirited way, his annoying smirk, that piqued my curiosity.
The man had balls to be out here in the Skeleton Quarter.
But I guess if I had muscles like that, I probably wouldn’t be afraid of street gangs either.
My eyes shifted down to his expensive-looking suit pants.
I happened to know that in his pocket was a brand-spanking-new Robishaw watch he had just picked up at 900 Jewelers, a favor for his sister Adara.
Let’s just say I’d been tailing her for a while and the woman had good taste—expensive taste. So expensive that she’d only trusted her herculean brother to carry it through the~ dangerous street trash~ for her. They say nobody could pick the pockets of Loch Dobrzycka
But I wasn’t like most pickpockets. I was shorter, meaner, smarter.
And I liked to pick out my marks days in advance. Loch, for example? He’d been on my radar for a while. God, did I want to see the look on his face when he realized that he, the great God of Requiem City, had been dipped by a street rat…
That was the only downside to being a thief. You didn’t get to stick around to see ’em flip out once they’d realized they’d been fleeced.
Right now, I wanted to steal this billionaire’s watch before he knew what hit him.
No, I needed to. Or else my two best friends, Darshan and Harry, and I were going to be slaves to Dominic, the bastard, forever.
That watch was our ticket to freedom.
So I was going to give Loch Dobrzycka a little taste of the real Requiem City he claimed to know so well in his commercials.
I was the best friend of the rejects, the junkies, the fuck-ups on every corner.
I was the blood that kept the black market pumping.
I was a sixteen-year-old orphan named Madeline, and nothing in the world—not the 5-0, not the myths of “magic,” not even the one-percent Dobrzyckas could stop me.
Lucky for me, Loch didn’t pay much attention to the peasants around him. I’d use that to my advantage.
I hugged my coat close and walked briskly forward. I waited for a crowd of businessmen to swarm the sidewalk, slipped in among them, and then, pretending to look aside, carefully positioning my finger, I flicked over Loch’s cup.
To my surprise, he didn’t freak out. He just looked down coldly at the coffee trickling towards him and moved carefully aside before it could stain his designer pants.
This was my chance. I kneeled down to grab the fallen cup with one hand and then—lightning fast—slipped the other into his pocket. I felt the tiny box surrounded by tissue paper and quickly snatched it.
I didn’t know how I was so fast. It was inhuman, people told me. Even if they were looking for it, they couldn’t see it. Like I had some magic up my sleeve.
Magic? Yeah, right.
Standing up, I handed Loch the cup. “Here,” I said with an apologetic look.
He looked at me with a piercing stare. His electric green eyes were so intense, I wanted to look away. But I forced myself to keep staring defiantly into them.
“If you didn’t notice, it’s fucking empty,” he said, and his voice was low and gravelly.
I just shrugged and walked away, the watch already snuggly tucked in my bag.
Couldn’t have gone smoother if I tried.
A sudden urge to look back struck me—one I knew I was supposed to resist. But, dammit, I couldn’t help myself.
This kind of triumph deserved to be savored. Never had I gone after a mark so big and lived to tell the tale.
Chancing it, I looked over my shoulder and—
Loch was staring right at me.
For a moment, I saw a glitter of green light flare in his eyes. Almost like fire.
I quickly snapped my head back and turned the corner, making sure I was at least twenty paces away or so before I started running.
So what if he had seen me for a second?
Not like he could track me down. I knew the underbelly of this city like the back of my hand.
I’d just stolen from Loch fucking Dobrzycka~.
Nothing scared me now.
Even still, I couldn’t get his ferocious green eyes out of my head. There was something inhuman about them.
“You promise this is legit, Mads?”
I was standing in front of Dominic, the wannabe mafioso who’d been terrorizing me and my friends for years.
“You better not be fuckin’ with me.”
“On my life,” I said. “Belonged to Adara Dobrzycka herself. Even though she never got the chance to touch it. But still.”
He examined it a moment longer, looking like he might punch me just for the fun of it. As was customary when it came to Dom. Then his posture relaxed, and he laughed.
“Well fuck me, look at that,” Dominic said, throwing the watch to one of his thugs. “Has the inscription and everythin’. Y’know they say nobody can rob Loch Dobrzycka? How’d a little pipsqueak like you manage, huh?”
“Magic,” I replied, inwardly rolling my eyes. “So, Dom. We have a deal or what?”
If I could score big enough, I could get Dominic off my back for good. More importantly, off the backs of my two best friends, Darshan and Harry.
Dom had grown up with us in Greensward, a community center for underprivileged kids, and created quite the little criminal underworld there.
Even when he left, I wasn’t able to get out from under his thumb.
Dom used Darshan, who was blind, as a punching bag to keep me in line. It worked, I couldn’t stand to see Darshan hurt.
When Darshan wasn’t available to blackmail me with, Dominic bribed our headmistress/human spray-tan, Elle to make my life a living hell until I agreed to whatever he wanted.
But, fingers crossed, those days were over. This one watch was worth more than all the thieving in my whole life combined.
It has to do the trick...right?
“The deal, Dom,” I said, reminding him. “We good or not?”
He stared at me for what felt like an eternity and then sighed.
“Gonna miss havin’ the best pickpocket in town in my pocket. But yeah, Mads. You did good. Get outta here. Before I change my mind or somethin’.”
I didn’t stick around to question it.
I burst out of that shithole, hoping I’d never have to see Dom’s ugly mug ever again, so excited to spill the news to my friends.
I’d done it.
We were finally free.
“You did WHAT?!”
Darshan couldn’t believe his ears. Funny, too, considering he was blind.
“You shoulda seen it.”
“Har har, Maddie. So original.”
“You know you love me.”
We were sitting on the rundown rooftop of the center, watching the sunset, descending slowly over the distant Requiem Mountains. I’d just filled in Darshan, and he wouldn’t stop pacing.
Weirdly, I felt more relaxed now than ever.
Zen or whatever they call it.
When Harry, the “responsible one” in our trio, walked over and Darshan started to recount the story to him, I zoned out.
Looking at the mountainside, I remembered the old stories they used to tell us—how the mountains were haunted.
I knew it was ridiculous, but I’d gone on a couple school trips and, damn, if I didn’t feel something weird in those catacombs. All that stale air and the weird reverberations.
It did feel haunted. But then, nobody believed in magic anymore.
Darshan and Harry sat beside me. Poor Harry was straight-up shook.
“For the love of this city, Madeline,” he said, “what were you thinking, robbing a Dobrzycka?”
He had a point. Hael and Loch Dobrzycka were the two most powerful businessmen in the city. Only in their early twenties, the two twin brothers had risen to the top by being absolutely ruthless.
Crossing them was absolutely unheard of.
But powerful or not, nobody scared me.
“I was thinking,” I responded, “we never have to worry about Dominic again. Guys. Think about it for a second. In two months, we’re out of this wretched place. And free. Really free. I did it for us.”
At that, Harry softened. He put his arm around me. And I put mine around Darshan.
Like I said. Family.
“Madeline, we owe you,” Darshan said. “We really do.”
“But…go on. Spit it out.”
“Have you considered what the Dobrzyckas will do when they find out that an orphan from one of the community centers that Req Enterprise funds stole from them?”
“Nah,” I said casually. “One little watch? I don’t think it’s a big enough deal. Not to them.”
The sun disappeared over the horizon as we sat there in silence, dark descending fast, this new reality still sinking in.
“Someone turn a light switch off?” Darshan asked.
We laughed. He’d always had a sense of humor about his own condition. One of his many terrific qualities.
I was about to retort when another source of light caught my eye.
A giant stretch limo pulled up in front of the community center, and an equally giant man stepped out of the backseat. He looked vaguely familiar.
Oh shit. ~I would recognize those electric green eyes anywhere.
Hael Dobrzycka. Loch’s twin brother.~
He was jaw-droppingly tall and muscular, and he ran his hands through his green-tinted hair as he looked up at the roof…
Hael flashed his emerald-green eyes at me with a mysterious recognition and gave me a chilling smirk. And then he signaled for me to come down to him.
I looked over at Harry, not sure what to do. He looked straight up terrified.
I gulped. Then stood up and went over to a drainpipe by the edge of the roof.
I’m not sure what made me obey his command. I should have been running as fast as possible in the other direction.
But I wasn’t. I grabbed hold of the pipe and slid down to the ground, where I stopped to get a hold of myself. Don’t show fear. Don’t show fear.
If he was going to have me arrested, fine. But I would hold my head up on the way to prison.
I marched over to him and glared straight into his eyes. He looked even bigger up close.
He raised a massive arm and I flinched, ready for him to slap me.
But instead, he held out his hand to me.
“Hael Dobrzycka,” he introduced himself. His voice was deeper than his brother’s, but not as gravelly. It had a nice silkiness to it.
“So?” I said, trying not to sound like I was shitting my pants in fear.
He just stared at me. And then he reached forward and grabbed my hand, entirely covering it with his.
The moment I touched him, I felt a jolt of electricity fire up my arm and into the pit of my stomach. It hurt, but in a weirdly good way.
And then I felt something shift inside me. But not like I was going to be sick.
More like there was a creature inside of me who had been sleeping for a long time.
And now it was awake and ready to come out and play.