Undone, p.1Part #1 of Outcast Season series by Rachel Caine
Table of Contents
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Praise for the Weather Warden Series
"The forecast calls for . . . a fun read."--Jim Butcher
"[As] swift, sassy, and sexy as Laurell K. Hamilton . . . Rachel Caine takes the Weather Wardens to places the Weather Channel never imagined!"--Mary Jo Putney
"A fast-paced thrill ride [that] brings new meaning to stormy weather."--Locus
"An appealing heroine, with a wry sense of humor that enlivens even the darkest encounters."--SF Site
"Fans of Laurell K. Hamilton and the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher are going to love this fast-paced, action-packed, romantic urban fantasy."--Midwest Book Review
"A kick-butt heroine who will appeal strongly to fans of Tanya Huff, Kelley Armstrong, and Charlaine Harris."
"A neat, stylish, and very witty addition to the genre, all wrapped up in a narrative voice to die for. Hugely entertaining." --SF Crowsnest
"Chaos has never been so intriguing as when Rachel Caine shapes it into the setting of a story. Each book in this series has built in intensity and fascination. Secondary characters blossom as Joanne meets them anew, and twists are revealed that will leave you gasping."
--Huntress Book Reviews
"The Weather Warden series is fun reading . . . more engaging than most TV."--Booklist
"If for some absurd reason you haven't tucked in to this series, now's a good time. Get cracking."--Purple Pens
"I dare you to put this book down."
--University City Review (Philadelphia)
"Overall, the fast pace, intense emotion, cool magics, and a sense of hurtling momentum toward some planet-sized conclusion to the overarching story are keeping me a fan of the Weather Warden series. I continue to enjoy Joanne's girly-girl yet kick-ass nature."--Romantic & Fantasy Novels
Also by Rachel Caine
THE WEATHER WARDEN SERIES
Published by New American Library, a division of
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, February 2009
Copyright (c) Roxanne Longstreet Conrad, 2009
eISBN : 978-1-44066169-3
All rights reserved
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To Jean Stuntz, my dear and patient friend,
who sat with me in a humid bar
in Oklahoma City and helped me figure out
what made Outcast Season a halfway good idea.
You, my dear, rock.
To Cynthia Clarke, for services above and beyond!
My friends P. N. Elrod, Sharon Sams-Adams, and the Time Turners for extraordinary support.
To beta readers Brooke Carleton, Sonya Volkhardt, and Jesse L. Cairns for masterful commentary and guidance.
To the Victory dealership in Arlington, Texas, and the Smart Car dealership in Dallas.
IT ONLY TOOK one word to destroy me, after millennia of living in peace and security, and the word was No.
I knew as I made my answer that it would not come without consequences. Had I known just how vast those would be, and how far they would ripple, I doubt I would have had the courage.
Humans say that ignorance is bliss, and perhaps that's true, even for Djinn.
For a moment, it seemed that my act of outright defiance brought with it no reaction. Ashan, the Djinn facing me--one of the oldest of the Old Ones--was a swirl of brilliance without form, a being without the trap of flesh, just as I was.
I thought that perhaps, this time, my defiance might go unpunished, and then I felt a ripple in the aetheric currents surrounding me. The aetheric was the world in which I lived, a plane of light and energy, heat and fire. It had little in common with the lower planes, the ones tied to dirt and death. I lived in heaven, and a ripple in heaven was ominous indeed.
I watched as Ashan--brother, father, god of my existence, newly made Conduit from Mother Earth to the Djinn--took on form and substance. It required power to do such a thing here, in this place; I had not bothered with form in so many turnings of the world I didn't think I could even remember the shapes, and even if I did, I had not the raw force necessary to manipulate things here.
Ashan's aetheric form became ominously solid and dark, and I felt the ripples grow stronger, rocking the reality around us. The bands and currents of colors, pastel and perfect, took on sharp edges. Rainbows bled and wept.
"No?" He repeated it from a mouth that was almost human form, giving me the chance to change my answer. To save myself.
"I cannot. No."
This time, the rainbows burned. Another ripple hit me in a wave, hot and thick with menace, and I felt a strange pulling sensation
"Last chance," Ashan said. "Cassiel, don't test me. I can't allow your rebellion. Not now. Do as you are ordered."
What I was doing wasn't rebellion, but he couldn't see this so clearly, and I could not explain. I had never been known for my reasonable nature, and I never explained myself.
I stayed silent.
"Then you chose this. Remember that."
I felt the tugging inside of me turn white-hot, searing in its intensity. I felt the exact moment when Ashan ripped away my connection to the aetheric, to him, to the mother of us all, the Earth.
Beyond that, the vast and unknowable God.
I felt the exact moment when I died as a Djinn, and fell, screaming. I crashed through all the planes of heaven, shattering each in turn, a bright white star burning as it fell. I took on form.
I landed facedown in the mud and dirt.
The voice was a whisper, but it burned in my ears like acid. The slightest sound--even my own name--was agonizing. I had never been hurt before, and I was drowning in the sensations, the agony of it. The humiliating fury of helplessness, of being trapped in flesh. Of being mutilated and emptied and cut off.
The worst of it was that it was my own fault.
I rolled away from the sound of my name being called again, and from the gentle brushing touch of a hand. My fresh-born nerves screamed, outraged by every hint of pressure. I couldn't separate my thoughts from the overwhelming, crushing burden of senses I had never bothered to master before, because I had never bothered to be human.
"Cassiel, it's David. Can you hear me?"
David. Yes. David was Djinn, a Conduit like Ashan. He would understand. He could help. He could sense the echoing emptiness inside me where my power had once been; he could tell how badly damaged I was. He could make it stop.
"Help," I whispered, or tried to. I don't know if he understood me. The sounds that came from my mouth sounded less like words than the raw whimpering of a wounded animal. There was no elegance to my plea, no eloquence. I had no grace. I was trapped in a prison of heavy, uncooperative flesh, and everything hurt. I tried to get away from the pain, but no matter how I writhed, changing my skin, changing inside it, the burn was constant. The agony of being alone never went away.
His voice grew louder, more urgent. "Cassiel. Listen to me. You're shifting too fast. You have to choose a shape and hold on to it, do you understand? You're killing yourself. Stop shifting!"
I didn't understand. It was all flesh, and nothing felt right, nothing felt true. I kept blindly changing my form--the shape of my face, the length of my legs and arms, my height, my weight. I abandoned human templates altogether for something smaller, something catlike, but that felt wrong, too, worse than wrong, and I clawed back into human flesh and fell on my side again, panting and exhausted. I blinked my eyes--oh, so limited, these eyes, seeing such a narrow spectrum of light--and saw that my exhausted body had settled into a female form, long-limbed, pale. The hair that straggled across my field of vision was very pale, as well--white, with a touch of ice blue. It matched the devastating cold inside of me.
I was shivering. Frozen. I had never known what it was really like, nerves rasping on each other in such a way. It felt horrific and humiliating, being so exposed, so raw and badly formed.
Something warm fell across my naked body, and I rolled into it, groaning uncontrollably. I felt myself lifted up and embraced in David's arms, weak as a newborn child.
I fixed my gaze on his face. So different. He was not the bright, burning flame I had known from the aetheric; here, he was in the form of a human man. Still, there was a touch of the Djinn in the hot coppery color of his eyes, and in the gleam of his skin.
David had always loved abiding among mortals, while I'd avoided them, shunned the idea of taking flesh at all. We had never been friends, even so much as Djinn might be; allies from time to time, when the occasion suited. Never more. Ironic we should find ourselves at the same destination, by such different roads.
"Cassiel," he said again, and brushed hair back from my face as he braced my head against his chest. "What happened to you?" He sounded genuinely concerned, although I was none of his responsibility--but David had always had a touch of the human about him, because of his origins. False-born, a Djinn only in power and not in lineage, bred from humans and brought up to the Djinn only through the catastrophic deaths of thousands. They called themselves the New Djinn. Not like Ashan. Not like me. We were the True Djinn, born of the power of the Earth. These others were merely late-coming pretenders.
"Can you hear me? What happened?"
Even had I been in command of my new lips, lungs, and tongue, I couldn't confess what had brought me down to this terrible state, not without revealing more than even David should know.
I would not tell.
He must have seen that, because I felt his attention focus on me, warm and liquid, passing over and through me. It was . . . soothing. Like his hand, which was stroking my hair, avoiding contact with my fragile, newborn skin.
His expression changed, eyes widening. I didn't have enough experience with human faces to know what that meant. "You've been cut off. Cassiel, you're dying. Why has Ashan done this to you?"
He was right; I was dying. I sensed my hunger, a dark core of desperation inside that was growing worse with each labored breath I took. Djinn don't need human food; we sustain ourselves from the aetheric . . . but I could no longer reach it. The life of the Djinn, the very breath of it, was closed to me.
No wonder it all hurt so badly.
I felt David lifting me, felt the drag of gravity heavy on my flesh. What if he dropped me? I imagined the impact, the pain, and felt a horrible surge of terror. I huddled in his arms, helpless and furious with inadequacy.
Cassiel the great. Cassiel the terrible.
Cassiel the undone.
I forced my senses outward, away from my raw flesh, to focus on the world around me. I was in a human home of some type, with no memory of how I'd found it, or how David had found me. Everything seemed too bright, too sharp, too flat. I couldn't sense my surroundings as I should have been able to, as a Djinn would have known them; the bed on which he carefully laid me felt cool against my skin, and blissfully soft, but it was just nerves responding to pressure and temperature. Human senses, blunt and awkward.
As a Djinn, I should have been able to know this room at a glance--know its history, know where and how everything in it had originated. I should have been able to unspool the history of each small thing back through time, if I wished. I should know it all down to its smallest particles, and be able to make and unmake it at will, with enough power and ability.
But instead I sensed it as a human might, in surfaces, interpreted in light and smell and touch and sound. And taste. There was a foul metallic coating in my mouth. Blood. I swallowed it, and felt a twinge of nausea. I could bleed. The thought made me feel even more fragile.
The bed sagged on one side as David seated himself next to me. "Cassiel," he said again. "Try to speak."
I licked my lips with a clumsy, thick tongue, and squeezed air from my lungs to mumble, "David." Just his name, but it was a triumph of a kind. And his smile was a reward.
"Good," he said. "Before we do anything else, let me give you some power. You're badly injured. I won't overload you--just enough to stabilize you. All right?"
He took my hands in his--gently, but still my nerves screamed in protest at the unfamiliar touch. I rattled inside, and realized that what I felt was anxiety, channeled through human instincts.
The fear mounted as I felt the warmth David granted cascade into me . . . and pass right through me. I couldn't hold on to what he was trying to give. It was maddening, like watching life-giving water flow by in a tunnel, while dying of thirst.
David let go and sat back. Behind him, the sun was rising through an open window, a fierce ball of fire draped in oranges and reds and pinks, barely filtered by the thin white curtains. I turned my face away from its burning, unable to feel its energy the way I had as a Djinn. The rumpled sheets smelled of human musk. The table beyond the bed held some kind of mechanical device with hard-burning red characters, an abstract thing that only gradually made sense to me as a type of clock for marking hours. So slow, this way of understanding. So pitifully, painfully slow.
A closet on the far side of the room was open, revealing a dizzying rainbow of cloth and color. The room smelled sharply of perfumes, soaps, and sex.
"This is Joanne's room," David said. "She'll be back soon. Cassiel, can you try to tell me what happened?"
I shook my head, or tried--that was the currently accepted negative gesture, or so I thought. Even though I had never taken flesh before, there were things the Djinn knew, things they absorbed. Human languages. Human habits. We could not avoid them, not even those who held ourselves strictly apart; the knowledge seeped through the aetheric, into our unwilling awareness.
That was the fault of the New Djinn, who had never shed their human beginnings, and gave us connection to these tiny, brief lives.
David looked at me soberly for a moment, then put his hand flat against my forehead. A kind of benediction, very light and gentle.
"You're in pain," he said. "I'm sorry that I can't help you, but you're not one of my people. You're Ashan's. I can't touch you, and I can't undo what he's done."
Ashan. Ah yes, I was Ashan's. I was one of the Old Djinn, the First Djinn, who came before any human walked the Earth. I was a spirit of fire and air, and Ashan had cast me down to this heavy, crippling flesh.
I struggled to hold to that knowledge. Already, the aetheric seemed so far away. So unattainable.
"I'll speak with him," David said, and tried to rise. I forced my muscles to my will, and grabbed his wrist. It was a weak hold, hardly even strong enough to restrain a human child, much less a Djinn, but David understood the gesture. He paused, and I felt his pulse of alarm before I matched it to the frown of his expression. "You don't want me to go to Ashan? You're sure?"
"I'm sure," I whispered. I had just doubled my output of human words. It felt ridiculously cheering. "He won't listen."
Undone by Rachel Caine / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes