Darkfever, p.23
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       Darkfever, p.23

         Part #1 of Fever series by Karen Marie Moning
 
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  I woke up the next morning with the answer burning in my brain.

  Years ago, in some book I’d read, the author had postulated that the human mind was little different from a computer, and that one of the primary functions of sleep was downtime to integrate new program files, run backup subroutines, defrag, and dump minutiae so we could start fresh the next day.

  While I’d slept, my subconscious had attended to my consciousness’ dreck, determining data or detritus, dispatching it accordingly, allowing me to see what I would have seen much sooner if I had not been blinded by inner chaos. I would have slapped myself in the forehead if I hadn’t been in that delicate just-recovered-from-a-headache state.

  I scrambled from bed—I didn’t need to turn on a light, I slept with every one of them lit, and would for years to come—and picked up map after map, examining the copyright date. Each was current, as any good tourist map would be, compiled from information collected over the past year.

  But Barrons had told me the city had “forgotten” one entire section existed—the abandoned neighborhood. That no district of the Garda would claim it, that city utilities would contend no such addresses existed. Did that mean there were streets in Dublin nobody remembered anymore? And if so, had they “fallen off the map,” so to speak?

  If I were to examine another map—say, one from five years ago—would the Dublin preserved in shamrock-embossed laminate look identical to the one I had now? Or would parts of it be missing?

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  Could it be the answer I was looking for had been staring me in the face all the while from just the other side of my windowpane?

  “Bingo!” I stabbed the map with the fuchsia tip of my favorite pen. “There you are!”

  I’d just found LaRuhe Street, and—as I’d suspected—it was deep in the abandoned neighborhood.

  Last night, when I’d needed a map, I’d gone automatonlike to the first place I remembered seeing a prominent display. It hadn’t occurred to me that Barrons would have some in the bookstore. Up on the third floor I’d found a large collection of atlases and maps, gathered up a dozen or so, and toted them down to my favorite sofa to begin my search all over again.

  What I’d discovered shocked and horrified me. The Dark Zone abutting Barrons wasn’t the only part of Dublin that was missing. There were two other areas, which had existed on maps in previous years, that did not exist on any of them now. They were considerably smaller, and on the outskirts, but there was no doubt in my mind that they were areas that had become Shade-infested, too.

  Like a cancer, the life-sucking Unseelie were spreading. I couldn’t begin to guess how they’d gotten all the way out in those nearly rural areas, but then I couldn’t begin to guess how they’d gotten here in the city, either. Perhaps someone had transported them from one place to the next, unknowing, like roaches in a cardboard box. Or perhaps . . . I had a terrible thought . . . was that the basis for Barrons’ truce with the parasites? Did he take them to new feeding grounds in exchange for safe passage? Were they sentient enough to make and keep bargains? Where did the Shades go during the day? What dark places did they find? How small could they be in repose if they had no real substance? Could a hundred of them travel in a matchbox? I shook my head. I couldn’t ponder the horrors of Shades spreading right now. Alina had left me a clue. I’d finally managed to stumble upon it, and all I could think about was finding whatever it was she’d wanted me to find.

  I lay the laminated maps of the city on the table in front of me, side by side, and looked at them a long moment. The map on the right was current; the one on my left had been distributed seven years ago.

  On the current map, Collins Street was one block over and ran directly parallel to Larkspur Lane. On the map from seven years ago, there were eighteen city blocks between those two streets.

  I shook my head, shrugged, and snorted, all at the same time, an explosive expression of how completely freaked-out I was. This was awful. Did anyone know? Were Barrons and I—and God only knew what Barrons really was; I sure didn’t—the only two with any clue that such things were happening?

  The truth is, your world is going to hell in a handbasket, Barrons had said. Recalling his words, I caught something in them I’d missed before. He’d said “your” world. Not “our” world. Mine. Was it not his world also?

  As usual, I had a million questions, no one to trust, and nowhere to go but forward. Backward was a path forever barred me now.

  I tore a page out of my journal—there were only four blank pages left—laid it over the laminated map and traced out my path, block by block, scribbling in street names. The map itself was too bulky to carry. I needed my hands free. LaRuhe was at the end of a zigzagging path, roughly fourteen blocks into the Dark Zone; the street itself was only two blocks long, one of those short jogs that connect two main roads near multiple five-point intersections.

  In retrospect, I’m still stunned that I went into the abandoned neighborhood alone that day. It’s a wonder I survived. I don’t know quite what I was thinking. Most of the time, as I look back on things and tell you my tale, I’ll be able to give you a good idea what was in my head at the time. But this is one of those days that—although the middle hours bear the permanent and highly stamped details of a fiery brand in my mind—began in a bit of a fog and ended in a worse one.

  Maybe I was thinking it was still early in the day, the Shades were only a threat at night, and I had my spear, so I’d be safe. Maybe I was numb from so many shocks that I wasn’t feeling the fear I should have been.

  Maybe, after everything I’d lost so recently, I just didn’t care. Barrons had called me Ms. Rainbow the night we’d robbed Mallucé. Despite his disparaging tone, I’d liked the nickname. But rainbows needed sunshine to exist, and there hadn’t been a lot of that in my world lately.

  Whatever the reason, I got up, showered, chose my outfit with care, gathered my spearhead and flashlights, and went to find 1247 LaRuhe, by myself.

  It was nearly noon and I heard the quiet purr of Fiona’s luxury sedan pulling up behind me as I walked into what all sidhe-seers would one day be calling what I’d christened it, what would one day, and not too far off, begin showing up in cities scattered around the entire globe: a Dark Zone.

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  I did not look back.

  TWENTY-TWO

  Though it was only two weeks from the day I’d first gotten lost in the eerie, deserted streets of the abandoned neighborhood, it felt like another lifetime.

  Probably because it was.

  The Mac who’d followed a woman’s outflung arm into an urban wasteland that day had been wearing a killer outfit of pink linen, low-hipped, wide-legged capris, a silk-trimmed pink T, her favorite silver sandals, and matching silver accessories. She’d had long, beautiful blonde hair swept up into a high ponytail that brushed the middle of her back with the spring of each youthful step.

  This Mac had shoulder-length black hair: the better for hiding from those monsters hunting Mac Version 1. 0. This Mac wore black jeans and a black T-shirt: the better for potentially being bled upon. Concealing her Iceberry Pink manicured toenails were tennis shoes: the better for running for her life in. Her drab outfit was finished off with an oversized black jacket she’d swiped from a coat hook by the front door as she’d left: the better for concealing the foot-long spearhead tucked into the waistband of her jeans (tip stuck in a wad of foil), the only silver accessorizing this carefully selected ensemble.

  There were flashlights jammed into her back pockets and more stuffed into her coat.

  Gone was the energetic step that had bounced so prettily on air. Mac 2. 0 strode with determination and focus on feet that were rooted firmly to the ground.

  This time, as I moved deeper into the Dark Zone, I understood what I’d been feeling my first time through: the blend of nausea, fear, and that edgy, intense urge I’d had to run. My si
dhe-seer senses had been triggered the moment I’d crossed Larkspur Lane and unwittingly begun traversing the missing eighteen-block section between it and Collins Street. Though the Shades retreated during the day and went somewhere utterly dark, their lightless sanctuary had to be here somewhere in this forgotten place. All around me I could feel the presence of Unseelie—as I had that day—but I’d not yet known what I was, or understood what I’d been in the middle of.

  This time, there was something more, too. I was willing to bet the little map I’d drawn myself would prove unnecessary. Something was tugging at me from a southeasterly direction, both luring and repelling. The feeling made me think of a nightmare I’d once had that had left an indelible impression on my memory.

  In my dream, I’d been in a cemetery at night, in the rain. A few graves over from the sepulchre where I stood, was my own tomb. I hadn’t actually seen it. I just knew it was there with that irrefutable dream-kind-of-knowing. Part of me wanted to run away, to flee the rain-slicked grass and stones and bones as fast as I could, and never look back, as if merely beholding my own grave might seal my fate. But another part of me had known that I would never have another moment’s peace in my life if I was afraid to walk over there and look at my own headstone, stare down at my own name, and read aloud the date I’d died.

  I’d woken from that nightmare before I’d had to choose.

  I wasn’t foolish enough to think I was going to wake from this one.

  Fixedly ignoring the dehydrated human husks blowing like tumbleweeds down the fog-filled, deserted street, I left the map I’d drawn myself in the left front pocket of my jeans, and gave myself over to the dark melody of my personal Pied Piper. I saw the abandoned neighborhood a little differently this time as I walked into it.

  As a graveyard.

  I recalled Inspector O’Duffy’s complaint the first time I’d met him: There’s been a recent spike in homicides and missing persons like we’ve never seen before. It’s as if half the damn city’s gone crazy.

  Not nearly half by my count, not yet anyway—although I could well imagine his consternation over corpses such as the one the Gray Man had left in the pub the other night—but here were O’Duffy’s missing persons.

  All around me. I was passing them, block after block.

  They were outside abandoned cars, in neat piles. They were scattered up and down sidewalks, half-buried beneath litter that would never get collected again because these streets didn’t show up on any maps used by city employees. Though a conscientious sweeper or trash-collector might occasionally take a look while passing by and say, “Gee, what a mess down there,” it was no doubt followed swiftly by a “not my route, not my problem. ”

  The danger of the Dark Zone was this: Although these lanes and avenues wouldn’t show up on any map, there was nothing to keep people from driving down them, or walking in, just as I had on my first day in Dublin. As close as it was to the Temple Bar District, there was a lot of foot traffic, and I’d seen myself just how much of that traffic was tourists too inebriated and full of craic to notice a radical change in environment until it was too late. A car might have a decent chance of getting through at night, with headlamps and interior lights ablaze, so long as the driver didn’t stop and get out for any reason—like to indulge in a drunken urination—but I wouldn’t take that gamble myself.

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  I noticed another thing that had eluded me on my first time through: There were no animals here. Not a single hissing alley cat, no beady-eyed rats, not one pooping pigeon. It was truly a dead zone. And those very small husks now made sense to me, too.

  Shades ate everything.

  “Except Barrons,” I muttered, more deeply aggrieved by that than I cared to admit. The other night when we’d taken on the Gray Man, I’d felt a kinship with my enigmatic mentor. We’d been a team. We’d rid the city of a monster. Maybe I’d fumbled my first try, but the end result had been good, and I’d do better next time. I’d frozen it—he’d stabbed it. No more women would be robbed of their beauty and youth. No more would die horrific deaths. It had been a good feeling. And I guess in the back of my mind I’d been thinking that when I finally found out who or what had killed Alina, Barrons would help me go after it.

  I suffered no delusions that the police or a court of law would be able to help me in my quest for justice. I had no doubt her murderer(s?) would be something only Barrons, I, and other sidhe-seers could see, and I only knew of one other sidhe-seer. Not only didn’t I think the old woman would be much help taking down an Unseelie or ten, I didn’t want her help. I never wanted to see her again. I know the old “kill the messenger” adage is hardly fair, but adages become adages because they resonate. I resented that woman every bit as much as her message.

  I shook my head and turned my thoughts back to my sister. 1247 LaRuhe, Jr. , Alina had written with her dying breath. She’d wanted me to come here to find something. I hoped it was her journal, though I couldn’t imagine why she would have hidden it in the abandoned neighborhood. I doubted it was the mysterious, deadly Sinsar Dubh, because—although I was feeling the typical Fae-induced queasiness, which, by the way, I was finding easier to deal with—I wasn’t suffering anything close to the killer nausea mere photocopies of the book had induced. All I was picking up from whatever was push-pulling me in a southeasterly direction was a sense of supernatural danger, but it was muted, as if whatever awaited me was . . . well . . . dormant.

  I wasn’t able to derive much comfort from that because dormant is just another word for “liable to explode at any moment,” and from the way my life had been going lately, if there was a volcano in the vicinity, it was going to spew lava in my face sooner rather than later.

  Sighing, I pressed on through the fog.

  1247 LaRuhe was not what I’d expected at all.

  I’d expected a warehouse or one of those dilapidated tenement buildings that had sprung up, replacing residences in the area when industry had moved in and taken over.

  What I got was a tall, fancy brick house dressed up with an ornate limestone facade, smack in the middle of blocks upon blocks of commercial factories and warehouses.

  The owner had obviously refused to sell, holding his or her bitter stand against the transition and decay of the neighborhood until the very end. The residence looked as out of place here as a Bloomingdale’s would in the center of a low-income housing project.

  There were three skeletal trees in the large, foggy, wrought-iron-fenced front yard with no leaves, no birds in the branches, and I was willing to bet, if I dug at their bases, not one worm in the ground. The terraced gardens were barren and the stone fountain at the grand, arched entrance had long ago run dry.

  This was Wasteland.

  I looked up at the elegant residence warily. Its veneer of civility and wealth was sharply undermined by what had been done to the many tall mullioned windows.

  They’d all been painted black.

  And I had the creepiest feeling that something was pressed up against those big dark eyes, watching me.

  “What now, Alina?” I whispered. “Am I really supposed to go in there?” I so didn’t want to.

  I didn’t expect an answer and I didn’t get one. If angels really watch over us like some people believe, mine are deaf-mutes. It had been a purely rhetorical question, anyhow. There was no way I could turn my back on this place. Alina had sent me here and I was going in, if it was the last thing I did. It occurred to me that it might just be.

  I didn’t bother with stealth. If someone or something was watching me, it was too late for that now. Squaring my shoulders, I took a deep breath, marched up the curved walkway of pale pavers, climbed the front stairs, and banged the heavy knocker against the door.

  No one answered. I did it again a few moments later, then tried the door. Its owner suffered no security concerns; it was unlocked and opened on an opulent foyer. Black-and-white marble f
loors gleamed beneath a glittering chandelier. Beyond an ornate round table topped with a huge vase of showy silk flowers, an elegant spiral staircase curved up the wall, adorned by a handsome balustrade.

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  I stepped inside. Though the exterior was timeworn and in need of things like gutter and roof repair, the interior was furnished in high Louis XIV style, with plush chairs and sofas set against palatial columns and pilasters, richly carved marble-topped tables, and beautiful amber-and-gold light fixtures. I had no doubt the bedroom furniture would be ornate and enormous in true Sun King style. Huge gilt-framed mirrors and paintings of vaguely familiar mythological scenes adorned the walls.

  After listening for a few moments, I began moving through the dimly lit house, one hand on a flashlight, the other on my spearhead, trying to get a mental picture of its inhabitant. The more rooms I glanced into, the less I understood. I’d seen so much ugliness in my short time in Dublin that I’d been expecting more of it, especially here in these desolate barrens, but the occupant appeared to be a wealthy, cultured person of highly sophisticated tastes and—

  I mentally smacked myself in the forehead—was this where Alina’s boyfriend lived? Had she sent me straight to the address of her murderer?

  Ten minutes later I found my answer in an upstairs bedroom, beyond a massive bed, in a spacious walk-in closet filled with finer clothing than even Barrons wore. Whoever, whatever the owner was, he bought only the best. I mean, the ridiculously best—the stuff you paid insane amounts for just to insure no one else in the world could wear it, too.

  Tossed carelessly on the floor, beside a collection of boots and shoes that could have shod an army of Armani models, I found Alina’s Franklin Planner, her photo albums, and two packets of pictures that had been developed at one of those one-hour photo joints in the Temple Bar District. I thrust the planner and albums inside my bulky jacket but kept the plastic packs of photos in my hand.

  After a quick but thorough look around both the closet and the rest of the bedroom, to make sure I wasn’t overlooking anything else of hers, I hurried back downstairs so I’d be closer to an escape if I needed one.

 
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