Darkfever, p.24
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       Darkfever, p.24

         Part #1 of Fever series by Karen Marie Moning
 
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  Then I sat down on the bottom stair, beneath the gold-and-crystal-encrusted chandelier and opened the first pack of photos.

  They say a picture’s worth a thousand words.

  These certainly were.

  I’ll finally admit it: Ever since I’d heard the description of Alina’s boyfriend—older, worldly, attractive, not Irish—I’d been having a perfectly paranoid thought.

  Was I following in Alina’s footsteps, exactly? Right down to the man who’d betrayed her? Had my sister been in love with Jericho Barrons? Was my mysterious host and alleged protector the one who’d killed her?

  When I’d walked into this place earlier, a part of me had thought, Aha, so this is where he was going the other night. This is his real home, not the bookstore, and he’s really a Dark Fae and for some reason I can’t pick up on it any more than Alina could. How was I to know? It certainly would explain those strange flashes of attraction I’d felt toward him on a couple of occasions, if he were really a death-by-sex Fae somewhere under all that domineering authority. Maybe there were Fae that could hide it somehow. Maybe they had talismans or spells to conceal their true nature. I’d seen too many inexplicable things lately to consider anything beyond the realm of possibility.

  I’d been vacillating back and forth on the issue: one day thinking there was no way Barrons was the one, the next day nearly convinced he had to have been.

  Now I knew for certain. Alina’s boyfriend was most definitely not Jericho Barrons.

  I’d just taken a photographic journey through a part of my sister’s life I’d never thought to see, beginning with the first day she’d arrived in Ireland, to pictures of her at Trinity, to some of her laughing with classmates in pubs, and still more of her dancing with a crowd of friends. She’d been happy here. I’d flipped through them slowly, lovingly, touching my finger to the flush of color in her cheeks, tracing the sleek line of her long blonde hair, alternately laughing and trying not to cry as I got a glimpse of a world I’d never expected to see—of Alina alive in this crazy craic and monster-filled city. God, I missed her! Seeing her like this was a kick in the stomach! Looking at them, I felt her presence so strongly it was almost as if she were standing right behind me saying, I love you, Jr. I’m here with you. You can do this. I know you can.

  Then the pictures changed, about four months after she arrived in Dublin, according to the dates on the photos. In the second packet of photos there were dozens of Alina alone, taken in and around the city, and it was obvious from the way she was looking at the person behind the camera that she was already deeply in love. Much as it chafed me to admit, the man behind the lens had taken the most beautiful pictures of my sister that I’d ever seen.

  Page 90

 

  You want to believe in black and white, good and evil, heroes that are truly heroic, and villains that are just plain bad, but I’ve learned in the past year that things are rarely so simple. The good guys can do some truly awful things, and the bad guys can sometimes surprise the heck out of you.

  This bad guy had seen and captured the very best in my sister. Not just her beauty, but that unique inner light that defined her.

  Right before he’d extinguished it.

  I found it impossible to understand that no one had been able to describe him to me. He and my sister must have turned heads all over the city, yet no one had even been able to tell me what color his hair was.

  It was shimmering copper, streaked with gold, and it fell to his waist. Now, how could people not remember that? He was taller than Barrons and beneath his expensive clothing was the kind of body a man only got from weight lifting and intense self-discipline. He looked to be somewhere around thirty, but could easily have been younger or older; there was a timelessness about him. His skin was tanned gold and smooth. Though he was smiling, his strange copper eyes held the arrogance and entitlement of aristocracy. Now I understood why he’d furnished his home with the extravagant opulence of the Sun King who’d built the palace at Versailles—it fit him like a glove. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to learn he was the king of one of those small foreign countries few people ever heard of. The only thing that marred his perfection was a long scar running down his left cheek, from cheekbone to the corner of his mouth, and it didn’t really mar him at all. It only made him more intriguing.

  There were many pictures of them together that had obviously been taken by someone else—yet not one person had been able to describe him to the police, or tell them his name.

  Here, they were holding hands and smiling at each other. There they were shopping. Here, they were dancing on top of a table down in the Temple Bar District.

  There they were kissing.

  The more I looked at the pictures, the harder it was to see this man as a villain. She looked so happy with him and he looked just as happy with her.

  I shook my head sharply. She’d thought so, too. She’d believed in him right up to the day she’d called and left me her frantic message: I thought he was helping me, she’d said, but—God, I can’t believe I was so stupid! I thought I was in love with him and he’s one of them, Mac! He’s one of them!

  One of who? An Unseelie that could somehow pass for human, duping even a sidhe-seer? I wondered again if such a thing was possible. If he wasn’t Unseelie, what was he, and why would he ally himself with monsters? The man was clearly a consummate actor to have fooled Alina. But she’d found him out in the end. Had she grown suspicious and followed him here? To his home in the Dark Zone, smack in the middle of where my Spidey-sense was getting all kinds of warnings about supernatural danger?

  Speaking of supernatural danger, I’d been so intent on investigating the address Alina had sent me to, then gotten so sidetracked by the photos, I’d not realized whatever had push-pulled me in this direction wasn’t even in the house. It was out back, beyond it.

  And it was getting stronger.

  Way stronger. Like it just had woken up.

  I slipped the photos back in their envelopes, stuffed them into an inner pocket of my jacket, and got up. As I hurried through the first floor of the house again, looking for a rear exit, I noticed that there was something really wrong with the mirrors on the walls. So wrong, in fact, that after glancing into the first few, I stopped looking and stepped up my pace sharply. Those surreal-looking glasses were my first taste of the true “otherness” of the Fae. Although some Seelie and Unseelie walk and talk just like we do, we are so not the same species.

  I found a back door, let myself out, and headed straight for the half-raised corrugated steel dock door of a warehouse that sat back off the alley about fifty feet behind 1247 LaRuhe. Whatever was pulling me was in there.

  I must have been crazy that day is all I can figure. Though I moved with stealth and kept to the side of the entrance, I walked straight in. The temperature plummeted the moment I crossed the threshold and entered the shadowy interior. The building could easily have housed several football fields. It was an old distribution center, with racking systems a good thirty feet high to my left and right, and a central aisle between them, wide enough to drive two delivery trucks down, side by side. The long aisle was littered with plastic-wrapped pallets stacked ten to fifteen feet high that had not yet been unloaded and transferred to the racking. The chipped and scarred concrete was strewn with haphazard piles of wooden crates and forklifts that looked as though they’d been abandoned midlift. Far down the long aisle, I could see a stark, heavy light, and hear voices.

  Page 91

 

  I crept toward the light, slipping from stack to forklift to crate, working my way stealthily along, drawn by an instinct I could neither understand nor refuse. The nearer I got, the colder it grew. By the time I reached the third-to-last row of racking between me and whatever was ahead, I was shivering and watching my breath puff tiny ice crystals into the air.

  By the second-to-last row of racking, the metal of the forklift I
crouched behind was painfully icy to the touch.

  By the last row, I was so nauseated I had to sit down and stay put awhile. All that remained between me and whatever was ahead were stacks and stacks of pallets in a disorganized row that looked as if they’d been shoved back to clear a large area of floor space. Beyond those stacks, I could see the top parts of what looked like massive stones. The dense light that pressed into the gloom where I crouched wasn’t natural. It was a heavy, somehow dark light, and not one of the objects it was shining on threw a shadow.

  I have no idea how long it took me to get my queasy stomach under control. It might have been five minutes, it might have been half an hour, but eventually I was able to stand up again and forge on. It occurred to me that perhaps I shouldn’t forge on; I should just “run like hell” as Barrons had once counseled me and not look back, but there was that whole “pull” part of the push-pull thing going on. I had to see what was up there. I had to know. I’d come too far to turn back now.

  I peered around the corner of a stack of pallets—and jerked back violently.

  I eased myself to the floor on legs that were shaky again, a hand pressed to my pounding heart, wishing fervently that I’d never gotten out of bed this morning.

  After a few deep, careful breaths, I leaned forward and looked again. I think I was hoping I’d just imagined it.

  I hadn’t.

  Though I’d seen pictures in guidebooks and on postcards, I would have expected to find this kind of thing in the middle of a farmer’s pasture, not in the rear of an industrial warehouse in the heart of a commercial district, midcity. I’d also gotten the impression they were more moderately sized. This one was huge. I tried to imagine how it had gotten here, then remembered I wasn’t dealing with human methods of locomotion. With the Fae, anything was possible.

  Looming behind about a hundred Rhino-boys and other assorted Unseelie—who threw no shadows in the oppressive, strange light spilling from it—was a dolmen. Two towering stones stood upright about twenty-five feet apart, and a single long slab of rock lay across the top, making a doorway of the ancient megaliths.

  All around the doorway, symbols and runes were chiseled into the concrete floor. Some glowed crimson, others pulsed that eerie blue-black of the stone we’d stolen from Mallucé. A red-robed figure stood facing the dolmen, a deep cowl concealing its face.

  An arctic wind so cold it made my lungs hurt blasted through the stones, chilling more than my flesh; the dark wind bit into my soul with sharp, icy teeth, and I suddenly knew if I had to withstand it for very long I would slowly begin to forget every hope and dream that had ever warmed my heart.

  But it wasn’t the soul-searing wind or the Rhino-boys or even the red-robed figure the Fae watchdogs were addressing as “my Lord Master” that had me cowering in shadows.

  It was that the immense stone doorway was open. And through it was pouring a horde of Unseelie.

  TWENTY-THREE

  I won’t bore you with the details of the monsters that came through the doorway that day. Barrons and I would discuss them later and try to identify their castes, and you’ll meet most of them soon enough, anyway.

  Suffice to say, there were hundreds of them, tall and short, winged and hoofed, obese and gaunt, all of them pretty much horrific, and as they stepped through, they grouped off, ten or so to each Rhino-boy. From the bits I gathered, the Unseelie watchdogs had been assigned the task of acclimating their new charges to the world.

  My world.

  I cringed behind the stack of pallets, watching, too terrified to move. Finally, the last one came through. With more chanting and the sharp rapping of a gold-and-black scepter upon some of the glowing symbols, the red-robed Lord Master closed the doorway. The symbols went dark and the bitter wind ceased. The light in the warehouse brightened, became lighter somehow, and the Unseelie began casting shadows again. Feeling returned to my chilled face and fingers, and dreams to my heart.

  “You have your instructions,” the Lord Master said, and I wondered how such an evil thing could have such a beautiful voice.

  Genuflecting as if to a god, the Rhino-boys began herding their newly arrived brethren toward the aisle. A group of about thirty assorted monsters remained behind with the Lord Master.

  Page 92

 

  I plastered myself against the stack of pallets as every single one of the new arrivals passed within a dozen feet of me, accompanied by its “trainer. ” They were some of the most harrowing few minutes of my life. I got an up close and personal look at things we’ve never even come close to creating in our scariest horror flicks.

  After the last of them had marched, slithered, flapped, or crawled down the long aisle and exited the building, I slumped back against the pallets, closed my eyes, and kept them closed.

  So this was what Alina had wanted me to know: That behind 1247 LaRuhe was a gate to hell, and here the Lord Master was bringing his dark servants through from their previously inescapable Unseelie prison and turning them loose on our world.

  Okay, now I knew.

  Just what was I supposed to do about it? Alina had seriously overestimated me if she thought I could, or would, do anything about this problem. It wasn’t my problem. My problem was finding the bastard who’d betrayed her and bringing him to whatever justice I could. If he was human, I might let the courts have him. If he was an Unseelie masquerading as human, he’d die at the end of my spear. That was all I cared about.

  We’ve got to find the Sinsar Dubh, Alina had said. Everything depends on it.

  What depended on it? I had a sinking feeling the answer to that question was one of those Fate-of-the-World things. I didn’t do Fate-of-the-World things. That wasn’t in my job description. I poured drafts and mixed drinks, wiped counters and washed glasses. After work I swept up.

  Had Alina wanted me to find the Dark Book because somewhere within its dangerous, encrypted pages was the way to defeat the Lord Master and destroy his Unseelie portal? Why should I care? It was in Dublin, not Georgia! It was Ireland’s problem. They could handle their own troubles. Besides, even if I managed to accomplish the impossible and find the stupid Dark Book, how was I supposed to translate it? Barrons had two of the stones necessary, but I had no clue which team he was playing for. Nor did I have any idea where the other two stones were, how to find them, or how to use them—assuming I ever actually managed to get my hands on them.

  What had Alina expected me to do? Commit to staying in Dublin indefinitely, searching for all this woo-woo stuff and living in constant fear? Devote my life to this cause? Be willing to die for it?

  It was one heck of a tall order for a short-order bartender. I would have snorted if I hadn’t been on the uncomfortable verge of peeing my pants with fear for the past half hour.

  She’d died for it.

  I clenched my jaw and squeezed my eyes shut even harder.

  I’d never measured up to Alina, and I never would. I had no desire to open my eyes. I might see something else she thought I should be responsible for, I thought resentfully. I was getting out of here. I was going to put as much distance as possible between me and the prison-portal and the red-robed Lord Master and the whole Dark Zone.

  I sighed.

  I really was. Just as soon as I took just one last small look around the corner to see if there was anything else I should know. Not that I planned to do anything with the information. I just figured since I was already here, I might as well gather all of it I could. Maybe I could pass it on to that interfering old woman, or V’lane, and one of them could do something about it. If V’lane really was one of the good guys, then he and his queen should take immediate, decisive action to plug this unacceptable hole between our worlds. Hadn’t Barrons mentioned something about a Compact? Wasn’t there some kind of agreement this violated?

  I opened my eyes.

  And failed miserably at both my attempt to climb out of my own skin, and
my efforts to sink into the floor.

  Barrons and I had wondered where Mallucé was. Now I knew.

  Less than a dozen feet away from me, fangs bared, flanked by six beady-eyed Rhino-boys.

  TWENTY-FOUR

  Trying to disappear hadn’t worked, so I exploded up, hissing and kicking and slamming my hands into everything I could, well, lay my hands on.

  Unlike the other night, when I’d tried to kill the Gray Man, I didn’t have time to think about what I was doing, I just acted on instinct.

  It turned out my instincts were amazing.

  I left the spearhead tucked into my waistband, so I could use both hands. There was something inside me that worked like the missile-targeting system of a stealth bomber, locating and locking onto anything Fae once it was within a few feet of me.

  As Mallucé dropped back and let the six Rhino-boys close in, I slammed my palms out in opposite directions, hitting two of them smack in their barrel chests. I spun, slammed out again, catching another two in the ribs, then dropped to the floor and slammed out a third time.

  Page 93

 

  On my knees, I tossed my hair out of my eyes and assessed the situation. I’d frozen all six of them in two seconds flat.

  But how long would they stay frozen? That was the critical question.

  Mallucé looked startled—I guess he’d never seen a Null in action before—then glided toward me in that sinuous way of his. I reached inside my jacket for the spearhead, then remembered what Barrons had said, or rather hadn’t said about how to kill a vampire. Mallucé wasn’t Fae, so I could neither freeze nor stab him and expect it to work. Nor, according to Barrons, would a stake through his heart do the job, so I didn’t see any reason my spear would, either. I removed my hand from my jacket. I didn’t want to show my ace-in-the-hole until I had no other choice. Maybe, just maybe, I could get close to the Lord Master. And maybe I could use the spear to kill him. And then maybe I could freeze all the Unseelie and outrun a vampire. It sounded like a plan to me. The only one I could think of.

  I pushed up and began backing away. It seemed it was what the vampire’d wanted, anyway. I held his too-bright yellow gaze as he backed me past the pallet, onto the rune-chiseled floor in front of the dolmen, and into a circle of Unseelie Rhino-boys and assorted monsters.

 
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