Bayou Moon (The Edge #2)

by Ilona Andrews

Chapter One

WILLIAM sipped some beer from the bottle of Modelo Especial and gave the Green Arrow his hard stare. The Green Arrow, being a chunk of painted plastic, didn't rise to the challenge. The action figure remained impassive, exactly where he'd put it, leaning against the porch post of William's house. Technically it was a trailer rather than a house, William reflected, but it was a roof over his head and he wasn't one to complain.

From that vantage point, the Green Arrow had an excellent view of William's action figure army laid out on the porch, and if the superhero were inclined to offer any opinions, he would've been in a great position to do so. William shrugged. Part of him realized that talking to an action figure was bordering on insane, but he had nobody else to converse with at the moment and he needed to talk this out. The whole situation was crazy.

"The boys sent a letter," William said.

The Green Arrow said nothing.

William looked past him to where the Wood rustled just beyond his lawn. Two miles down the road, the Wood would become simply woods, regular Georgia pine and oak. But here, in the Edge, the trees grew vast, fed by magic, and the forest was old. The day had rolled into a lazy, long summer evening, and small, nameless critters, found only in the Edge, chased each other through the limbs of the ancient trees before the darkness coaxed predators from their lairs.

The Edge was an odd place, stuck between two worlds. On one side lay the Broken, with no magic but plenty of technology to compensate. And rules. And laws. And paperwork. The damn place ran on paperwork. The Broken was where he made his money nowadays, working construction.

On the other side lay the Weird, a mirror to the Broken, where magic ruled and old blueblood families held power. He was born in that world. In the Weird, he'd been an outcast, a soldier, a convict, and even a noble for a few brief weeks. But the Weird kept kicking him in the teeth the entire time, until he finally turned his back on it and left.

The Edge belonged to neither world. A perfect place for the man who fit in nowhere. That was how he first met the boys, George and Jack. They lived in the Edge, with their sister, Rose. Rose was sweet and pretty and he'd liked her. He'd liked what they had, she and the kids, a warm little family. When William watched them together, a part of him hurt deep inside. He now realized why: he'd known even then that a family like that was forever out of his reach.

Still, he'd tried with Rose. Might have had a chance, too, but then Declan showed up. Declan, a blueblood and a soldier, with his flawless manners and handsome face. "We used to be friends," William told the Green Arrow. "I did beat the shit out of him before he left."

The joke was on him, because Declan left with Rose and took the boys with him. William let them go. Jack required lots of time and care, and Declan would raise him well. And Rose needed someone like Declan. Someone who had his shit together. She had enough trouble with the boys as it was. She sure as hell didn't need another charity project, and he didn't want to be one.

It had been almost two years since they'd left. For two years William had lived in the Edge, where the trickle of magic kept the wild within him alive. He worked his job in the Broken, watched TV on weekends, drank lots of beer, collected action figures, and generally pretended that the previous twenty-six years of his life had not occurred. The Edgers, the few families who lived between the worlds like he did, kept to themselves and left him alone.

Most people from either the Broken or the Weird had no idea the other world existed, but occasionally traders passed through the Edge, traveling between worlds. Three months ago, Nick, one of the traveling traders, mentioned he was heading into the Weird, to the Southern Provinces. William put together a small box of toys on a whim and paid the man to deliver it. He didn't expect an answer. He didn't expect anything at all. The boys had Declan. They would have no interest in him.

Nick came by last night. The boys had written back.

William picked up the letter and looked at it. It was short. George's writing was perfect, with letters neatly placed. Jack's looked like a chicken had written it in the dirt. They said thank you for the action figures. George liked the Weird. He was given plenty of corpses to practice necromancy on, and he was taking rapier lessons. Jack complained that there were too many rules and that they weren't letting him hunt enough.

"That's a mistake," William told the Green Arrow. "They need to let him vent. Half of their problems would be solved if they let him have a violent outlet. The kid is a changeling and a predator. He turns into a lynx, not a fluffy bunny." He raised the letter. "Apparently he decided to prove to them that he was good enough. Jack killed himself a deer and left the bloody thing on the dining room table, because he's a cat and he thinks they're lousy hunters. According to him, it didn't go over well. He's trying to feed them, and they don't get it."

What Jack needed was some direction to channel all that energy. But William wasn't about to travel to the Weird and show up on Declan's doorstep. Hi, remember me? We were best friends once, and then I was condemned to death and your uncle adopted me, so I would kill you? You stole Rose from me? Yeah, right. All he could do was write back and send more action figures.

William pulled the box to him. He'd put in Deathstroke for George - the figure looked a bit like a pirate and George liked pirates, because his grandfather had been one. Next, William had stuck King Grayskull in for Declan. Not that Declan played with action figures - he'd had his childhood, while William spent his in Hawk's Academy, which was little more than a prison. Still, William liked to thumb his nose at him, and King Grayskull with his long blond hair looked a lot like Declan.

"So the real question here is, do we send the purple Wildcat to Jack or the black one?"

The Green Arrow expressed no opinion.

A musky scent drifted down to William. He turned around. Two small glowing eyes stared at him from under the bush on the edge of his lawn.

"You again."

The raccoon bared his small sharp teeth.

"I've warned you, stay out of my trash or I will eat you."

The little beast opened his mouth and hissed like a pissed-off cat.

"That does it."

William shrugged off his T-shirt. His jeans and underwear followed. "We're going to settle this."

The raccoon hissed again, puffing out his fur, trying to look bigger. His eyes glowed like two small coals.