Circle of Enemies: A Twenty Palaces Novel

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9780345508911: Circle of Enemies: A Twenty Palaces Novel

Former car thief Ray Lilly is now the expendable grunt of a sorcerer responsible for destroying extradimensional predators summoned to our world by power-hungry magicians. Luckily, Ray has some magic of his own, and so far it’s kept him alive. But when a friend from his former gang calls him back to his old stomping grounds in Los Angeles, Ray may have to face a threat even he can’t handle. A mysterious spell is killing Ray’s former associates, and they blame him. Worse yet, the spell was cast by Wally King, the sorcerer who first dragged Ray into the brutal world of the Twenty Palace Society. Now Ray will have to choose between the ties of the past and the responsibilities of the present, as he and the Society face not only Wally King but a bizarre new predator.

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About the Author:

Harry Connolly spent two years writing his first novel, Child of Fire. He has held a variety of jobs in the past, from customer service to landscaping to stay-at-home dad. He lives in Seattle.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

It was August in Seattle, when the city enjoyed actual sunshine and temperatures in the eighties. I’d spent the day working, which made for a nice change. I’d just finished a forty-hour temp landscaping job; dirt and dried sweat made my face and arms itch. I hated the feeling, but even worse was that I didn’t have anything lined up for next week.

As I walked up the alley to home, I passed a pair of older women standing beside a scraggly vegetable garden. One kept saying she was sweltering, sweltering, but her friend didn’t seem sympathetic. Neither was I. I was used to summers in the desert; this weather didn’t bother me.

When they noticed me, they fell silent. The unsympathetic one took her friend’s hand and led her toward the back door, keeping a wary eye on me. That didn’t bother me, either.

I stumped up the stairs to my apartment above my aunt’s garage. It was too late to call the temp agency tonight. I’d have to try them early Monday morning. Not that I had much hope. It was hard for an ex-con to find work, especially an ex-con with my name.

I’m Raymond Lilly and I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve killed.

My ancient garage-sale answering machine was blinking. I played the messages. Two were from reporters, one from a journalist-blogger, and one from a writer. They offered me the chance to tell my side of what happened in Washaway last Christmas. Except for the writer’s, I recognized all the voices--they’d called many times over the last few weeks, sometimes several times a day.

I absentmindedly rubbed the tattoos on the back of my hands. They looked like artless jail-house squiggles, but in reality they were magic spells, and I’d be behind bars without them. None of the survivors in Washaway could pick me out of a lineup, and none of the fingerprint or DNA evidence I’d left behind pointed to me any more. I was on the twisted path.

I erased the messages. There was no point in calling them back. None of them understood the meaning of the words "fuck off."

The sounds of their voices had triggered a low, buzzing anger that made me feel slightly out of control. I showered, then dropped my work clothes into the bottom of the tub, scrubbed them clean and hung them from the curtain rod. I felt much better after that.

I wiped steam from the bathroom window and looked out. My aunt had not hung a paper angel in her kitchen window. That meant I could order in a sandwich for dinner. I put on my sleeping clothes: a t-shirt and a pair of cut-off sweat pants. I could eat alone, in silence, without someone asking how I was sleeping, how I was eating, and wouldn’t things be better if I went to talk to someone?

I wouldn’t have to say, Thank you, but I can’t a half-dozen times. My aunt was right; I’d probably sleep better if I could talk about the nightmares--and what I’d done to bring them on--but I’d be bedding down in a padded room.

I opened my door to dispel the steam, even though an unlocked door felt like a gun at my back. I went to my bathroom mirror and looked carefully. Damn. I was wasting away.

A voice behind me said: "You look like shit."

I yelped and spun around. In an instant, my heart was pounding at my chest as my hand fumbled across the sink looking for something to use as a weapon.

Caramella was standing in the bathroom doorway, and I was so startled to see her that everything went still for a moment. My adrenaline eased and I could hear my harsh breath in the silence. It had been more than five years and she’d changed quite a bit. Her skin, which had once been so dark, seemed lighter, as though she spent all her time indoors, and while she still straightened her hair, now she had it up in a bun. She wore orange pants with an elastic waist band and a white halter. She’d gained some weight over the last few years and she seemed taller somehow.

But she didn’t belong here, not in Seattle. She belonged down in L.A., hanging at the Bigfoot Room with Arne, Robbie and the rest.

I almost asked her what she was doing here, but I didn’t want her to think she wasn’t welcome. In truth, I didn’t know how I felt about her. "Welcome to my bathroom," I said.

"Thanks. I hate it."

I nodded, but didn’t respond right away. Her hands were empty, although she might have stuffed a gun into the back of her waistband. Not that I could imagine why she’d want to kill me, but that was how my mind worked now.

"I’m guessing you’re not here for old times’ sake."

"We don’t have any old times, Ray." She turned and walked into the other room.
I followed her, noting that she didn’t have a weapon under her waistband. "Then why are you here?" I asked. I kept my tone as neutral as I could, although I had less self-control than I used to.

"I’m paying a debt," she said, as though it was the most bitter thing in the world. "I have to deliver a message to you. In person." She stopped beside the efficiency stove.
"Okay. Here I am."

She looked away. Her lip curled and she blinked several times. Christ, she was about to cry. "You killed me, Ray."

I gaped at her, astonished. She turned and slapped me on the shoulder. Then she did it again. That still wasn’t enough, and she slapped my face and head four or five times. I didn’t try to stop her.

Finally, she stopped on her own. Hitting me wasn’t bringing her any satisfaction. "You killed me," she said again. "And you killed Arne, and Lenard, and Ty, and all the others, too. We’re all going to die because we knew you."

"Melly, what are you talking about?"

"Sorry," she said with a wet sniffle. I looked for tears on her face, but her cheeks were dry. "That’s the message. That’s all you get."

She swung at my face again. I flinched away from the blow, but it never struck. When I opened my eyes a moment later, I was alone in the room.

I had been standing between Caramella and the door; she couldn’t have gotten around me and gotten out, not in the time it took me to flinch. I walked around the little studio anyway. She was gone--vanished in the blink of an eye.
Magic. She had magic. Damn.

My cheek and scalp were sticky where she’d slapped me, and the stickiness was starting to burn. I went into the bathroom and washed my face and head. I could feel a smear of acidic goop that was so thin I couldn’t even see it. Plain water washed it away completely. When it was gone, my skin was slightly tender, but the pain had eased.
I checked the washrag after, but it didn’t have any unusual stains or smells. I hung it over the kitchen faucet.

Back in the living room, I took my ghost knife from its hiding place on my bookshelf. It was only a piece of scrap paper, smaller than the palm of my hand, with a layer of mailing tape over it and some laminate over that. On the paper itself was a sigil I had drawn myself with a ball-point pen. It felt alive, and it felt like a part of me, too. The other magic I had, the tattoos on my chest, arms and neck, were protections that had been cast on me by someone else. The ghost knife was my spell, the only one I had.
Then I took my cell phone out of my sock drawer. After the mess in Washaway, an investigator for the Twenty Palace Society met me on the street and slipped me a phone number. They trusted me enough to give me a way to contact them, which was damned rare and I knew it.

The society was a group of sorcerers committed to one end: hunting down magic spells and the people who used them, then destroying both. They were especially determined to find summoning spells, which could call strange creatures to our world from a place referred to as, variously, the Empty Spaces or the Deeps. These creatures, called predators, could grant strange powers, if the summoner knew how to properly control them. Too often, the summoner didn’t know, and the predator got loose in the world to hunt.

I was a low-level member of that society, but except for my boss, Annalise, who had put the magical tattoos on me, I knew very little about it. How many peers were there? How many investigators? How many wooden men, besides me, did they have? Where were they based? Where did their money come from?

I had no idea and no way to find out. The Twenty Palace Society took their secrecy seriously. I hadn’t been invited to secret headquarters, hadn’t trained at a secret camp, hadn’t been given a secret handbook with an organizational flow chart at the back. When they wanted me to do something, they contacted me, and they told me as little as they could.

What I did know was this: Peers live a very long time--centuries, in some cases--and the magic they use has left them barely human. Oh, they look human enough, but they have become something else.

And they were bastards, too--ruthless killers who took a scorched earth policy when it came to predators and enemy sorcerers. As a group, they didn’t seem to care much about collateral damage.

They had their reasons. A single predator, let loose in the world, could strip it of life. I’d visited the Empty Spaces once and seen it happen. So maybe the peers were justified in their "kill a hundred to save six billion" attitude, but it was a slim consolation if your loved one was one of the hundred.

Which was why I set the cell back on the bureau. Caramella had vanished right in front of me. It was magic, yeah, but calling the Twenty Palace Society and asking Annalise to meet me in L.A. was as good as taking a hit out on Melly and everyone else I knew. Annalise would first determine who, where and how they had been touched by magic--spells didn't strike people out of the sky like lightning. Magic powers, enchantments and hungry predators were things people did to each other.

After that, Annalise would kill them all just to be safe, and I would be the one who hung a bullseye on their backs.

God, I couldn’t kill more people. Not right now.

An overwhelming weariness came over me. Too little sleep and a full day’s work in the sun had left me exhausted. I smeared peanut butter on a slice of bread and ate it with all the enthusiasm you would expect. Then I stripped off my clothes and climbed into bed. I wasn’t ready for a long trip south. I didn’t have the energy for it.

I closed my eyes and fell into a dead sleep. I dreamed of fire, and mobs of people coming at me in the darkness, and brutal violence. I woke screaming at 5:00 in the morning.
I grabbed my ready bag, my ghost knife and my cell phone. I wrote a note to my aunt explaining that I would be away for a few days. Then I went out into the summer darkness, climbed into my rusty Ford Escort and drove south.

It was a long trip and I had plenty of time to think. Too much time, really. It had surprised me when Melly had said we didn’t have old times. I’d met her when I was seventeen, still stealing cars for Arne and feeling a little cocky about it. She’d been a couple years older, and I’d tried to smooth talk her. It was the first time a woman had ever laughed at me without making me angry or ashamed. She took me under her wing, sort of, and we became friends.

Until then, I hadn’t thought men and women could really be friends--not that I’d become a man yet, no matter what I thought of myself. She had been kind to me when she didn’t have to, and she had yanked on my leash whenever I got too full of myself. I’d done things for her, too: fixed her car a dozen times, helped her move, and the one time an ex-boyfriend had threatened her, I’d broken his thumbs as an important lesson in good manners.

Never mind the times she’d lifted cash from my wallet. That’s how we lived back then. I always felt I’d never done enough to repay her for the things she’d done for me. And now she’d denied we’d had good times at all.

Maybe it should have stung more, but it didn’t. I’d spent three years in Chino, and the two years after that had been centered on the society and their work. I could barely remember how that old life felt. Caramella was like a ghost from another life come to haunt me--a life where we told each other we were brothers and sisters, but I had to sleep with my wallet in my pocket.

I drove straight through, taking twenty-three hours with meals and bathroom breaks. Most of the time I was in a trance, but as I approached the city, passing through dry brown hills wrinkled like unfolded laundry, I could feel my anxieties gathering their strength.

Then I was inside the city in the cool, dry pre-dawn, riding on an elevated highway with barriers along both sides. I could see treetops and the roofs of houses laid out around me; I was skimming above the city, and felt it beneath and around me. It gave me the same tingle I got standing outside a lion’s cage at the zoo.

I was exhausted. I pulled off the freeway into the parking lot of an IKEA, drove up to the top level and shut everything down. I collapsed in the seat and shut my eyes.
Everything was wrong. I was back in L.A., but I felt like a pod person imitation of the man I used to be. Stealing cars, getting high, spending hours on the Playstation or hitting the bag at the gym--none of that matched who I was now. Now I had bulletproof tattoos on my chest, neck, and arms. Now I had spells that obscured evidence of crimes I’d committed, plus other spells that did who knows what. Now I was a killer of men, women and children.

Sleep overtook me and I woke up around 10:30 feeling sore but without my usual parade of bad dreams. This level of the parking lot was still empty. Already sweating from the morning heat, I started the engine, filled the gas tank at a station on the corner and drove to the Bigfoot Room.

It wasn’t really called the Bigfoot Room. The latest name--which had changed several times over the dozen or so years I’d spent as a member of Arne’s crew--was the Dingaling Bar. I nearly laughed. I couldn’t imagine Arne in a bar called the Dingaling. I parked in the lot beside it and walked around to the front. The wall above the door was recessed slightly, and coated with dust. Years ago, Arne had brought a bar stool out front, climbed up and wrote Bigfoot Room in the dust with his finger.

"That’s our sign, just for us," he’d said. And while the bar had changed hands three times, no one had ever noticed his writing or tried to wash it away.

It was gone now. Someone had swiped a hand through the dust, erasing the words.
I went inside anyway. The place had been remodeled, but there were still booths in the back corner. Arne wasn’t there, and neither were Robbie, Summer, or any of the others.
A brief conversation with the bartender confirmed that he didn’t know Arne: this wasn’t the Bigfoot Room any more. I recognized the barfly sitting by the jukebox, but he didn’t recognize me. He claimed not to remember Arne, either, even though Arne had bought him drinks many times over the years. He had the flat, burned-out eyes of a mannequin.

I ordered an egg sandwich and coffee, mainly so I could use the dirty bathroom. When the bill came, I asked for a phone book. Violet Johnson’s name was in there. I paid and left.

Vi still lived in the same place in Studio City. I drove over there, feeling vaguely sick at the idea of seeing her again. Or maybe it was the egg sandwich. Melly had been like a big sister to me, but Violet was the girl I wanted for keeps. I wanted us to buy a house together, the whole deal. The three years I did in Chino were because of a punch I threw while defending her kid brother. She was also the one who dumped me just before my arraignment, and I hadn’t even heard her name since.

I had to park two blocks...

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Descripción Random House USA Inc, United States, 2011. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Original. Language: English . Brand New Book. Former car thief Ray Lilly is now the expendable grunt of a sorcerer responsible for destroying extradimensional predators summoned to our world by power-hungry magicians. Luckily, Ray has some magic of his own, and so far it s kept him alive. But when a friend from his former gang calls him back to his old stomping grounds in Los Angeles, Ray may have to face a threat even he can t handle. A mysterious spell is killing Ray s former associates, and they blame him. Worse yet, the spell was cast by Wally King, the sorcerer who first dragged Ray into the brutal world of the Twenty Palace Society. Now Ray will have to choose between the ties of the past and the responsibilities of the present, as he and the Society face not only Wally King but a bizarre new predator. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780345508911

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Descripción Random House USA Inc, United States, 2011. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Original. Language: English . Brand New Book. Former car thief Ray Lilly is now the expendable grunt of a sorcerer responsible for destroying extradimensional predators summoned to our world by power-hungry magicians. Luckily, Ray has some magic of his own, and so far it s kept him alive. But when a friend from his former gang calls him back to his old stomping grounds in Los Angeles, Ray may have to face a threat even he can t handle. A mysterious spell is killing Ray s former associates, and they blame him. Worse yet, the spell was cast by Wally King, the sorcerer who first dragged Ray into the brutal world of the Twenty Palace Society. Now Ray will have to choose between the ties of the past and the responsibilities of the present, as he and the Society face not only Wally King but a bizarre new predator. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780345508911

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Descripción Random House USA Inc, United States, 2011. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Original. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. Former car thief Ray Lilly is now the expendable grunt of a sorcerer responsible for destroying extradimensional predators summoned to our world by power-hungry magicians. Luckily, Ray has some magic of his own, and so far it s kept him alive. But when a friend from his former gang calls him back to his old stomping grounds in Los Angeles, Ray may have to face a threat even he can t handle. A mysterious spell is killing Ray s former associates, and they blame him. Worse yet, the spell was cast by Wally King, the sorcerer who first dragged Ray into the brutal world of the Twenty Palace Society. Now Ray will have to choose between the ties of the past and the responsibilities of the present, as he and the Society face not only Wally King but a bizarre new predator. Nº de ref. de la librería BTE9780345508911

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