By Luke Arnold
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In a city that lost its magic, an angel falls in a downtown street. His wings are feathered, whole—undeniably magical—the man clearly flew, because he left one hell of a mess when he plummeted into the sidewalk.
But what sent him up? What brought him down? And will the answers help Fetch bring the magic back for good?
Working alongside necromancers, genies, and shadowy secret societies, through the wildest forests and dingiest dive bars, this case will leave its mark on Fetch's body, his soul, and the fate of the world.
Praise for the Fetch Phillips novels:
"Superb… With a lead who would be at home in the pages of a Raymond Chandler or James Ellory novel and a nicely twisty plot, this installment makes a strong case for Arnold's series to enjoy a long run." ―Publishers Weekly
"Arnold's universe has everything, including the angst of being human. The perfect story for adult fantasy fans—a tough PI and a murder mystery wrapped around the mysticism of Hogwarts, sprinkled with faerie dust." ―Library Journal (starred review)
Fetch Phillips Novels
The Last Smile in Sunder City
Dead Man in a Ditch
One Foot in the Fade
Get the fuck up, Fetch.
Get your ass out of bed and go fix the fucking world.
That’s what you said you were going to do, right? Isn’t that why you killed him?
So, get to work. Bring the magic back, you stupid bastard. Do some good like you said you would and get your ass out of the goddamn bed!
Down on ground level, metal rapped against metal, and the sound resounded all the way up to the fifth floor. It was a pewter mug striking the outside stairs: Georgio’s way of getting my attention without paying the price of a phone call.
Wiping the residual nightmares from my eyes, I dragged myself out of the sheets and over to the Angel door. The key was in the lock. I turned it and stepped out onto the fire escape; these metal monstrosities had been bolted to the front of every building on Main Street courtesy of the Niles Company and their city-wide redesign of Sunder City.
Every day she looked a little different. It wasn’t just the new paint or the neon signs. Not only the asphalt roads made to accommodate the multiplying automobiles, or the identical uniforms that strangled every filthy factory worker, blending them all together in an amorphous mix of grease, beer and obedience. It was more than the assembly-line firearms that dangled from the hips of cops, criminals and anyone who could afford them.
Her soul had shifted. Her smells and sounds. The way she moved. With every bite the Niles Company took from Sunder, the memory of her magic-filled glory days became harder to hold onto.
I stomped down every step, waiting for the day when I’d finally break through.
The silver-haired café owner waited on the street with his ever-present smile, crooked back, and a shiny brass plaque in his ancient hands.
“What is it, Georgio?”
He handed me the slab of brass. Etched into the front were the words:
Fetch Phillips: Man for Hire
Bringing the magic back!
Enquire at Georgio’s café
I held back the flood of sighs and eye rolls that attempted to pour down my face.
“What is this?”
“It’s a sign! If people come around and they need your help but you’re already off doing your investigations and your adventures and looking for clues, then they will come to me! I will take their information and you can call them when you get back!”
Georgio wielded his smile like a lance, sharp enough to pierce even my prickly disposition. His glory days as Gorgoramus Ottallus, pacifist adviser to wayward adventurers, were technically behind him, but he still managed to dispense his fair share of ancient wisdom over plates of greasy bacon and increasingly edible eggs. I’d humored him at first, then I’d learned to appreciate his insight, and I was getting dangerously close to relying on him as a friend.
Georgio’s nephew, Gerome, came out of the café and handed me a cup of coffee. A couple of sips brought some life back into my eyes and a more tolerant tone to my voice.
“Thanks for the sign, Georgio. I appreciate the thought. Though I could have done without the exclamation mark.”
“No! That’s the point! It must be done with gusto! No more talk, talk, talk.”
He laughed, and I had to laugh too. Georgio had spent many a generous hour listening to me yammer about all that needed to be done and how hard I was going to work to do it. He’d also watched me drink too much, sleep too late, and scrape my shoes along the sidewalk when I should have been running into action. He was right. There was no time for excuses. Not anymore. No more wasted days or half-cocked attempts at turning things around. If Hendricks had died so that this city, our magicless world and my dumb ass would have a chance at becoming something better, then I needed to spend every waking moment making it happen.
“Get a drill,” I said, “and let’s put her up.”
We screwed the plaque into the stone wall halfway between the revolving door of my building and the entrance to the café. It looked good, even with the overexcited punctuation mark.
Georgio, Gerome and I stood back to admire the sign, drinking more coffee and trying our best to believe that a few words etched into a slab of brass might make a lick of difference.
But they did.
It took a while, of course. Change doesn’t happen in a straight line; it’s a series of loops. Most of the time, you think you’re moving forward, but you end up right back where you began. Unless you work really hard. Then, when you loop around, you come back to a place that’s a few inches ahead of where you started. Then you do another loop and, if you keep working hard, that loop finishes farther ahead again.
That’s the most you can hope for, as ambitious as you need to be. If each time you come around, you’ve learned a little something, then you might wake up one day and find yourself doing the thing that you always said you were going to do.
And that’s when you’re really in trouble.
“C’mon, pal. Be a hero.”
The panhandling Ogre was a foot taller than me and twice as wide. His jaw was strong, but his left eye was cloudy, and he probably couldn’t see out of it too well. If I had to hit him, I’d hit him right around there.
“No,” I said, but he’d been told that word too many times and had become inoculated to its effect. He shook his tin can in my face and I fought the urge to slap it from his fingers.
“Just a couple of bits, mate. For the parade. Year of the Phoenix!”
He proclaimed it loudly, as if I hadn’t heard him give the same pitch to every other table at the Beggar’s Bread, Sunder’s complimentary kitchen for those of us who weren’t making bank in the city’s recent boom. The Ogre had moved from bench to bench around the Sunder streetcar, saving me till last. Maybe he’d seen me sneer every time Year of the Phoenix passed his lips: a stupid, flamboyant title to celebrate the anniversary of the Niles Company bringing the fires back to Sunder City.
“I don’t have any money,” I told him.
He scoffed, and all the pretend-friendly tone fell from his voice.
“You’re eating here for free, mate. The least you can do is cough up some change.”
“Ask me again and I’ll have you coughing up all kinds of things.”
The Ogre flared his nostrils, and his head was just as empty as I’d expected. Inside my pocket, I slipped my fingers inside my brass knuckles.
“You want a hero?” I asked him, putting my weight on the balls of my feet. “I’ll give you a fucking hero.”
“Brothers!” A soothing voice interrupted us. “Both of you know that there are no conditions put upon a meal at the Beggar’s Bread.” The Ogre and I turned to find Brother Benjamin, one of the winged monks who cooked and served food from the old streetcar, waiting with a paper plate in each hand. Like the rest of the Brothers Hum, he had an unflattering bowl-cut hairstyle and wore a hooded red robe with holes cut into the back to expose his featherless wings. “Here you are. I’ve added some extra sausage because the stars have been kind to us today.”
The Ogre looked from my face to his free meal, and his stomach finally won out. He took his serving of bread over to a table where another grubby panhandler, a Gnome, sat staring at me with an ugly smirk across his face. I was about to ask him what his problem was, but Benjamin sat down opposite and slid the second plate under my nose.
“Eat, Brother Phillips. I feel it may be the first time today.”
He wasn’t wrong. It had been seven years since the Coda. When the magic first left the world, I’d found plenty of work helping creatures who were struggling to adjust to the change. It rarely made much of a difference but it paid me enough to get by. In the last few months, as more Sunderites surrendered themselves to a magicless existence, fewer clients were interested in enlisting my services. I wasn’t bothered. I’d collected enough loose ends and tantalizing rumors to keep the investigations ticking over on my own time, but it was easier when someone else was supplying the funds.
Luckily for me, the Brothers Hum hadn’t changed with the times. Every night, without fail, they served free food to anybody who turned up to claim it, and I’d become their most loyal customer.
I took a mouthful of the fried bread – made from restaurant scraps and grass flour – and thanked Brother Benjamin for his charity. As always, he waved away my words.
“I tell you every night that your thanks aren’t mine to receive.”
“And every night I tell you that I’ll give them anyway. But can you spare your thoughts on something?” The monk nodded sagely, and I opened up the little leather-bound notepad I’d made a habit of carrying around. “Things are going missing around town: artefacts, once magic, that we all assumed had lost their spark.” I flipped through the pages, showing off my amateur illustrations of ancient wands, jewel-encrusted ornaments, and other rare trinkets. “If someone’s gathering these things up, perhaps they know something we don’t. Dozens of items have gone missing in the last few weeks. Some have even been stolen from displays at the museum. The thieves are rarely seen, but there have been three reports: a red-scaled Reptilian teenager, an elderly Werecat gentleman and a Wizard with mutton chops. I think they must be some kind of collective: a gang of thieves, working together to steal ex-magical treasures.” I opened up the page where I’d drawn my impressions of the criminals, taken from the witness accounts. “Have you seen anyone like this around here recently?”
Benjamin’s smile pulled tight, and his eyes were patronizingly apologetic.
“Look around you, Brother. The Beggar’s Bread collects Sunder City’s most needy and its most misunderstood; those in the process of regaining their footing, as well as those who may never find their feet. There are no judgments here. No questions. The police know to leave this place alone so that anybody, no matter their situation, can receive our offerings without fear.”
“Yeah, but I’m not a cop.” Benjamin raised a questioning eyebrow. “I’m not.”
“You are known to work alongside them, though. You share information. But it matters not. Police officer, debt collector, estranged family member or overenthusiastic investigator, it is not my place to share the information of any of our guests. The bread must come with no conditions, lest our operation be compromised.”
“Benjamin, this is important. I’m not trying to arrest anyone or get them into trouble, I just want to know what they know. If these things are magic, they could be the key to fixing everything!”
Benjamin stood up.
“Then I hope you find them, Brother Phillips. Until then, enjoy your meal, but please respect the privacy of your fellow guests as I have always respected yours.”
I was about to enquire as to who might have bothered asking about me, but my eye was drawn to the table where the two panhandlers were waiting. Watching. The Gnome was talking at the Ogre, who was looking at me with his one good eye. I had a strange feeling that they were discussing some part of my history and wondered which chapter it might be. Was it the one where I defected from the magical alliance known as the Opus to join the Human Army? Or how that betrayal led to the invasion that turned the sacred magical river to crystal and killed all the magic in the world? Maybe they were talking about the time I found a mutated Vampire in a library basement, or perhaps the Gnome was telling the tale of the time I teamed up with the cops to squash a violent revolution, allowing Niles Company goons to take the city unopposed.
Whatever story it was, the Ogre didn’t like the sound of it. He was getting ready for a confrontation and it wasn’t a good idea to let him make the first move. I pushed back my seat and got ready to jump over the table.
“There you are.”
The glare from my gossiping neighbors was interrupted by the far more pleasant face of Eileen Tide: librarian, bartender, one-time Witch, and occasional accomplice in my quest to bring the magic back. It had taken her a while to forgive me for the part I played in burning down her old library, but we’d managed to patch things up over the previous few months; more because of her love of a good mystery than any of my pathetic attempts to apologize. She sat down, pulled her long braid into her lap to keep it off the filthy cobbles, and leaned over the table with a conspiratorial smile.
“I’ve got something for you,” she whispered.
“I hope it’s not another two-hundred-page tome of Dwarven history. Can’t you just give me a summary this time?”
“Don’t worry, this is something tangible. Maybe. I overheard a couple of customers at the bar talking about buying a rock of Hyluna.”
“And you believe them?”
“I don’t know, yet, but they gave me the number of the guy who sold it. I was thinking we could invite him down here and find out for ourselves.”
I agreed, and Eileen went over to the pay phone to put in a call. A rock of Hyluna was on my list of stolen artefacts. Only last week, I’d been at the apartment of an old Elven lady who’d had one pilfered from her mantelpiece.
I was distracted by the eyes of the panhandlers: twin death stares over gritted teeth as they did the math on how much trouble I’d give them if they decided to follow me home. They might be respectful enough not to start anything here, but once I’d left the relative safety of the streetcar, I was fair game.
I stared back, unblinking, and made a few calculations myself. They were too cheap to buy pistols, but they could have acquired them through less lawful means. Despite the early spring weather, they both wore bulky jackets capable of hiding an untold variety of weapons. If I waited for them to make their move, I’d be toast before the fight even started.
“Brother Phillips?” Benjamin was standing beside me with a jug of milky tea and a stack of cups. “I need to quench the thirst of our guests. Could you work the fryer in the meantime?”
Begrudgingly, I left my table and the gaze of my enemies and stepped up to the giant fryer that was fixed to the back of the streetcar. A nickel pipe ran from the mechanism beneath the pan to the nearest streetlight, stealing some energy from the lamps that lit up the night sky. I dipped a ladle into the bucket, spooned some mixture onto the sizzling surface, and watched it turn from slurry to a crispy, brown sheet of flatbread.
It didn’t take long for me to get agitated. I was wasting my time cooking kitchen scraps instead of focusing on the job that I was supposed to be doing. When Eileen returned from the phone, I tried to get her attention, but she went straight to sipping tea with a mangy Werewolf and didn’t even look over. I wanted to ask her if the seller was coming down here and who he thought he was meeting, but she was lost in some frivolous conversation and didn’t bother to fill me in.
There was no doubt that Eileen was helpful and that she’d saved my neck a number of times, but she didn’t understand the stakes. She liked playing the game, though I was pretty sure that she didn’t believe we could actually win. It was just something to pass the time. A way to keep her spirits up until something better came along. It wasn’t life and death. Not to her, and not to anyone else. There was only me, the last real soldier tasked with turning back the hands of time.
“You’re running hot, Brother Phillips,” said Benjamin, picking up a sizable spatula and sliding it beneath the bread. “Better flip it.”
He turned the portion over to reveal a blackened underside.
“No bother. The Gnomes like it like this. I’ll put this piece away for them.”
Embarrassed at failing such a simple task, I let Benjamin take over. He gave the frying pan every bit of his attention, rotating pieces, pushing them down, and then piling them onto the plate with the focus of a rogue disarming a bear trap.
As he moved around the pan, his wings dangled lifelessly from his shoulder blades. They looked heavy: thick spikes of cartilage webbed with featherless, pockmarked sheets of dry skin that flapped against each other in pathetic applause. In recent years, most flying creatures chose to have their wings amputated. Without magic, the appendages were nothing but a burden. The Brothers Hum ignored such customs and continued to wear their featherless wings as if nothing had changed.
Good, I thought. At least a few of these creatures haven’t given up completely. They might not be working to fix things like I am, but when I get the job done, at least these Brothers will be able to appreciate it.
“Fetch, he’s here.”
Eileen grabbed my arm and turned me toward a mustachioed Cyclops. He had the look of a sailor about him, someone who once made a living on the seas and still hadn’t adjusted to life on land. He wore big brown boots, a dozen leather pouches dangling from his belt, and a black jacket that had been waterproofed with beeswax, giving him the slick, wet shine of a walrus.
“You’re looking for a rock?”
We both nodded. Eileen clearly enjoyed playing the part of a dangerous, underground artefact merchant.
“Shall we go somewhere private?” she asked.
The Cyclops shrugged. “I’m fine here. Nobody’s gonna mess with us at the Beggar’s Bread.”
We sat down at one of the tables, Eileen and me on one side with the Cyclops sitting opposite. I waited for him to reveal his merchandise, but he just said, “Five silver leaf.” If I’d been drinking, I would have spat it all over him. “That’s a hundred bronze bills if you don’t have the big boys.”
“I can do the math,” I said, though I’d never had occasion to count that much cash before, “but it seems a little steep for a useless stone.”
The Cyclops groaned.
“If you want to see it in action, you only need to ask. But you’re not just here for a show, are you? You got the dosh?”
Eileen pulled a leather-wrapped bundle out of her jacket. She let the Cyclops admire the size of it before she tucked it away again. She was perfectly careful with her actions, as if it really was a fortune in bronze and not just a couple of small books wrapped in canvas.
“All right,” said the sailor, pulling a towel from his sleeve, “you better finish that drink. Wouldn’t want it spilling on the merchandise.”
Eileen slammed back her tea and placed the cup on a neighboring table. The Cyclops wiped down the surface, untied one of the leather pouches from his belt, and pulled out a bundle of waxed material. When he unfolded it, there was a little, brown, utterly unremarkable rock inside.
I resisted the urge to make some kind of slight, knowing that it would further reveal my ignorance. Eileen took the lead.
“Can I touch it?”
“Wipe your hands first,” said the merchant, handing her the towel. “Make sure they’re completely dry.”
Eileen did as she was instructed and then picked up the stone.
“I thought it would be lighter,” she remarked. The Cyclops shook his head; this was a conversation he’d had a hundred times over.
“They used to be. Ancient Dwarves enchanted these rocks to hold up the lake-top city of Hyluna: a platform that was as tough as granite but utterly unsinkable.”
“Then why can’t we get it wet?” I asked.
“Because the Coda screwed all that up. When the magic left the rocks, they stopped floating, and Hyluna sank to the bottom.”
“You wanna hold it?” Eileen asked me.
I wiped my hands on the towel and she dropped the rock into my palm. It was uneven, rough and… well, it was a rock. The rockiest rock I’d ever seen. I put it down on the table.
“So, it’s a stone that doesn’t float,” I said. “Should we call the papers?”
The Cyclops’s single eye squinted at me.
“You’re the one who wants to buy it, right?”
“I’m sorry,” interrupted Eileen. “This is my bodyguard. I don’t bother filling him in on all the details. He’s a simple fellow and too many facts will overwhelm his little head. Please, continue.”
The Cyclops returned his attention to the stone and Eileen gave me a twinkling smile. If I’d had this meeting on my own, I likely would have blown it to pieces several times already, so I was lucky to have someone more amicable at my side.
The Cyclops flattened out the material beneath the stone, licked his finger, wiped away some excess spit onto his sleeve, and pressed his fingertip against the little rock. Then he sat back and said, “Go on.”
Eileen grabbed the rock again.
“Shit.” She wrapped her fingers around the stone and pulled, but the rock of Hyluna remained right where it was. “It’s heavy.”
She laughed and removed her hand so that I could have a try.
I anticipated some kind of joke, like this whole meeting was an elaborate schoolyard prank and when I hoisted the thing up, expecting it to be heavy, I’d fall backwards with nothing but a pebble in my hands, giving everyone a good laugh. So, I was careful at first. I slid my fingers around the edge and tried to pry it off the table. It wouldn’t budge. I clenched it tight between my fingers and pulled harder and harder until I was leaning right back on my stool, but it stayed stuck on the table as if someone had nailed it down.
“Is this a trick?” I asked, panting.
The Cyclops chuckled, enjoying my confusion.
“No trick, just a twist of the old magicless magic.”
I stood up and really put my back into it. The rock slid to the side, and I could tilt it a little, but I couldn’t get the whole thing off the table at once.
“That’s incredible,” I said. “How does it work?”
“How should I know? Five silver leaf, take it or leave it.” He took a lighter from his pocket and waved the flame over the stone for a few seconds to evaporate the moisture, then wrapped it up in the waxy cloth again. He left the bundle on the table to tempt us.
Eileen wrinkled up her face, pretending to think it over. We didn’t have the money to buy it, of course, we were just gathering information. When the sailor saw that she was stalling, he shrugged and picked up the bundle.
I grabbed his wrist.
“Tell me where you got this,” I demanded, keeping my voice low.
“What are you doing?” He was more offended than afraid. “You think I came here alone? Take this any further and I signal my friends.”
“Do it. I’ve got questions for them too.”
Eileen’s hand gripped my leg under the table. This was not the plan.
“Fetch,” she warned.
“Tell me where you got it, or I take it from you.”
Our guest tried to pull his hand back.
“Let go,” he warned.
I pulled harder.
Maybe the rock wasn’t anything truly special – just the shadow of a miracle that used to mean something – but then I could follow this stepping-stone to someplace that mattered.
“This is something that I haven’t seen before,” I told him, “and I’ve been looking harder than most. Maybe the guy who gave it to you has something more interesting for me to look at. If a straight answer from you could bring me closer to what I want, then I’m not letting go of your arm until you give it to me.”
There was real fear in his eyes now. He was no longer trying to bluff a potential buyer; he was hoping to survive an encounter with a madman.
“This is the Beggar’s Bread,” he stammered. “You wouldn’t dare.”
A smile climbed my unshaven cheek.
“You’re holding magic, my friend. You think I’ll let that go rather than disturb somebody’s dinner? You think I care about being polite? After what I’ve done? No. I dare do more than you can imagine.”
Eileen released her grip on my leg and leaned back. Either she’d sensed that I’d gotten through to him or she was just too afraid to touch me. Likely, it was both.
The Cyclops nodded.
“I have a cousin who travels the trade roads,” he said. “Brought them back from Hyluna himself. The whole thing dried up and you can just pick them out of the lakebed. He brings a sack-full every time he visits.”
I leaned in.
“Bullshit. This is stolen. Taken from the mantelpiece of a little old lady on Lark Street by the same gang of thieves who’ve been lifting similar pieces all over the city. Who gave it to you?”
He looked to Eileen, hoping to find a friendlier ear.
“Please. I’m telling the truth.”
He kept his voice down; less afraid of my fists than the fact that I was willing to create a scene. This man’s business required a level of secrecy, and I was holding his reputation over the fire.
“I told you,” he said. “I got it from my cousin, but…”
He looked over both his shoulders. I jolted his arm to regain his attention.
“But… but I know what you’re talking about. The thieves.” He leaned right in and made his voice as quiet as possible. “Go to the Mess.”
Eileen and I looked at each other, and the sailor used the moment to yank back his arm and get to his feet.
- "Arnold's universe has everything, including the angst of being human. The perfect story for adult fantasy fans—a tough PI and a murder mystery wrapped around the mysticism of Hogwarts, sprinkled with faerie dust."—Library Journal on Dead Man in a Ditch (starred review)
- "A marvelous noir voice; Arnold has captured the spirit of the genre perfectly and wrapped it around a fantasy setting with consummate skill."—Peter McLean, author of Priest of Bones on The Last Smile in Sunder City
- "Superb... With a lead who would be at home in the pages of a Raymond Chandler or James Ellory novel and a nicely twisty plot, this installment makes a strong case for Arnold's series to enjoy a long run."—Publishers Weekly on Dead Man in a Ditch
- "[T]he focus on meticulous worldbuilding and highly detailed backstory as well as the cast of fully developed and memorable characters are unarguable strengths....The first installment of an effortlessly readable series that could be the illegitimate love child of Terry Pratchett and Dashiell Hammett."—Kirkus on The Last Smile in Sunder City
- "A richly imagined world...Winningly combining the grit of Chinatown with the quirky charm of Harry Potter, this series opener is sure to have readers coming back for more."—Publishers Weekly (starred review) on The Last Smile in Sunder City
- "This off-piste detective story set in a magical world, now in meltdown, has verve and charm in abundance and a rough diamond hero with quite a story to tell."—Andrew Caldecott, author of Rotherweird on The Last Smile in Sunder City
- On Sale
- Apr 26, 2022
- Page Count
- 464 pages