High Voltage

Page 5

Ergo, open box. Shove in. Close box.

When he returned, I’d open the box again.

Dancer, however, I left rattling around in my head. He hadn’t left by choice. I would work through the grief. It would change me, but I knew I’d like the woman I’d be by the time I was through, and Dancer would, too.

Meanwhile, I needed a mystery to take my mind off things. Finding one in Dublin, AWC—after the wall crash—and ATS—after the Song—should be as simple as heading back to the city.

Shazam would catch up with me as soon as he’d eaten—he can find me anywhere—so I glanced up to set my bearings by the stars. After wasting so many years staring at a TV from behind bars, I spent a lot of time looking up now. I’m obsessed with the sky, especially at night. It has a way of making me feel utterly irrelevant while part of a vast, timeless whole. I’ll never forget my first week free of the cage. At night I slept on the ground in the middle of wide-open fields, drifting off with my arms behind my head, marveling at the immensity of it all; a child whose entire universe had, until then, been forty-two square feet.

Position noted, I hurried to the drive to circumvent gravestones before kicking up into the slipstream. During that perilous first instant or two before I enter the higher dimension in which I’ve learned to move, I can still crash into things. Once I’m up, I’m flawless. Coming down is even trickier than going up, and how I get most of my bruises.

I paused on the pavement, glanced around to lock down the many variables on my mental grid—and froze, a chill of horror licking up my spine. Not many things do that to me.

“What the—” I bit off the hushed curse and went as still as one of the corpses in the ground, adjusting my breath to minute, shallow inhales. I’m not here, I’m not here, I willed.

What I was seeing was impossible.

The Song of Making had been sung. The Unseelie had been destroyed by it. All of them. I no longer carried flashlights or a MacHalo.

The life-sucking Shades were gone.

Nonetheless, I was surrounded by them, hemmed in by countless inky shadows rising from the earth, bursting from graves, exploding from headstones, ghosting out windows of crumbling mausoleums, even clawing their ghastly passage through pavement.

Dozens—no, a hundred or more!—filled the cemetery.

One fought its way free of the blacktop five feet from my left; another hovered a few feet in front of me; there were three of the lethal things to my right.

I didn’t dare glance behind me because they hadn’t seemed to notice me yet. Perhaps they’d gorge on grass, flowers, and trees and move on, sated, if I held very, very still.

I locked down my limbs but my mind raced: it had been nearly four months since the new queen of the Fae sang the exquisite, dangerous melody that repaired the rifts in the fabric of our world. It was common knowledge that nothing Unseelie could survive that Song, and nothing Unseelie had been seen since.

I’ve always been massively suspicious of common knowledge, clearly with good reason. The cemetery was packed with Shades, nearly as many as had broken free of the poisoned D’Jai Orb on Halloween when the wall between the worlds of Fae and Man had been destroyed.

How did they survive the Song? What else had survived it?

Amorphous vampires, Shades live in the darkness and suck the life from anything or anyone foolish enough to stumble across their path. Not that I’d been doing any stumbling, nor had I been foolish in thinking I no longer needed a bloody MacHalo. I had every reason to toss my bike helmet adorned with dozens of LED lights onto a shelf. The Unseelie were dead.


When Shades dine on humans, they leave behind small sundaes of papery husks, garnished with shiny fillings, watches, implants, and other oddities. They suck even the sap and insects from trees, strip the soil so clean not a speck of bacteria remains. My sword is useless against them. All weapons are. Shades can’t be killed and the only thing that can save you from a gruesome death is light. If you have enough, you can hold them at bay.

My cellphone wouldn’t cast enough light to protect even one of my hands.

Take that, Ryodan. You leave, I die. May you be crushed by a mountain of guilt.

I slammed the lid of that box back down.

The Shades were moving, swarming, drifting near, slithering away. The cloud of darkness directly in front of me listed nearer, and hovered ten inches from my left boot. No way I could try to kick up into the slipstream. It was too close; I’d collide with it before escaping to the higher dimension. If I’d been High Fae, I could have sifted. But freeze-framing—what I do—is clumsier, slower, and not nearly as elegant. Fae can blink out and reappear half a world away. I’m far more limited.

There was no way I was calling for Shazam. I wouldn’t put him in danger. I wasn’t sure how powerful he was against something like this, and losing him would positively gut me.

My cellphone was in my back pocket. I calculated the odds of getting it out, pressing it on and managing to thumb up IISS before the nearest Shade devoured my foot.

Not good.

I went for it anyway. Some folks suffer a delusion that life is about making the right choices, implying there is a right choice in every situation. I don’t know what kind of life they live but in mine the only course of action is often a bad one. I die doing something or I die doing nothing. Although I loathed calling Ryodan for help, I loathed the idea of dying more and I deeply despised that I hadn’t been able to manage life on my own for an entire ten minutes after he’d gone.

My hand cleared my side, slid beneath my sword and plunged into my back pocket.

The Shade swallowed my left boot.

I gaped down in horror as I fumbled my phone from my pocket and thumbed up the contacts, furious at the epic waste the tattoo Ryodan inked on my skin had already proved to be. Who had time to search through their phone contacts when they were being attacked by Shades?

The Shade swallowed my left knee.

There went my right knee.

I’d vanished from mid-thigh down.

Even if I were able to dial IISS now—and I couldn’t because I had a lot of numbers in my cellphone and couldn’t find the bloody thing—even if he arrived instantly and somehow managed to do the unthinkable and kill it, my legs were already gone.

I wasted a fraction of a second wondering whether I wanted to live without legs.

There it was—IISS!

My thumb paused slightly above it, refused to move.

I could feel my legs. They were icy but there.

I peered down. The Shade was motionless, an inky, oily sleeve around my lower body.

I frowned. This wasn’t how Shades behaved. When Sorcha, a fellow sidhe-seer died, Clare had seen it happen, and said Sorcha vanished into her own boot as she pulled it on, thanks to a Shade tucked in the darkness within. This particular caste of Unseelie devoured their prey instantly and with one swift inhalation, then belched a small pile of crumbs. Or in her case, left them in her shoe.

Was it possible it wasn’t a Shade? If so, what was it? I realized with a distant part of my brain that my legs weren’t the only part of me that was cold. My left hand was freezing. And itching. I glanced at it. It was completely black, with dark veins crisscrossing my pale wrist. It was the hand I’d used to stab the Hunter with years ago when something of the ancient beast seemed to slither up my sword, infecting me.

The Shade was on the move again, inching upward.

I had no idea what might happen—if anything at all—but I sliced my cold black hand down into the inky cloud as if it were a blade.

The Shade recoiled violently and reared away. It stopped a dozen or so feet from me and hung suspended in the air. I was struck by the sudden certainty that it was assessing me. I could feel a sentient mind taking my measure, evaluating me, determining what to do next.

I glanced around. All the Shadelike things in the cemetery had gone still, and I deduced, from the slight lean of their amorphous forms, that they were peering at my attacker, as if listening. What the bloody hell was this? A collective swarm of evolved Shades? The thought was terrifying.

The cellphone was still in my hand, the screen lit, waiting for me to press IISS.

I thumbed it off. I was not calling for help. He’d left me on my own? I’d handle it myself.

“Get out of here!” I roared, lunging for whatever-it-was.

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