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Thing two: the raw, golden magic filtering off the stranger curled up in the window seat, like heat from a miniature sun. It carried the same intricate, golden threads of magic that twined through his veins. Her hands balled into fists to hide their sudden tremor. The ’s noisy, guiding flight at least spared Isabel the need to hang on to Elias’ arm for direction, which probably relieved him even more than it relieved her. That she needed assistance getting around rankled less than it used to, but it still rankled. You may be immortal, but I doubt you want a second curse on your head. “You can ask as many questions as you’d like, once I finish explaining the rules beneath my roof. Besides, interfering with someone who’s cooking is just plain rude.” Pinky finger. Do not refer to any of my magic as ‘exotic,’ ‘enlightened,’ or gods forbid, ‘Oriental.’ I really lay a second curse on your head. If anything scares you, hurts you, or just plain makes you uncomfortable, you tell me, understand? I can’t promise to fix whatever’s wrong with you, but I can promise not to do anything truly against your will. I’m a witch, not a mind reader.” “I understand.” “Good. ” Embarrassed hesitation hitched back his voice for just a second, before the question catapulted off his tongue all at once: “Why haven’t you looked at me this entire time? Not as magically potent as meat fresh from the butcher, but it would do, for now. Skepticism rolled off Elias in waves, as Isabel pulled the tray from the oven. I’ve tried magicking food so I could eat it, but it’s never worked.” “Oh? “Your pretty, standardized English magic doesn’t mean shit in Montreal. How many bilinguals, or trilinguals, or straight-up polyglots? Because he didn’t actually have to keep breathing to stay alive. Isabel had reasons to like and dislike that Pâtisserie Chang shared a wall with L’Auberge Dubois, and most of them came down to the Dubois’ proprietress. Isabel dropped to her knees at the window seat, entranced. If he didn’t work in enchanted music or spoken incantations, Isabel would positively weep at the waste. “Crisse de câlisse de ,” said Isabel, reaching for the stranger’s wrists with careful, clinical hands. How do you do anything in this day and age without being able to write? That’s just about the only thing I feel, and I can’t do anything to stop it. The longer I live, the further away the rest of the world falls – and the less I remember about who I was before the curse.” He swallowed. And people who do touch me…” The sharp syllables dulled. “I’m not sure you can appreciate how little I want to touch a situation like this one.” “Isabel, come on! She ignored him, with some effort, and held up her hands in what she hoped looked like a placating gesture. You seem like a nice enough guy, but unlike my brother, I’ve got a healthy sense of self-preservation. Curse breaking isn’t fun, least of all for the object of the curse, and while some discomfort can’t be avoided, I’d rather avoid doing you unnecessary harm. She thawed the pork with a careless wave of her hand. More like that in-between shade that looks gold under the sun.” Like his magic, then. “I don’t know, it’s grown out, so it’s a little curly at the ends? Do you know –” Isabel waved off his awkwardness with a sticky spoon. Alive, as if that was the right word for someone who walked and talked and brooded with no heartbeat in his chest. The lady in question didn’t do house calls or appointments – not even for Pâtisserie Chang’s second-best cook – which meant another train ride downtown.

The oil boiling its displeasure at Isabel nearly got the best of her when Dominic waltzed through the door. “Is there a reason you’re attempting to set yourself on fire?

Like a witch in a fairytale, she’d leaned over the Dutch oven, heat blasting her skin. ” Dominic kicked off his shoes and loped over to the stove. ” Isabel flicked confectioner’s sugar off her fingers. “Am I but a pack mule to you, my precious elder sibling, ? ” Jaded amusement warred with pure delight in Dom’s voice. ” “Hipster,” accused Isabel around another mouthful of beignet. They’re sensible.” “You gave him an extra leg,” Dom observed. Is that an obscure Edgar Allan Poe thing I don’t get? Began again, in the small, steady voice of a confessor: “Sometimes, I wish I could be mortal for you, Isabel.” And there it was.

The oil perked up at this suggestion, and began clambering at the edges of the enormous pot. “ is my own stomach.” She held her free, comparatively sugar-free palm out to Dominic, fingers waggling. ” “Yes,” said Isabel, and merciless, added, “Also, you speak Chinese like a white boy.” “My own heart! Something exploded over the rim of the Dutch oven in a flurry of feathers and offended croaks. ” “No, it’s a thing you don’t get, you culture-deficit ingrate. Inside the stinging cocoon of the blizzard, eyelids clenched tight against the cold, Isabel reached for memory: Maman’s old, checkered tablecloth. Isabel blinked hot, sightless eyes, and said nothing. ” “Blood is thick,” said Elias, simple, quiet, speaking words filled to the brim with a hundred different meanings. Two long, shuddering gasps, echoing one another, followed a staggering of footsteps, heavy and human and exhausted. “Mum and Dad,” said Elias, from beside Isabel, his hand still caught in hers.

Isabel ducked its attack with the ease of long practice, then snatched half a fist of dough from the mixing bowl behind her. ” She kneaded willpower into the little ball with her flour-caked fingers. Isabel grabbed a pair of tongs and rescued her creation before her fickle friend could change its mind again. ” “You know it’s true.” She waggled her fingers harder. Did you pay no attention at all to Maman’s lessons when we were kids? ” “Just so…” The raven croaked its reproach and landed on top of Isabel’s hair, nesting happily in the hairpin-filled – and no doubt flour-dusted – expanse of her updo. Birds of the sun, according to proper Chinese lore.” “Yes, well, Horrible is going to gobble up your pretty three-legged sun bird and cast us all into eternal night.” “Horrible is a lazy coward currently hiding in my bathroom because he’s afraid of the noises the kitchen makes,” Isabel pointed out, dry as the flour caking her apron. Elias’ golden-voiced tongue, dripping her own words. The glint of the afternoon sun against a kitchen knife. ” “Because,” croaked Isabel, “as satisfying as killing the bastards would feel for about five seconds, it would feel immediately fucking terrible within the same hour.” Her father’s regard hung heavy on her. “You don’t anymore.” “No.” “I think I understand why,” mused Zao Jun. You are, in the end, quite inextricably human.” “Thanks, Dad,” said Isabel, very dryly. But the kitchen god was already moving on, casting his regard toward Elias now. Real magic drifted behind that voice now, pulsing like the steady, spell-made heartbeat of the three-legged raven Isabel had pulled from her kitchen flames. Elias spoke again: “For my family, I can think of a fate better deserved than death.” Zao Jun laughed, long and hard. Gold filled the inside of Isabel’s head, magic and magic and magic. His slow, steady pulse thrummed through her fingertips. ” Confectioner’s sugar smeared from his wrist across Isabel’s thumb as they reached for the same donut.

Elias, why don’t you take a break and spend some time with Dom while he’s here? Dom can bring you back come evening, before the sun sets.” “But –” “You’ll be better off with Dom for the time being,” Isabel barreled on. ” Blessed, beautiful Dom – able to read between lines, think around corners, and interpret his sister’s bullshit – must have nodded, and possibly more, because Angelique gave another throaty laugh, sounding satisfied. ” Dom’s voice hung in the air, reliably replete with flirtatious intention. “Friendship is good for reconnecting with humanity, right? Isabel rasped a small, surprised laugh, squeezing back. And now, I’m going to need to call on some of that pretty sunlit magic of yours.” He nodded against her shoulder, and something loosened inside him, as he drew a deep, shuddering breath. “The monsters, the monsters, it all comes back to the monsters.” “I didn’t mean to fall asleep in your bed –” “I don’t know why it took me so long to think of –” “I hope that wasn’t inappropriate –” “It’s the most obvious thing – hang on, what?

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