There was wind here. Gusting, swirling waves of it buffeting my body. It felt as if I might catch one and go shooting up higher, higher, before channeling the borrowed velocity to dive beneath a moon, perhaps go ricocheting out around a star.
I’d always thought space was still but it wasn’t, it was living and flowing, ebbing and changing. Not emptiness here but some kind of…dark matter that defied understanding, the stuff of the Cosmos, rife with possibility, as if all the hopes and dreams and desires that had ever been and would ever be were nestled deep within superdense molecules of darkness we could never comprehend, and, every now and then, something came along whose wings, or melody, rippled against that dark matter, stirring it up with lightning and song, with bolts of extreme high voltage, changing, waking, beginning something new, stitching things together in ways that defied comprehension, making connections, forging patterns and symmetry from chaos.
I felt a great breeze then and turned whatever head I had into the wind. An enormous black Hunter sailed along beside me, head rocking gently as it buffeted the waves, lips pulled back as it chuffed softly and turned its gargantuan head to fix me with a single glowing orange eye. Ready?
I frowned. For what?
I see that.
You fly, too.
What was it saying? That I might remain here with it, flying through the greatest unexplored territory of all? Discover the secrets of the Cosmos, behold its ancient mysteries?
All of that and more.
But my people. This wasn’t my world. Mine was in danger once more, and probably always would be. My world needed me. I had a job to do.
I closed my eyes, willing it all to go away.
When I opened them again, I stood blinking repeatedly, blinded by the sudden, harsh light, the jarring transition.
I was in the club but things had changed while I’d drifted in the cosmic vision. The surviving Fae had vanished; sifted, flown or run away, leaving behind only the dead, the Nine and me.
“Dani.” Ryodan’s voice seemed to come from a great distance.
I blinked again, staring dazedly at the destruction around me.
Walls were splintered and crumbling. The floor was cleft by a fifty-foot-wide crevice with jagged edges that dropped to a bottomless abyss. The LED panels had been shattered, spraying bits of glass and wiring everywhere, and those people trapped beneath the floor were gone. I shivered. Fallen to their deaths down the gorge I’d carved. A small part of my brain said, A better death than the one they were facing. A bigger part said, Yet more people you failed to save.
The structure of Elyreum groaned, as timbers contorted in a hopeless effort to accommodate the compromised foundation.
“Dani,” Ryodan said again.
“Honey,” I heard Lor say. “Can you hear us?”
I nodded tightly.
“Put your hand down, Dani,” Ryodan said softly, carefully.
I hadn’t realized it was still raised. I stared at it, turning it this way and that, trying to process it. My left forearm had sprouted darkly beautiful obsidian thorns. It looked like a black velvet, studded opera glove.
I forced it to drop to my side.
“Look at me, Dani,” said Ryodan in a low, intense voice.
I turned slowly and met his gaze. His eyes flickered strangely, swirling with shadows and I saw, as clearly as if he’d spoken the words: Goddamn, I was right. She isn’t human. I knew it. Then, Shit, this wasn’t at all what I expected. Fuck!
The words hadn’t come to me in the usual manner of his silent communications—deliberately telegraphed. I’d gotten an entire memory attached to his first thought, nothing with the second.
He hadn’t believed I was human since he saw me outside Temple Bar as I’d stood watching street mimes, laughing my ass off, one hand shoved in my pocket, the other cramming a cheeseburger in my mouth. I’d had two black eyes and was badly bruised, still drunk on being able to freeze-frame all over the city before I learned to lock my mental grid down.
But that wasn’t when we’d met. We hadn’t met for some time after that.
Still, he had a flawlessly detailed memory of walking up behind me, stopping a matter of mere inches from my back, pausing for a moment, inhaling deeply, before vanishing in that eerie, instant way of his. If I’d sensed an electrifying presence behind me, I’d written it off as my own excitement at finally being free in the world.
He’d known about me long before he came to find me on that water tower, to rope me into working for him.
I tried to ponder that thought but my brain was sluggish and uncooperative. I couldn’t access any of my mental vaults. Was this how normal people felt? How terrible that must be! How did they even stand it? I had sludge in my head.
My legs went out from under me then.
As I slumped to the floor, I cried out to Ryodan, “Don’t catch me! Don’t touch me! I’m dangerous!”
Ryodan smiled faintly but it didn’t reach his eyes. “I think we’ve figured that out.”
Belong, etymology: Old English, “gelang,” “at hand,” “together with.”
Definition: To be suitable, advantageous, appropriate.
To have the proper qualifications, especially social, to be a member of a group, to fit.
To be attached, bound by birth, allegiance or dependency.
To be a son, daughter, mother, father, lover.
Families belong to each other.
I have no idea what the word means.
My mom said I “belonged” in a cage.
But I know better.
I’ve never belonged anywhere.
What have I become, my sweetest friend
“HEY, SHAZ-MA-TAZ,” I GREETED him with weary cheer, as I trudged into my bedroom and flipped on the overhead light.
He raised his great shaggy head from the mattress on the floor and peered at me, scanning me intently from head to toe. It was a look we’d often given each other after battle, ascertaining whether the other was okay.
His violet eyes widened. “You’re thorny!” he exclaimed. “That’ll be a tryllium scratch!”
One of my old passwords used to be thornybitch314159, a combination of how I sometimes felt plus the first six digits of pi. I considered choosing more wisely in the future. “That I am. I assume tryllium’s good?”
“The best!” he enthused, but sobered quickly. “Are you all right, Yi-yi?” he fretted. “It grew again.”
“I’m fine,” I said, slipping out of my dress. “I’m going to wash up then I need big-time cuddles. Oodles of them.”
“And we’ll put the mattress back up?”
“You betcha.” I headed for the shower.
Ryodan had dropped me off and left, seething, a few minutes ago.
I couldn’t help it. I needed to be alone. I’d gotten used to being alone. Something was happening to me and I wanted time to focus my brain on it.
I’d had to rest for five solid minutes before I could push up from the floor, leaving the shattered, collapsing club behind. I wasn’t about to let anyone pick me up and carry me out. Although I no longer felt the exhilarating, terrifying wild voltage inside me, I was taking no chances.
While I’d gathered my strength, Lor had picked through the rubble, searching for my shoes, but they were nowhere to be found, which pissed me off because I loved those shoes. I’d worn them once. The others had remained in beast form, in case the Fae decided to try to circle back for another attack, which I found highly improbable. They’d gone two years without a single threat, and we’d just killed a hundred of them, if not more. The possibility of death is something Fae avoid like humans avoid Ebola. I wanted to ponder the ramifications of our actions tonight, but at the moment all I could think about was myself.
My confusion had abated but I was still shaky and weak. Ryodan, meticulous planner that he is, had snacks stashed in the Ferrari and I’d inhaled candy bars, one after the other, before shoving half a bag of chips in my mouth.
I glanced at the mirror and raised a brow thinking, wryly, Aha that’s why they were all staring at me like that.
Blackness had taken more of my pale Irish skin. Not only was my left arm a thorny black glove, the stain had spread further into my flesh.
Exotic black flames arced up the left side of my neck, curving over my jaw, my cheek, to my temple and into my left brow. The pointed tip of one of those flames ended a mere inch from my mouth. The mouth that was suddenly acutely aware it hadn’t done nearly enough kissing.
The Nine had closed in protectively around me as we walked to the car, which I found hysterically funny, given what I’d just done. Killed a prince without using the sword, destroyed a club.
Ryodan had argued with me all the way back to Sanctuary, demanding I return to Chester’s with him. Demanding we talk.
Lacking the energy to argue, I’d looked at him and said simply, Please, I very much need to be alone right now.