Some cities are naturally holiday cities. London is a Christmas city. Paris is a Valentine’s Day city. And no place in the world is a Halloween city more than New Orleans.
Maybe I feel that way because my first introduction to the Big Easy happened over Halloween a few years ago. Back then I’d headed there to find my twin sister who’d been kidnapped by our psychotic grandmother, Lavinia. Now the grandmother was dead, Maisie was the leader of the underworld, and I was the leader of all the Dark Races in the corporeal world and had made the Big Easy home. Life was funny like that sometimes.
Or maybe it was that New Orleans always felt like a liminal space, where the veil between the living and the dead was gossamer thin. Often, walking down the streets of Faubourg Marigny or through one of the infamous Cities of the Dead, you could almost swear that the veil didn’t exist at all. It seemed the Big Easy, more than any other town in America, had long ago come to terms with its mortality, and its humans reveled in how close they danced with death. As an immortal, I found myself drawn to the ironic and inevitable sense of life their knowledge of death gave the city.
Yeah, a lot of people associate New Orleans with Fat Tuesday, a time of excess and gluttonous revelry. But one could argue that Mardi Gras was just one day and the celebrations leading up to it lasted a month, but every other day in New Orleans was Halloween.
Most of the Dark Races, like mages and the fae, call Halloween “Samhain,” and it was just around the corner when I returned to my beloved city after an extended trip to Europe. As the head of the Dark Races Cabinet, I had to travel whenever a major conflict broke out between the different species of non-human beings anywhere in the world. This particular trip had taken me to Scotland to mediate a problem between a community of faeries and a family of vampires who wanted to move into a sacred faery ring. After that, I’d swung through Italy and Spain for summits with various subcouncils over matters relating to everything from territory rights for the Strega covens in Rome to some new feeding laws the vampires in Barcelona wanted passed.
When I returned home on October 27, I’d been looking forward to spending time with my main squeeze, Adam Lazarus, a seriously hot mage who I’d somehow convinced to love me. Instead, I’d gotten called into a special session of the council by the heads of all the Dark Races in America.
Don’t get me wrong, uniting the Dark Races into a period of everlasting peace is great and all, but it’s also kind of…annoying. Diplomacy doesn’t exactly come naturally to me, and it’s especially difficult when I have to play mediator between a pissed-off werewolf and a stubborn fae monarch.
“Faeries don’t own the f**king Blue Ridge Mountains,” growled Michael Romulus, Alpha of the New York pack. He sat at one end of the table and Queen Maeve sat at the other, facing off like two gunslingers.
“Maybe not, but you weres shouldn’t be allowed to colonize anywhere you damned well please,” Queen Maeve shot back.
“Guys,” I said, “if you’ll stop yelling, I’m sure we can come up with some sort of mutually beneficial compromise here.” I mentally cursed my sister, Maisie, who was stuck in Irkalla dealing with a vampire ghost uprising and couldn’t come help me play mediator. We technically ruled the council together, but normally I took point on issues with the living, while she handled the drama of the dead.
“Fat chance,” Michael said. “I know how things work on this cabinet.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“It’s no secret that you’re biased toward the fae.”
I frowned at him like he’d lost his damned mind. Mike and I had had our moments in the past, but to outright accuse me of prejudice was insane. Still, I avoided the whole “we’re all equals here” speech because that wasn’t exactly true. The heads of each race may have a vote, but in the end my word was law.
“You’re out of line, Romulus. If you want your request to be taken seriously, you need to drop the bullshit.”
A muscle in his jaw tightened. “Screw this.” His chair hit the ground with a crash. He stormed away from the table and out the door. In his wake, the echo of the slammed door reverberated through the chamber.
Everyone was silent for two heartbeats. Until Queen Maeve decided to speak.
“Werewolves are so touchy.”
“Shut the hell up, Maeve,” Rhea said. As the leader of the mage Hekate Council, she didn’t have a stake in the outcome of the land rights debate, but that didn’t mean she didn’t have an opinion. “You have no good reason for refusing to allow that pack on your lands.”
The Queen’s mouth dropped open. “How dare you, mage!”
“No, Maeve, how dare you?” I said, my voice threaded with steel. “You might treat your courtiers with this type of disrespect, but I’ll be damned if I let you cause hostility on my council because your mother never taught you to share.”
“I didn’t have a mother.” Her mouth puckered. “I sprung fully formed from a peat bog.”
I rolled my eyes. “Regardless, you’ve been alive, what, four thousand years?”
“Five thousand,” she said in a haughty tone.
“Might as well be five, period,” I shot back, “because you’re acting like a child.”
If it had been spring, Queen Maeve would have looked like a child and been even more prone to tantrums than usual. But as it happened, it was autumn, which meant the monarch was in her “mother” guise. As a demigoddess, she cycled through each season of womanhood—child, maiden, mother, and crone—each year. This evening, she looked like a human female in her prime. She wore the jewel tones of autumn and her long hair was bound in a wreath of acorns and ruby leaves.
While she sputtered her outrage, I held up a hand. “The Blue Ridge Mountains are large enough for your kingdom and one small pack of werewolves, isn’t it?”
“That’s not the point,” she said. “We claimed those mountains when the Dark Races began the great migration from Europe. Just as the mages stake their claim on New York and the bloodsuckers—”
Nyx, the leader of the American vamps, and therefore one of the most politically powerful vampires in existence, took exception to the derogatory term for her race and cleared her throat.
The Queen spared the vamp an annoyed glance. “Just as the Lilim did in Los Angeles. My point is, why is it okay for our territory to be invaded by the weres when you know damned well they’d need special permission to settle in mage or vamp territory?”