Before Maisie had lost her mind, the paintings had a sort of Chagall dreaminess to them—lots of swirling colors and fantastical images. But now, every canvas I saw looked like evidence one might gather for a commitment hearing. Monstrous forms with sharp teeth and claws. Daggers and guns and other weapons. Lots of red slashing through every picture like blood spatter at a crime scene. No wonder Maisie hadn’t allowed anyone in the room. One look at these canvases and there’d have been little doubt my sister had completely lost her fragile grip on sanity.
A small canvas near the window caught my eye. I frowned and approached it, my palms sweaty. Giguhl came up next to me, his claw on my arm, as if the contact would protect both of us from whatever dark magic waited on the canvas.
The image was about the size of a hardback book. It took my eyes a moment to adjust to the odd technique Maisie had used to render the image. From far away, the shapes came together to form something resembling a male face. The features seemed to be carelessly tossed across the bone structure, leaving individual elements to lie in unorthodox spots. The nose, for example, appeared where an ear should be. The eyes and mouth were reversed.
I moved closer and noticed that in addition to the decidedly Picassoesque composition, the image was composed of thousands of tiny dots. I wracked my brain for the art term for the technique. Pointillism? Yes, only creepier than any Seurat I’d ever seen. In the eyes, the dots of blue and yellow butted against each other so that when you backed up they combined to form vibrant green.
Despite the unorthodox composition that fractured the features, the green eyes and the thousands of bloodred dots that formed the hair told me whose face this was.
But it was a detail higher up on the image that made clammy fear spread across my skin. On top of Cain’s head, Maisie had painted two large, red antlers.
I looked up slowly, my heart thudding in my chest. “It’s Cain.”
Rhea frowned. “How do you know that?”
“He’s visited me in my dreams, remember?” Pointing a finger to the horns, I said, “Just as I suspect he’s visited Maisie’s.”
Rhea frowned and came in for a closer look. “Cain is the white stag?”
I started to respond, but another grouping of canvases across the room caught my eyes. “Shit,” I breathed. Raising a hand, I pointed them out to Rhea and Giguhl. It appeared my sister was building herself quite the themed art show. The title of these particular images might be something like Murder: A Retrospective.
They were all there. The human’s broken body hanging out of the garbage. The mage suspended from hooks like a side of beef. The twin to the glove we’d found at the Vein crime scene was pinned to the canvas’s upper corner.
But it was the last piece of art that made bile rise. It was a triptych. On the left, Orpheus bent over the table in a puddle of black. On the right, Tanith exploding like a supernova. And in the center…
I wiped the sting from my eyes and forced myself to look at it. Really look. Because in the center, my twin had painted Adam. His golden head hung low over his chest, but there was no mistaking the Hekate’s Wheel just under his navel. Worse, his body was strung up and covered in angry red slashes and bite marks.
“Gods, Sabina,” Giguhl said. “We’ve got to find him.”
“If it’s not already too late,” Rhea said in a dead tone.
“It’s not too late. We’ll find him.” But tears sprung to my eyes even as the denial burst from my lips.
In the next instant, magic rippled through the room. I ducked down, prepared for attack. Giguhl and Rhea put their backs to mine, forming a defensive circle. But no blows—magical or mundane—came at us.
Instead, a female voice began humming from somewhere across the room. My gut went cold. The sound seemed to come from behind a massive canvas. The position of the easel it rested on blocked our view of the person standing behind it. But I knew it was her.
My sister had finally decided to join the party.
“Maisie?” The humming continued as if I hadn’t called out.
I flagged down Giguhl and pointed for him to approach from one side while I would take the other. To Rhea, I held out a palm, telling her to stay put.
“Maze?” With careful steps, I picked my way across the floor, past the bodies of the four dead mages, and toward the right-hand side of the canvas. When I came around it, I gasped.
Maisie was nude. Her right hand gripped a large paintbrush soaked with crimson, which she methodically scraped back and forth across the painting. More red—paint or blood?—streaked like wounds across her torso.
To distract myself from the panic rising like vomit in my throat, I looked up at the image she was defacing. The painting was one of the few left over from Maisie’s pre-trauma days. She’d originally shown it to me just after my vision quest. The one where I found out I was a Chthonic.
The image showed a female that Maisie claimed was me flying through the night above a garden. The painting was supposed to prove I was the prophesized “New Lilith” who would unite all the dark races. Rhea believed that our victory in New Orleans, where members of all the dark races fought with me to defeat Lavinia and the Caste of Nod, was proof of that prophecy but I still wasn’t convinced. After all, tonight’s drama had thoroughly destroyed any chance at peace.
“Maisie, honey?” I said, taking a cautious step toward her. Her eyes stayed on her task; her mouth continued to hum. “What are you doing?”
“Adam?” Rhea called, her voice panicked.
“Adam isn’t invited to this party,” Maisie said in a voice that chilled me to my marrow. If monotone can sound evil, this did. “He’s been a bad boy.”
My heart thumped like a fist against a door. “What did you do to him?”
The brush went back and forth, back and forth. “He needed to be punished for touching what belongs to another,” she said in the same dead tone. “It’s part of the plan.”
My mouth went dry with fear. “If you hurt him, I’ll—”
“Shh,” she said. “It’s the plan.” Back. Forth. Back. Forth. Faster now, harder. “He said I had to follow the plan.”
“Who did?” But I already knew.
“He who kills to get gain.”
“Maisie? Look at me.” Her eyes stayed glued to the canvas. Now her restless side-to-side brushstrokes were harder, bowing the canvas in on itself. “Did you kill Orpheus and Tanith?”
The brush stilled. Her breathing went shallow until she was panting. Her body began rocking back and forth now. She lifted the brush like a dagger. With a hard downward stroke, she stabbed the brush into the female figure flying through the night sky. Her arm reared back and stabbed again, again, again. Each thrust stronger than the last until, finally, the brush broke through the canvas with a loud rip.
But still, the hand stabbed. Still, my twin rocked. Still, she panted like an animal.
I leapt at her, grabbing her wrist in a punishing grip and forcing her to stop. “Stop,” I said, my voice cracking. “Please stop, Maisie.”
As she fought me, my sister looked up at me with dark, haunted eyes. When she spoke, her voice was no longer her own. It was deeper, echoed, sinister. “Maisie’s not here anymore.”
Magic slammed through the room. It sizzled past my skin, followed by a hot wind. Maisie’s body collapsed in my arms like someone had flipped her off switch.
I looked up, trying to figure out what the hell had happened. Rhea stood just on the other side of the canvas. She rubbed her hands together, as if to release excess energy. Her expression was as solemn as a dirge.
“Thanks,” I said quietly.
I was so scared I wanted to vomit. Scared for Maisie. Scared for Adam. Scared for all of us. Whatever magic Cain had woven around my sister’s fragile mind was blacker than midnight. I could feel it on her skin. Smell it in the sour sweat coating her body. Hear it echoing in the words she’d spoken.
I looked up and met Giguhl’s eyes over Maisie’s head. He looked as terrified as I felt. “Find Adam. He’s probably close.”
While Giguhl started stalking the room, I juggled Maisie’s weight in my arms. “How long will she be out?” I asked Rhea.
“She’ll sleep until I release the spell. But we have to hurry. She’ll enter the Liminal soon,” she said, her tone brisk and efficient. “Let’s find my nephew.”
I gently laid Maisie’s body on the floor. She didn’t stir, but underneath her lids, her pupils moved restlessly like she was dreaming.
From across the room, Giguhl cursed. “Guys! Something’s behind this door.” He pointed to a wooden panel set into the far wall. Another large canvas partially blocked the door, but I knew it was just a supply closet. One large enough to hide a body.
The thought made the blood in my veins freeze into ice floes. But if Giguhl had heard something moving, then that meant there was a chance Adam was alive.
“Open it,” I said.
Gods, please let him be okay.
“Adam?” he called. He pushed the canvas out of the way, tearing it in the process. Giguhl threw the door open. Light flooded the closet. The beam of light illuminated Adam’s back. He didn’t move.
“No!” I screamed, running so fast the breeze blew my hair back. “Adam!”
Just like in Maisie’s painting, Adam’s hands were bound to a low-hanging rafter. His head hung down, the muscles of his neck straining. The upper half of his chiton drooped around his waist, exposing his broad back. Red slashes ravaged his skin.
“Giguhl, help me get him down.”
I wrapped my arms around Adam’s midsection, easing his weight off the floor. The demon slashed the ropes binding his wrists. The mancy’s body collapsed into my arms. I lowered him carefully to the floor, laying him on his side to prevent hurting the wounds on his back. He lay still with his eyes closed.
Rhea rushed forward, her face pale. She set the bag she’d filled with supplies next to us. Despite her obvious fear for her nephew, her movements were economical and swift. She removed a vial from the bag, popped the cork, and waved it under his nose. The ammonia scent of hartshorn filled the small room.