Read Darklands Online

Authors: Nancy Holzner

Tags: #Fantasy, #General, #Fiction

Darklands (4 page)

BOOK: Darklands
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Mab’s bloodstone was her personal object of power. She didn’t know what its long-term effects might be on Juliet. But so far, so good.

Juliet cocked an eyebrow at me, taking in my torn, bloody clothes. “Rough night?”

“You might say that.” I hobbled over to the closet. When I tried to put my jacket on a hanger, I realized the garment hung in ribbons. Guess I wouldn’t be wearing that jacket again. I pulled it off the hanger and dumped it in the trash.

“I warned you.” She shook a deep-red-nailed finger at me. “High school students are more dangerous than any demon. I’ve had a few scrapes over the centuries, but I’d rather be chased off a cliff by an angry mob than set one foot across the threshold of an American high school. Those places are
scary
.”

“It wasn’t the students, it was…” I sighed. “I’ll tell you later. I need to clean up.” Feeling like an old lady, I shuffled down the hall to the bathroom. My injured leg was taking my weight okay, but as feeling came back, so did the pain. Each step felt like that damn Harpy was gouging out another chunk of flesh.

I showered, washing off blood and sweat and the stink of Harpy, then rebandaged my various cuts and gashes. Gingerly raising my sore leg, I pulled on a pair of yoga pants.

The pants and a sweatshirt made me feel as comfy as I was going to get tonight. I went back to the living room, where Juliet had stretched out on the sofa. I slumped into an armchair, taking the weight off my aching leg.

“Do you think we need one of those?” Juliet asked, nodding at the screen. A smiling woman was applying some kind of torture device to a poor, innocent egg. “It scrambles the egg
inside
the shell, then cracks it open automatically. No mess.”

“You don’t eat eggs.” And scrambled eggs were beyond my cooking skills. Even with a contraption that prescrambles them for you.

“I’m just hungry,” she pouted. “They’re late delivering my dinner again.”

Normally, Juliet would be hunting at this time of night, or hanging out at Creature Comforts, flirting with norms who’d ventured into a monster bar in search of a little supernatural excitement. But not tonight. And not any night for the past week. Whenever I saw Juliet, it was always the same: She sat on the sofa, one leg tucked under her, the other leg sporting a clunky electronic anklet.

My roommate was under house arrest.

For nearly two months, she’d been wanted in connection with the murder of a Supreme Court justice in Washington, D.C., a murder for which Alexander Kane—prominent paranormal rights attorney, werewolf, and my boyfriend—was briefly the main suspect. The Old Ones had murdered the judge, and at the time Juliet had been in their thrall. She’d managed to break away, going on the run from both the Old Ones and the cops.

A week ago, she’d located Colwyn, the Old Ones’ power-mad leader. She made the feds an offer: She’d lead them to Colwyn if they gave her amnesty in the murder case. They agreed, making house arrest a condition. There were other charges pending against her, including escaping from Goon Squad custody. If Colwyn could answer questions about the zombie plague and the justice’s murder, the cops would drop all charges against her.

The truth was that the cops needed Juliet. The Old Ones communicated telepathically, and Juliet could listen in on their thoughts, making her a valuable asset. But that didn’t mean the police trusted her. Until they had a clearer picture of what the Old Ones were and how she fit in, they weren’t letting her beyond the walls of our two-bedroom apartment.

She was bored out of her mind. Lately, that boredom had led to an obsession with infomercials.

Juliet sat up straight and inspected me. “You look terrible,” she announced. “So what did happen to you in that adolescent chamber of horrors? I’m betting zombie mean-girl bullying. With Tina as the ringleader. Am I right?”

“Nothing like that. I got attacked by a Harpy.”

Juliet’s eyes widened. She covered her mouth with both hands.
She was the picture of shocked sympathy—until the laughter she was holding back erupted full force. She collapsed in a fit of very unvampirelike giggles. I waited, fingers tapping the arm of my chair, for her to catch her breath.

“So let me get this straight.” She gasped as she struggled to sit up again. “You’re there to tell a bunch of zombie brats how to kill demons, and a demon shows up to kill
you
.” When I nodded, she hiccupped with laughter. “When do I get to see the video?”

“No video.” Thank goodness. Everyone in the room had been paralyzed before they had a chance to get out their cell-phone cameras.

“No film at eleven? Pity. That’s the most amusing thing I’ve heard all week. What did Tina do?”

“She ran to the front of the classroom and started lecturing everyone on the behavior and habits of Harpies.”

“Are you sure no one recorded it? Your chance to be an Internet sensation, and you missed it.”

“Not my ambition. So sorry to disappoint you.”

An ad for a steakhouse came on the TV, showing a thick slab of bloody meat sizzling on a grill. Juliet’s mouth fell open, her fangs extended to their full length. A moan escaped from her before she closed her mouth and wiped her chin with the back of her hand. “By all that’s unholy, where
are
they?” she muttered.

One of the conditions of Juliet’s cooperation with the police was that, since she couldn’t go out hunting, they’d bring her dinner each night. And none of that refrigerated, watered-down blood in a bottle. To keep up her strength, she’d argued, she needed fresh blood still hot with the donor’s life force. So each night, two Goons arrived, escorting a human volunteer, so Juliet could feed. That is, when they remembered to show up.

When a gleaming steak knife sliced into a filet mignon on the TV, she’d had enough food porn. She picked up the remote, hit the Mute button, and flipped through some channels.

A familiar face flashed across the screen. “Wait!” I said. “Go back.”

A couple of clicks and there he was: Kane, in all his silver-haired glory, flashing the smile that had won many a court case. I felt a little cross-eyed; it’s disconcerting to see your boyfriend’s face expanded to movie-screen size. Then the camera pulled
back and showed him sitting next to Simone Landry, the werewolf member of Deadtown’s Council of Three. I remembered now—he’d told me he was going to be on Channel 10’s
Paranormal Perspectives
.

“Do you want me to turn it up?” Juliet held the remote poised.

“No, I know what this interview is about. Kane taped it a couple of days ago. He’s helping Simone Landry launch her reelection bid.”

The Council of Three was the bone that the government threw us monsters so we could pretend Deadtown had some kind of self-regulation. Made up of a vampire, a werewolf, and a zombie, it was a trio of figureheads with no real power. But that didn’t mean no one wanted the job. It came with certain perks, including connections in city and state governments. At least five werewolves were trying to unseat Simone—werewolves love to challenge each other—and Kane had agreed to manage her campaign. That’s why they were appearing on
Paranormal Perspectives
.

Olympia Misko, the show’s human host, asked a question. Both Kane and Simone started to answer at the same time, then laughed. Simone motioned to Kane to go ahead. Olympia tilted her head and nodded at whatever he was saying.

“She wants him,” Juliet said.

“Who, Olympia? What are you talking about?” Olympia Misko’s highest-rated show last year had been when she married her long-time girlfriend, a vampire, on the air.

“Not her. Simone. She just deferred to him. And watch how she looks at him.” Juliet leaned forward, squinting at the screen. “There—did you see that? How her nostrils flared and her upper lip twitched, like she wants to take a bite out of him? Classic werewolf mating behavior.” She sat back. “Councilor Landry is ready to start her own pack. And she’s looking at your boyfriend as her potential mate.”

“You’re crazy. All werewolves do that stuff. It doesn’t mean anything.” But now that I was paying attention to Simone, I didn’t like what I saw. Simone was slim and attractive, with sleek chestnut hair. Usually she wore it up in a twist, but tonight it tumbled down her back in glossy waves. A close-up showed eyes a startling shade of emerald green. She sat too close to Kane, leaning in closer whenever he spoke. Every minute or two, she touched him—on his arm, his shoulder, even his leg. For the most part,
Kane ignored her. When Simone let her hand linger on his thigh, though, he picked up the hand and deposited it on the arm of her chair, all the while keeping his focus on the host.

“She wants him,” Juliet repeated. “Watch out for that one.”

Simone bent toward Kane, her nostrils flaring again as she picked a piece of lint from his lapel. Jealousy simmered in my gut. I wanted to reach through the screen and slap her hand away. “Well, who cares what she wants?” I said. “Kane’s a lone wolf. He has no desire to change that. He’s too busy with his work.” Even to my own ears, it sounded like denial.

“He wasn’t too busy with work to manage her campaign.” Her fangs glinted as she grinned wickedly. “I wonder who’ll be managing whom.”

The simmering rose to a slow boil. “I really don’t think that—”

The phone rang. Juliet grabbed it. “Yes? Hello, Clyde.” Clyde was the zombie who worked as our building’s doorman. She listened for a moment.
“Finally,”
she said and hung up. “Dinner’s on the way.”

Paranormal Perspectives
had gone to a commercial, but the image of Simone brushing Kane’s lapel was burned into my brain. Who did that werewolf think she was, pawing him like that? He’d probably told her to back off. But why hadn’t he mentioned it to me? He’d told me about the interview—but not a word about Simone’s behavior. And as far as I knew he was still advising her campaign.

Maybe we needed to have a talk about whether that was a good idea.

The doorbell rang, and I stood. “I’ll get it.” I wasn’t going to sit around and watch Juliet eat. It was already bad enough that the two Goons who acted as chaperones didn’t leave the room while she fed. Anyway, I was feeling hungry myself—rather ferociously so, all of a sudden—and the idea of a vampire sucking on some norm’s neck threatened to quash my appetite. While Juliet was busy, I’d rummage around in the kitchen for a more palatable snack.

I opened the door to see two Goons—a zombie and his human partner—flanking a short, scrawny, nervous-looking guy. Juliet’s dinner pushed up his wire-rimmed glasses and squinted at me. “Are you the vampire?”

I shook my head and stepped aside.

“Oh, Hades,” Juliet said when she saw him. “
That’s
what you bring me? He doesn’t look like he’s got a full pint in him. Where do you find these norms?”

The grim-faced Goons stepped into the apartment.

The guy’s eyeballs bulged when he saw Juliet reclining on the sofa. His Adam’s apple bobbed. “
You’re
the vampire? Wow.” He rushed inside, already unbuttoning his shirt. Then he paused. “Um, I’m sorry, but you’re wrong.”

Juliet looked at him like he was a bug she’d enjoy squashing under her stiletto.

The Goons flanked the door, arms folded, and stared straight ahead.

“My name,” the scrawny guy said, baring a chest that made me think of those novelty rubber chickens. “It’s not Norm. It’s Marvin.” He rotated his hips in a circle, then winked. “At your service, baby.”

Juliet rolled her eyes, but her fangs extended.

I fled into the kitchen. Before the door swung shut behind me, chicken-chested Marvin gurgled out an ecstatic moan.
Eww.
Maybe I wasn’t so hungry after all.

3

A BOOK LAY ON THE KITCHEN TABLE, EXACTLY WHERE I’D LEFT it hours ago. Its pale leather cover looked cadaverous under the fluorescent lights. No wonder—the book was bound in human skin. I walked by, trying to ignore the waves of malevolence that radiated from it, and went to the freezer. Nothing like a pint of chocolate ice cream to help you cope with a demonic book written in the language of Hell.

I got a spoon and sat down at the table. I pried the lid off the pint and dug in. Rich, sweet chocolate melted on my tongue as I eyed the book. I didn’t want to open it. But I wanted even less to keep picturing Simone Landry sniffing around Kane. Juliet was right, damn it—Simone was after my boyfriend. I needed to see him, talk to him. Until I could do that, anything was better than thinking about Simone. Even trying to read this damned book.

The Book of Utter Darkness
and I had a long and unpleasant history. Its pages contained both the history of the demon races and prophecies about how the centuries-long conflict between demons and humans would end. My race, the Cerddorion, was presented as the main obstacle that stood between demons and their goal of taking over the Ordinary, the humans’ world. Mab
had stolen the book from the demons. During the years I was her apprentice, she’d forbidden me to even look at it. Ten years ago, when I was eighteen and near the end of my training—and thought I knew everything—I’d broken the rule and taken the book from its shelf in Mab’s library. The result: I’d accidentally conjured a Hellion. Difethwr, the Destroyer. The demon that killed my father.

On that terrible night, the Destroyer had marked me, creating a bond between us. For years, the demon mark on my right forearm had subjected me to intense rages that I struggled to control. Two months ago, I’d killed the Destroyer. Although my arm still bore the mark—a bright-red scar two inches long that resembled a burn—the rages had died with the Destroyer. For the first time in more than ten years, I finally felt like myself.

After my father died, I’d vowed never to touch the book again. But the book wasn’t done with me. When a demonic force started feeding on Deadtown’s zombies, reducing them to puddles of black goo, Mab summoned me to her home in Wales, saying it was time to continue my training. What I hadn’t counted on was that my training would involve studying this book—or trying to.
The Book of Utter Darkness
was written in an ancient, demonic language I didn’t understand. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the book tried to trick anyone who attempted to read it. It was almost like a living being—one that hated me and would do everything in its power to defeat me.

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