High Voltage

Page 25

Though cell towers functioned reliably for the most part, the Internet was in sad shape, vast chunks of it missing. With so much of the human race gone, enormous areas of the planet lacked both the power and manpower to run things. Compounded by magic making things unpredictable, books once again commanded a premium.

I needed information about Ireland’s gods and goddesses. I’d never given them much of a thought. I preferred superheroes and had spent far more time poring over comics and graphic novels. Who was AOZ and what was his modus operandi for tripping people up with their own wishes?

While uncovering their legends perhaps I’d stumble across a story about a god that had long ago been wont to abduct adults, leaving their children behind. Discover the why of it, a name. A way to defeat him. Granted, a contemporary book wouldn’t yield nearly the detailed information of the abbey’s private libraries, but it was as good a place to start as any.

Beast first.

I decided, even though BB&B was gone, to head straight there. Not only was it closer, but the wards were decidedly Barrons-esque. Perhaps both owner and establishment had miraculously reappeared; one could always hope. Besides, when I’d discovered it missing the other day, I’d not scouted the lots with my customary attention to detail, aggravated by its disappearance and on the trail of prey. If BB&B yielded nothing, I’d head straight for Chester’s.

As I moved briskly across Ha’Penny Bridge and entered the south side of Dublin, I encountered my second anomaly of the day.

It was Saturday, but this morning at seven-thirty the streets teemed with people in suits and dresses who looked suspiciously as if they were going to work. As a pedestrian plowed down the sidewalk toward me—a woman in her late twenties or early thirties who was peering intently down at her cellphone—I said politely, “Pardon, what day is it?”

She raised her head, absorbed me, noting the hilt of my sword poking over my shoulder, the many bulges in my pockets, perhaps she just didn’t like my face. Her eyes narrowed, she clutched her purse more tightly and darted around me, sprinting off in high heels.

I glared at her retreating back, “Right, because monsters don’t exist and you don’t need people like me in the world,” I muttered as I reached for my phone. When I’d read my text messages earlier, I hadn’t paid any attention to the date. There’d been no reason to. I sleep a few hours at most and can go days without it. But yesterday was a bit more eventful and I’d slept closer to four hours.

I gaped down at the screen.

It was Tuesday.

I shook it. Hard. It still said Tuesday.

That was impossible. I narrowed my eyes as the tatters of a dream I’d had last night—or rather days ago—surfaced in my mind. Ryodan. Tracing symbols on me. Murmuring.

That prick. I’d awakened feeling so unusually fine because he’d spelled me into sleeping from Friday night until Tuesday morning!

Bristling, I pivoted sharply and stormed in the opposite direction, crossing Barrons off my suspect list. Ryodan had used his powers of “relaxation” on me in the past. This was a Machiavellian move, taking me out of the game so he could leave Dublin on his own timetable.

If Ryodan wasn’t at Chester’s, I was wrecking the place. Trashing. Maybe torching. No, I wasn’t done searching it. But definitely wrecking.

Nobody knocks me out for days. Especially not after being gone for two years. Especially not after I saved his ass.

As I stalked toward 939 Rêvemal Street, my brain processed a third anomaly: an inordinate number of blue-collar workers, laborers from the looks of them, were marching in the same direction, belts swaying, heavy with tools. They were bright-eyed, ruddy-cheeked, talking loudly with excitement.

I moved in behind the fast-moving throng to eavesdrop.

“I heard there’s a year’s work, maybe more,” one of the men exclaimed.

“I heard two. Christ, that’d be something.”

“Ballocks, it’s good to be working again! The construction business has been deader than a bloody doornail. Too many buildings, not enough people to fill a tenth of ’em.”

“Nice to see someone willing to put the money into new construction.”

“Right, that. With folks worrying about what tomorrow might bring.”

Part of me was pleased by this turn of events. Someone was building. Making jobs for those who had none. Electricians, plumbers, specialty skills were still in demand. But builders, men that cut lumber and hung drywall, metal workers, men who tiled and framed, simply weren’t needed anymore. No one was building anything new and probably wouldn’t for a long time.

It wasn’t as if these men could get additional training to learn a more useful skill. We were back to low-or no-wage apprenticing, a long way from staffing universities again. There was too much unrest, a deep unease about the future. We were a society fractured in countless ways. Those gainfully employed filled essential positions: food production, crucial technology, law enforcement, news. Jobs were hard to find, hence the high rate of crime in our city. And it got a lot worse the farther out you went.

“Who’s funding the project?” a newcomer to the conversation said.

“What’s-his-name…bugger, it’s right on the tip of my tongue. Weird name. Riordan? Same guy that turned things around a few years back, when those black holes were everywhere and we were running out of food. Got the papers out. Put the city back on track. He’s been gone awhile. Glad to hear he’s back. We could use more men like him around this city.”

I scowled. A bigger part of me was distinctly not pleased.

I’d been here, humping the grind every day for the past two years, working tirelessly to save my city. And what did I get? Scowled at and run away from, merely for asking a polite question. My hands fisted and my frown deepened.

I was willing to bet half the money I’d stolen from Ryodan that these ebullient, newly employed men were headed for Chester’s.

And if my suspicion was correct, that person in the premier spot on my shit-list this morning, that pain in my ass who hadn’t been doing a bloody thing to help Dublin for the past two years, was about to get sainted by my city again.

COCKROACHES SLITHERED IN STONE-DUSTED crevices, under and over rocks, reassembling beyond a jagged outcropping, deep in shadow, into a squat, gelatinous body with two legs, six arms, and a small head with a beaklike mouth.

His fragile, uncertain form disgusted the roach-god. He craved a solid existence among men, or at the least, a return to the lofty position he’d once enjoyed.

When Titans warred, it wasn’t the giants that survived. It was those who made themselves small and inconspicuous that passed beyond their enemies’ regard.

At this the one called “Papa Roach” by mortals excelled. He’d been the insects beneath humans’ feet, reviled, assaulted merely for poaching small morsels of food for longer than he cared to recall. Modern man found him grotesque and, with caustic, corrosive chemicals, drove him from their bright world, into the darkness of foundations, walls, caves, and sewers. Turned him into a creature of furtive stealth and petty displays of scratching his back on their toothbrushes while they slept, spitting into their glasses, smearing small crusts of feces along the rims, dropping more in their utensil drawers. His beggarly amusements: they shared their world with him whether they wanted to or not, whether they knew it or not. The darkness was his; his exploits began when theirs ended in sleep.

In his venerable prime, his countless bodies, their enviable endurance, agility, and ability to penetrate the most secret places, had been much acclaimed and sought after. He’d been respected, feared, admired, his counsel deemed invaluable. Women had put out food for him at each meal, beseeching his presence beneath their table, preparing tempting dishes to entice him near so they might importune his aid. There’d been a time he’d benevolently assisted them. Enjoyed them. Cared.

No more.

By the blood of the sidhe, what did they expect? When you treated things badly, things behaved badly. Who was inclined to seize moments of persecution to demonstrate their finest nature? Idiots. Fools. He’d been there from the first, long before the Faerie, had watched humans make their first slithering passage onto solid ground. Had applauded them as they’d evolved, become more.

Now they were so much less.

Glistening mandibles ground together as he rubbed shiny, black carapace against carapace to grate in a hiss, “My name is Gustaine.”

It had been thousands of years since he’d said the words. Since he’d called himself anything but “roach.”

The Titans had fallen, most forever slain, the rare few, the impossible to kill, perhaps a hundred of them, imprisoned in the earth. The handful of gods who’d both survived the catastrophic wars and escaped imprisonment had, like him, found a way to hide.

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