I know Ryodan. Had I argued, he’d have debated me forever. But my quiet plea had taken the bite out of the wolf and, bristling with barely restrained testosterone and anger, he’d parked and escorted me to my door, saying tightly, If you need me, call. Text. Throw up a bloody Bat signal. If I don’t hear from you first thing in the morning, I’ll be on your fucking doorstep, beating down the door.
Only after I promised had he growlingly conceded to leave.
I stepped back and assessed my naked body in the mirror. I like my body. It’s strong and lean and suits me. I should be horrified by what was happening to me but I couldn’t help but think I looked kind of…beautiful. My entire left arm was covered with lovely dark thorns. I had no idea why I thought they were lovely but I did. They weren’t ugly or scary looking. They were as gently curved as the thorns on a rose, larger with slightly blunted tips. I ran my hand over them lightly and shivered. They were cold but extraordinarily sensitive, as if entire clusters of nerve-endings were nestled at the tips.
The barbs ended just beneath my shoulder but the inky blackness had seized territory on the left side of my torso as well, from beneath my armpit to my waist, shooting more of those ebony flames across my stomach and breasts. On someone else, I’d have found it wicked cool, an otherworldly tattoo, Woman of Obsidian Fire.
On me, although it was stunning, not so much.
Unless it went away, I would never again feel a man’s hands touch my breasts. Unless it went away, I would never again taste Ryodan’s kiss. Faces touch when you kiss. There was no way a man could get near my mouth with more than a chaste peck and I’m not a chaste peck kind of woman, as I’d amply demonstrated this morning.
God, that felt like a lifetime ago.
I’d have kissed him harder, longer, better, if I’d known this was going to happen by nightfall.
I forced my thoughts to focus, turned from the mirror and began to tally what I knew.
Fact: I stabbed a Hunter when I was fourteen and my hand turned black for days.
Fact: It kept happening over the years.
Fact: I’d recently developed an extraordinary superpower, the ability to shoot highly destructive bolts of lightning from my hand, capable of blowing structures apart and killing Fae royalty. I smirked a little. Ha, take that, the Nine! I’m as badass as you!
Fact: Each time I used the power, more of me turned black and icy.
I frowned. Inaccurate. The blackness hadn’t expanded when I killed Bridget. Nor when I used it to break the paralysis spell. Or had it—just not where I could see it? Staining deeper beneath my skin, opposed to wider. Were my bones black now?
Fact: When I used the power, it drained me to a degree that appeared to be increasing with use, or perhaps with the magnitude of use.
Fact: If anyone touched the black part of me, they would die. I would kill them.
“Poison Ivy much?” I muttered. That wasn’t who I’d planned to be when I grew up. She was Batman’s nemesis. I was supposed to be the Bat, only with superpowers.
Fact: If I kept using those incredible lightning bolts, it seemed highly probable I would turn entirely black. I wondered if it would affect my hair, too. Would my eyes turn black? I tried to envision myself all black. Pretty odd.
I stepped into the shower and stood under the spray pondering whether, as Shazam had suggested, I might be able to make it go away. Maybe if I never used it again the stain would retreat and I’d return to normal. It had retreated once, early on, to beneath my elbow. Was it cumulative somehow? Was its mysterious endgame inevitable and irreversible once it had begun?
I toweled my hair dry, tugged on sweats and a tee, grateful Shazam was impervious. At least I had that.
Assuming I survived whatever was happening to me, I was going to become that strange Hel-Cat lady, eccentric and alone.
It could be worse, I mused, as I headed back to the bedroom. I might not even have Shazam.
I, who at best had never known more than a tenuous connection to the world, was becoming even more cut off, more isolated. By my own skin. I’d always been dangerous. Now I was lethal to the touch.
My first year in a cage, my mother had showered me with affection. Before she’d left in the morning, and again each night when she got home. She’d washed and dried me, brushed my hair. We’d held hands through the bars. She’d rubbed moisturizer into my skin and tickled my back, and I’d known we were going to make it. That OLDER and OUTSIDE were a guarantee. I’d known it from her touch. You can feel love in someone’s hands.
It hadn’t stayed that way long. Her affection became more and more infrequent until, finally, she’d stopped touching me at all. Then, not long after, she’d begun to stop seeing me, too.
When I could no longer remember the feel of her hands on my body, my hair, of soft kisses pressed through bars; when those kisses had become a hazy memory that belonged to another life, some other child, I’d lain in my cage and hugged myself, turning my head from side to side, kissing my shoulders, my arms.
My small body had ached for touch. For comfort, for love.
As it did now.
I hoisted our mattress back up onto the box springs, stretched out on my back and opened my arms.
Shazam flung himself at me, landing squarely on my chest.
Rumbling, eyes gleaming, he head-butted me with delight, then snuggled into my killing embrace.
And, as I’d done so often Silverside, I squeezed my eyes shut to hold back tears, and held onto him with all my might.
The rusted chains of prison moons are shattered by the sun
“FIRST, KAT,” CHRISTIAN SAID, “a summary of pertinent history. Try to hold your questions till the end. The timeline I’m giving you is approximate. The Fae aren’t glued to the concept of time; they have an infinity of it to squander. I had to plug bits and pieces of history together with few points of reference.”
“Understood,” I said. We encountered the same problem with the texts we translated. Points of reference were vague at best, like tying our historical events to whatever TV shows were popular at the time and someone trying to figure it out millennia later. If he possessed an overview, I very much wanted it.
“The first significant mention of the Fae appears approximately one million years ago, although they existed long before that. Originally there was a single Light Court of Four Seasons. The Light King became dissatisfied with life at court, left and declared himself the Dark or Unseelie King. Sometime after that he met his mortal concubine, became obsessed with her and sought to make her immortal like him. Since the Song of Making was a matriarchal power, he had to petition the Light Queen to transform his lover. It was when the queen refused that everything began to go to hell.
“The Unseelie King retired to his dark kingdom, vowing to re-create the Song and make his lover immortal himself. The Unseelie or Dark Court was born as a result of his endless experiments. As far as I can tell, he spent roughly a quarter of a million years working on it. Again, approximate, I believe Cruce was born three-quarters of a million years ago, and was one of the last remaining Dark Court the king created.
“As you know, Cruce betrayed the king to the queen and told her what the king had been doing, about five hundred thousand years ago. Cruce wanted the Unseelie Court to roam freely in the world, mingling with the Seelie, which was forbidden by the king. The king knew what the queen would do if she discovered he’d created a Dark Court of his own, especially if she learned that the mortal lover she so despised was still alive, secreted away in a realm beyond time to keep her from aging.
“When the queen learned of the Dark Court’s existence, it started a war to end all wars. When Seelie and Unseelie clashed, they destroyed their own planet, splitting it down the middle. The unthinkable happened: the Unseelie King killed the Seelie Queen, before she was able to pass the Song of Making to her successor.
“The Song was all that kept the Fae powerful. They, alone, possessed that ancient melody of life.”
“No doubt, stolen somehow,” I said, unable to resist the acerbic comment. No god I believed in would have entrusted a thing of such power and beauty to such a shallow, power-hungry, ruthless race.
“As you’ve seen, the Song seeps into reality and replenishes fading magic. Once they lost the ancient melody, the Fae were doomed. Over time they would have grown weaker, until they vanished on the wind, with only legends of them remaining.”
“But when Mac used the Song to heal our world they were restored,” I said grimly.
“Precisely. What the melody didn’t destroy, it made stronger. As happened long ago in the mists of Time, the Song sank deep into the fabric of all things and crooned ‘Awaken.’ Another of Mac’s double-edged swords. That woman does tend to wreak havoc from time to time.”
I began to protest but he waved it away.