Bloodfever, p.1
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       Bloodfever, p.1

         Part #2 of Fever series by Karen Marie Moning
 
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Bloodfever
Page 1

 

  Prologue

  A ll of us have our little problems and insecurities. I’m no different. Back in high school when I used to feel insecure about something, I would console myself with two thoughts: I’m pretty, and my parents love me. Between those two, I could survive anything.

  Since then I’ve come to understand how little the former matters, and how bitterly the latter can be tested. What’s left then? Nothing about our appearance or who loves or hates us. Nothing about our brainpower—which, like beauty, is an unearned gift of genetics—nor even anything about what we say.

  It’s our actions that define us. What we choose. What we resist. What we’re willing to die for.

  My name is MacKayla Lane. I think. Some say my last name is really O’Connor. That’s another of my insecurities right now: who I am. Although, at the moment, I’m in no hurry to find out. What I am is disturbing enough.

  I’m from Ashford, Georgia. I think. Lately I’ve realized I have some tricky memories I can’t quite sort through.

  I’m in Ireland. When my sister, Alina, was found dead in a trash-filled alley on Dublin’s north side, the local police closed her case in record time, so I flew over to see what I could do about getting justice.

  Okay, so maybe I’m not that pure.

  What I really came over for was revenge. And now, after everything I’ve seen, I want it twice as bad.

  I used to think my sister and I were just two nice southern girls who would get married in a few years, have babies, and settle down to a life of sipping sweet tea on a porch swing under the shade of waxy-blossomed magnolias, raising our children together near Mom and Dad and each other.

  Then I discovered Alina and I descend not from good, wholesome southern stock but from an ancient Celtic bloodline of powerful sidhe-seers, people who can see the Fae, a terrifying race of otherworldly beings that have lived secretly among us for thousands of years, cloaked in illusions and lies. Governed loosely by a queen, and even more loosely by a Compact few support and many ignore, they have preyed on humans for millennia.

  Supposedly I’m one of the most powerful sidhe-seers ever born. Not only can I see the Fae, I can sense their sacred relics that hold the deadliest and most powerful of their magic.

  I can find them.

  I can use them.

  I’ve already found the mythic Spear of Luin, one of only two weapons capable of killing an immortal Fae. I’m also a Null—a person who can temporarily freeze a Fae and cancel out its power with the mere touch of my hands. It helps me kick butt when I need to, and lately, every time I turn around, I need to.

  My world began falling apart with the death of my sister, and hasn’t stopped since. And it’s not just my world that’s in trouble; it’s your world, too.

  The walls between Man and Faery are coming down.

  I don’t know why or how. I only know they are. I know it in my sidhe-seer blood. On a dark Fae wind, I taste the metallic tang of a bloody and terrible war coming. In the distant air, I hear the thunderclap of sharp-bladed hooves as Fae stallions circle impatiently, ready to charge down on us in the ancient, forbidden Wild Hunt.

  I know who killed my sister. I’ve stared into the murderous eyes of the one who seduced, used, and destroyed her. Not quite Fae, not quite human, he calls himself the Lord Master, and he’s been opening portals between realms, bringing Unseelie through to our world.

  The Fae consist of two adversarial courts with their own Royal Houses and unique castes: the Light or Seelie Court, and the Dark or Unseelie Court. Don’t let the light and dark stuff deceive you: they’re both deadly. Scary thing is the Seelie considered their darker brethren, the Unseelie, so abominable that they imprisoned them themselves a few hundred eons ago. When one Fae fears another Fae, you know you’ve got problems.

  Now the Lord Master is freeing the darkest, most dangerous of our enemies, turning them loose on our world, and teaching them to infiltrate our society. When these monsters walk down our streets, you see only the “glamour” they throw: the illusion of a beautiful human woman, man, or child.

  I see what they really are.

  I have no doubt I would have ended up every bit as dead as my sister shortly after I arrived in Dublin, if I’d not stumbled into a bookstore owned by the enigmatic Jericho Barrons. I have no idea who or what he is, or what he’s after, but he knows more about what I am and what’s going on out there than anyone else I’ve met, and I need that knowledge.

  When I had no place to turn, Jericho Barrons took me in, taught me, opened my eyes, and helped me survive. Granted, he didn’t do it nicely, but I’m no longer quite so picky about how I survive, as long as I do. Page 2

 

  Because it was safer than my cheap room at the inn, I moved into his bookstore. It’s well protected against most of my enemies with wards and assorted nasty tricks, and stands bastion at the edge of what I call a Dark Zone: a neighborhood that has been taken over by Shades, amorphous Unseelie that thrive in darkness and feed off humans.

  Barrons and I have formed an uneasy alliance based on mutual need: We both want the Sinsar Dubh—a million-year-old book of the blackest magic imaginable, allegedly scribed by the Unseelie King himself, that holds the key to power over both the worlds of Fae and Man.

  I want it because it was Alina’s dying request that I find it, and I suspect it holds the key to saving our world.

  He wants it because he says he collects books. Right.

  Everyone else I’ve encountered is after it, too. The hunt is dangerous, the stakes enormous.

  Because the Sinsar Dubh is a Fae relic, I can sense it when it’s near. Barrons can’t. But he knows where to look for it, and I don’t. So now we’re partners in crime who don’t trust each other one bit.

  Nothing in my sheltered, pampered life prepared me for the past few weeks. Gone is my long blond hair, chopped short for the sake of anonymity and dyed dark. Gone are my pretty pastel outfits, replaced by drab colors that don’t show blood. I’ve learned to cuss, steal, lie, and kill. I’ve been assaulted by a death-by-sex Fae and made to strip, not once but twice, in public. I discovered that I was adopted. I nearly died.

  With Barrons at my side, I’ve robbed a mobster and his henchmen and led them to their deaths. I’ve fought and killed dozens of Unseelie. I battled the vampire Mallucé in a bloody showdown with the Lord Master himself.

  In one short month I’ve managed to piss off virtually every being with magical power in this city. Half of those I’ve encountered want me dead; the other half want to use me to find the deadly, coveted Sinsar Dubh.

  I could run home, I suppose. Try to forget. Try to hide.

  Then I think of Alina, and how she died.

  Her face swims up in my mind—a face I knew as well as my own; she was more than my sister, she was my best friend—and I can almost hear her saying: Right, Junior—and risk leading a monster like Mallucé, a death-by-sex Fae, or some other Unseelie back to Ashford? Take a chance that some of the Shades might cop a ride in your luggage and devour the charming, idyllic streets of our childhood, one burnt-out streetlamp at a time? When you see the Dark Zone that used to be our home, how will you feel, Mac?

  Before her voice even begins to fade, I know that I’m here until this is over.

  Until either they’re dead or I am.

  Alina’s death will be avenged.

  ONE

  Y ou’re a difficult woman to find, Ms. Lane,” said Inspector O’Duffy as I opened the diamond-paned front door of Barrons Books and Baubles.

  The stately old-world bookstore was my home away from home, whether I liked it or not, and despite the sumptuous furnishings, priceless rugs, and endless selection of top-rate re
ading material, I didn’t. The comfiest cage is still a cage.

  He glanced at me sharply when I stepped around the door, into full view, noting my splinted arm and fingers, the stitches in my lip, and the fading purple and yellow bruises that began around my right eye and extended to the base of my jaw. Though he raised a brow, he made no comment.

  The weather outside was awful, and so long as the door was open, I was too close to it. It had been raining for days, a relentless, depressing torrent that needled me with sharp wind-driven droplets even where I stood, tucked beneath the shelter of the column-flanked archway of the bookstore’s grand entry. At eleven o’clock on Sunday morning, it was so overcast and dark that the streetlamps were still on. Despite their sullen yellow glares, I could barely see the outlines of the shops across the street through the thick, soupy fog.

  I backed up to let the inspector enter. Gusts of chilly air stepped in on his heels.

  I closed the door and returned to the conversation area near the fire where I’d been wrapped in an afghan on the sofa, reading. My borrowed bedroom is on the top floor, but when the bookstore is closed on weekends I make the first floor, with its cozy reading nooks and enameled fireplaces, my personal parlor. My taste in reading material has become a bit eccentric of late. Acutely aware of O’Duffy on my heels, I surreptitiously toed a few of the more bizarre titles I’d been perusing beneath a handsome curio cabinet. The Wee People: Fairy Tale or Fact? was chased by Vampires for Dummies and Divine Power: A History of Holy Relics.

  “Dreadful weather,” he observed, stepping to the hearth and warming his hands before the softly hissing gas flames.

  Page 3

 

  I agreed with perhaps more enthusiasm than the fact warranted, but the endless deluge outside was getting to me. A few more days of this and I was going to start building an ark. I’d heard it rained a lot in Ireland, but “constantly” was a smidge more than a lot, in my book. Transplanted against my will, a homesick, reluctant tourist, I’d made the mistake of checking the weather back home in Ashford this morning. It was a sultry, blue-skied ninety-six degrees in Georgia—just another perfect, blossom-drenched, sunny day in the Deep South. In a few hours my girlfriends would be heading up to one of our favorite lakes where they would soak up the sun, scope out datable guys, and flip through the latest fashion magazines.

  Here in Dublin it was a whopping fifty degrees and so darned wet it felt like half that.

  No sun. No datable guys. And my only fashion concern was making sure my clothes were baggy enough to accommodate weapons concealed beneath them. Even in the relative security of the bookstore, I was carrying two flashlights, a pair of scissors, and a lethal, foot-long spearhead, tip neatly cased in a ball of foil. I’d scattered dozens more flashlights and assorted items that might second as arsenal throughout the four-story bookstore. I’d also secreted a few crosses and bottles of holy water in various nooks. Barrons would laugh at me if he knew.

  You might wonder if I’m expecting an army from Hell.

  I am.

  “How did you find me?” I asked the inspector. When I’d last spoken to the Garda a week ago, he’d pressed for a way to reach me. I’d given him my old address at the Clarin House where I boarded for a short time when I first arrived. I don’t know why. I guess I just don’t trust anyone. Not even the police. Over here the good guys and the bad guys all look the same. Just ask my dead sister Alina, victim of one of the most beautiful men I’ve ever seen—the Lord Master—who also happens to be one of the most evil.

  “I’m a detective, Ms. Lane,” O’Duffy told me with a dry smile, and I realized he had no intention of telling me. The smile vanished and his eyes narrowed with a subtle warning: Don’t lie to me, I’ll know.

  I wasn’t worried. Barrons said the same thing to me once, and he has seriously preternatural senses. If Barrons didn’t see through me, O’Duffy wasn’t going to. I waited, wondering what had brought him here. He’d made it clear he considered my sister’s case unsolvable and closed. Permanently.

  He moved away from the fire and dropped the satchel slung over his shoulder onto the table between us.

  Maps spilled across the gleaming wood.

  Though I betrayed nothing, I felt the cold blade of a chill at my spine. I could no longer see maps as I once had: innocuous travel guides for the disoriented traveler or bemused tourist. Now when I unfold one I half expect to find charred holes in it where the Dark Zones are—those chunks of our cities that have fallen off our maps, lost to the deadly Shades. It’s no longer what maps show but what they fail to show that worries me.

  A week ago I’d demanded O’Duffy tell me everything he knew about the clue my sister had left at the scene of her murder, words she’d scratched into the cobbled stone of the alley as she lay dying: 1247 LaRuhe.

  He’d told me they’d never been able to find any such address.

  I had.

  It had taken a bit of thinking outside the box, but that’s something I’m getting better at every day, although I really can’t take much credit for the improvement. It’s easy to think outside the box when life has dropped a two-ton elephant on yours. What is that box anyway but the beliefs we choose to hold about the world that make us feel safe? My box was now as flat, and about as useful, as a tissue-paper umbrella in all this rain.

  O’Duffy sat down on the sofa next to me, gently, for such an overweight man. “I know what you think of me,” he said.

  When I would have protested politely—good southern manners die hard, if at all—he gave me what my mother calls the “shush wave. ”

  “I’ve been doing this job for twenty-two years, Ms. Lane. I know what the families of closed murder cases feel when they look at me. Pain. Anger. ” He gave a dry laugh. “The conviction that I must be a chuffing idiot who spends too much time in the pubs and not enough time on the job, or their loved one would be resting in vindicated peace while the perp rotted in jail. ”

  Rotting in jail was far too kind a fate for my sister’s murderer. Besides, I wasn’t sure any jail cell could hold him. The crimson-robed leader of the Unseelie might draw symbols on the floor, stamp his staff, and disappear through a convenient portal. Though Barrons had cautioned against assumptions, I saw no reason to doubt the Lord Master was responsible for my sister’s death.

  Page 4

 

  O’Duffy paused, perhaps giving me a chance to rebut. I didn’t. He was right. I’d felt all that and more, but weighing the jelly stains on his tie and the girth overhanging his belt as circumstantial evidence, I’d convicted him of loitering overlong in bakeries and cafés, not pubs.

  He selected two maps of Dublin from the table and handed them to me.

  I gave him a quizzical look.

  “The one on top is from last year. The one beneath it was published seven years earlier. ”

  I shrugged. “And?” A few weeks ago I would have been delighted for any help from the Garda I could get. Now that I knew what I knew about the Dark Zone neighboring Barrons Books and Baubles—that terrible wasteland where I’d found 1247 LaRuhe, had a violent confrontation with the Lord Master, and nearly been killed—I wanted the police to stay as far out of my life as I could keep them. I didn’t want any more deaths on my conscience. There was nothing the Garda could do to help me anyway. Only a sidhe-seer could see the monsters that had taken over the abandoned neighborhood and turned it into a death trap. The average human wouldn’t know they were in danger until they were knee-deep in dead.

  “I found your 1247 LaRuhe, Ms. Lane. It’s on the map published seven years ago. Oddly enough, it’s not on the one published last year. Grand Walk, one block down from this bookstore, isn’t on the new map, either. Neither is Connelly Street, a block beyond that. I know. I went down there before I came to see you. ”

  Oh, God, he’d walked into the Dark Zone this morning? The day was barely bright enough to keep the Shades hunkered down wherever it was th
e nasty things hide! If the storm had blown in even one more dense, sky-obliterating cloud, the boldest of those life-suckers might have dared the day for a human Happy Meal. O’Duffy had just been waltzing cheek-to-cheek with Death, and didn’t even know it!

  The unsuspecting inspector waved a hand at the pile of maps. They looked well examined. One of them appeared to have been balled up in shock or perhaps angry disbelief, then re-smoothed. I was no stranger to those emotions. “In fact, Ms. Lane,” O’Duffy continued, “none of the streets I just mentioned are on any recently published map. ”

  I gave him my best blank look. “What are you saying, Inspector? Has the city renamed the streets in this part of Dublin? Is that why they’re not on the new maps?”

  His face tightened and his gaze cut away. “Nobody renamed the streets,” he growled. “Unless they did it without notifying a single person in authority. ” He looked back at me, hard. “I thought there might be something else you wanted to tell me, Ms. Lane. Something that might sound…a bit…unusual?”

  I saw it then, in his eyes. Something had happened to the inspector recently that had drastically changed his paradigm. I had no idea what had shaken the hard-boiled, overworked, fact-finding detective from his pragmatic view of the world but he, too, was now thinking outside his box.

  I needed him back inside his box—ASAP. Outside the box in this city was a dangerous place to be.

  I thought fast. I didn’t have much to work with. “Inspector,” I said, sweetening and softening my Georgia drawl, “putting on the southern,” as we call it back home, a sort of verbal honey-butter that masks the unpalatable taste of whatever we’re slathering it on, “I know you must think me a complete idiot, coming over here and questioning your investigative techniques when anyone can see you’re the expert in the field and I don’t have an ounce of training in detecting matters, and I appreciate how patient you’ve been with me, but I no longer have any concerns about your investigation into my sister’s death. I know now that you did everything you could to solve her case. I meant to stop by and speak with you before I left, but…well, the truth is I was feeling a bit embarrassed about our previous encounters. I went back to the alley the other day and took a good look around, without crying and letting my emotions get away from me, and I realized that my sister didn’t leave me any clues. It was grief and anger and a whole boatload of wishful thinking on my part. Whatever was scratched into that alley had been done years ago. ”

 
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