Read Darklands Online

Authors: Nancy Holzner

Tags: #Fantasy, #General, #Fiction

Darklands (5 page)

BOOK: Darklands
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At Mab’s insistence, I’d brought the book back from Wales. I would love to burn the thing, but Mab wouldn’t let me. “There’s much the book has not yet revealed, child,” she’d said. “You must keep going.”

So every once in a while, I forced myself to do what I was doing now. Taking another spoonful of cold, creamy chocolate for courage, I opened the book to a random page. It didn’t matter where I started. The book would share its contents with me only when it decided to do so. And anyway, the contents moved around inside its pages. A page showing an illustration today could be a solid block of text tomorrow, or vice versa.

Just thinking about
The Book of Utter Darkness
made my head ache. Trying to read it was infinitely worse.

I stared at the page, a jumble of unfamiliar characters, waiting to see if its meaning appeared in my head. The letters blurred.
Nothing. The pages went double as my eyes crossed. I blinked and scooped out more ice cream.

As I lifted the spoon to my mouth, a glob of ice cream fell and splatted on the page.
Crap.
I jumped up to grab a paper towel. Mab would be beyond annoyed if she knew I was dropping dairy products on her ancient, unique manuscript.

I dabbed at the blob. A surge of power shot from the book and up my arm, buzzing through my demon mark and hitting my brain like a bolt of lightning. A white flash exploded behind my eyes, and scenes sped through my mind like a movie played on a super-fast projector.

First, a man’s face in close-up: pale skin; a long, straight nose; and black lashes framing eyes so dark they seemed to dim the light. Pryce, my demi-demon “cousin” who wanted to lead demons from their realm to overrun the human plane. His mouth moved, but he made no sound—my ears were filled with a roaring like hurricane-strength winds. Pryce sneered at someone. The scene shifted and I saw that “someone” was me. We stood in a cemetery. I recognized the place—it was in Boston, on the night of last February’s Paranormal Appreciation Day concert. The night Pryce had tried to release the demonic essence that would make demons too strong for humans to withstand.

Then Pryce’s eyes closed, and he collapsed on the ground. The vision switched to me, driving my flaming sword over and over into the body of a huge, writhing demon. God, I was bloody. I was killing Cysgod, Pryce’s shadow demon. Without his demon half, Pryce became nothing more than a living shell.

Another scene, another face. This man looked like Pryce, but he was older, bearded, with a crazy gleam in his eye. He smiled, revealing rotted teeth, and a high-pitched giggle cut through the background roar. This was Myrddin, Pryce’s father. The Old Ones had released him from centuries-long imprisonment to make a deal—he’d help them gain eternal life, and they’d help him resuscitate Pryce. The vision showed Myrddin stooping over a freshly murdered human, capturing the departing life force in a jar. Suddenly, Myrddin was in some sort of lab, transferring the life force to the comatose Pryce.

It had taken the life forces of five people to revive Pryce. The last had been Myrddin himself. I could see the moment now—me, bloody again, this time killing Myrddin’s shadow demon,
as his mortal half gave his own life force to his son. Pryce sitting up, disoriented, then cocking his head as though listening to an inner voice. He ran away before I could stop him.

The vision ended as abruptly as it began. I blinked, trying to figure out where I was. Kitchen. There was the table—I was looking up at it. I sprawled on the cold floor, clutching a chocolate-smeared paper towel. I got to my feet, stiff and sore all over, and looked at the open book. Not a speck of ice cream on it.

I closed the cover. I tossed the paper towel in the trash. Then I put the lid back on the ice cream container and returned it to the freezer. Why is it that ice cream starts off looking like the solution to a problem and ends up feeling like nothing more than a big, queasy lump in your stomach?

The book hadn’t shown me anything I didn’t already know. I’d killed Pryce’s shadow demon, rendering Pryce catatonic until Myrddin stole four people’s life forces—then added his own—to bring him back. Pryce was walking and talking, out there somewhere, but without his shadow demon. Why couldn’t the book show me something useful, like where he was now or what he was planning?

I picked up the book and dropped it in the trash. I stood over it for a full minute, admiring the way it looked there—so natural, so
right
. Then, with a sigh, I took it out again. The book seemed to quiver with indignation as I lifted it
from the trash can and stashed it at the back of a cupboard. Mab said it was important for me to keep working with the book, so I would. But otherwise, I didn’t have to look at it. As I shut the cupboard door, the kitchen light brightened.

I’d report my experience to Mab the next time we spoke. (Well, maybe I’d leave out the part about spilling chocolate ice cream on the book. No harm done, no need to tell her, right?) But this was the third time in a week the book had rehashed recent events—although the most dramatic in its presentation. The previous two times, Mab had simply said, “Keep trying, child.” I was sure she’d say it this time, too. In fact, she wouldn’t be happy that I’d hidden the book away. I sighed again as I retrieved the book from the cupboard and returned it to the table. Face down. I knew I’d have to go back to it, but I was done with the book for tonight.

Now what? I cracked open the kitchen door. Voices came from the living room, a trill of Juliet’s laughter. Huh. Maybe she and Marvin were hitting it off. Not that I wanted to join their party. I got myself a glass of water and wandered back to the kitchen table. Still not ready to think about Simone. Instead, I flipped the pages of a two-day-old copy of
News of the Dead
, Deadtown’s cheesy tabloid. Even the monsters need a good gossip rag.

Not thinking about Simone.
Flip.
How dare she put her hand on Kane’s leg?
Flip.
And on television, for all of Boston to see.
Flip.
It was like she was staking her claim to him.
Flip.
Not thinking about Simone.
Flip.
Was I remembering wrong, or had he caught her eye and smiled once? The page ripped in my hand.

I stared at the torn piece, part of a full-page ad for designer coffins for any décor. I didn’t remember seeing it, didn’t remember seeing any of the previous pages. My eyes had skimmed over half the paper without taking in a word. I pushed
News of the Dead
aside.

No use making myself crazy over Simone. Just because she wanted Kane didn’t mean
he
wanted
her
. We were all adults. I’d reserve judgment until I could talk to him. And then I’d yank a big handful of that gleaming chestnut hair right out of Simone’s scalp.

Now, there was a picture I could get behind.

I sipped some water and turned my thoughts to tonight’s Harpy attack. Harpies don’t attack at random. They’re conjured to go after a specific target—usually to torment, but this one was going for the kill. Who’d sent it after me?

Simone? Would she pay a sorcerer to get rid of the competition? I didn’t think so. Most werewolves preferred a more direct approach. They relished confrontation. Sneaking around and dealing with sorcerers wouldn’t occur to a werewolf. Okay, so I had Simone on the brain. And I was looking for the slightest excuse to make that hair-ripping picture a reality. But I didn’t believe she’d sent the Harpy.

No, if I were betting on who was behind the attack, I’d put all my cash on Pryce.

Pryce had lost his shadow demon, but he knew how to conjure Harpies better than any sorcerer. And he’d already tried so many times to kill me that he could list “attempted murder” under Hobbies on his résumé.

In the weeks since Myrddin revived him, Pryce had been
quiet, in hiding. But maybe he was active again. Maybe that’s why the book kept showing me recent events. Not for my benefit, of course, but to taunt me, to remind me that my nemesis—the would-be king of the demons—was still out there.

And probably trying to kill me.

I could be jumping to conclusions, but I didn’t think so. In February, I’d ruined his attempt to take over the Ordinary. If he was getting ready to try again, he’d want me out of the way.

A hand pushed the door partway open and Juliet’s voice came through. “Bye now,” she was saying. “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” (Juliet loves to quote Shakespeare—she can hold entire conversations stringing together the Bard’s immortal words.) The front door opened and closed. A moment later, Juliet strolled into the kitchen. She looked better—her eyes were bright and a pink flush colored her cheeks—except for the scowl that twisted her features. Her expression didn’t match the flirtatious, musical quality of her farewells. “I’m still hungry,” she said. She yanked open the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of blood. After dumping the contents into a mug, she put it in the microwave and jabbed some buttons. “See what I’m reduced to?” she demanded, as the microwave hummed. “I have an appetite for steak, and they bring me a celery stick.”

“I thought you liked Marvin.”

Her mouth dropped open. “Why ever would you think that?”

“‘Parting is such sweet sorrow’? Aren’t those words for a Romeo?”

“Please. First of all, Romeo did not make my Top Ten Lovers list, not even for his century. Second, I was not talking to that Marvin worm.” Her eyes glazed as she licked her lips. “I was talking to Brad.”

“Brad?” I thought about who else had been in the room. “Don’t tell me you have a crush on one of those Goons.”

“Crush—such a brutal word. I prefer to say I have a…thirst for him.” Her small, private smile revealed the tips of her fangs.

“So which Goon is Brad, the norm or the zombie?” Both were big and muscular, the way Juliet liked her men.

She rolled her eyes at my question. Vampires don’t drink zombie blood—or whatever it is that flows through those reanimated veins. If she was thirsting, it was for hot human blood.

The microwave dinged. Juliet removed the mug and carried it to the table, where she sat down across from me. She took a
sip and made a face. “I don’t know which is worse, stale blood or an anemic norm.” She downed the rest of the blood, then wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “So, what are you going to do about Simone Landry?”

Damn. Just when I’d actually managed to stop thinking about Simone for five whole minutes. In a row.

“How about I invite her over here on some pretense and you can help me beat her up?”

“Yes!” Juliet’s eyes glowed. “You could tell her we’re having a party and Kane is coming. Then when she gets here—” She smiled evilly. But both smile and glow faded when she caught my expression. “Oh. I take it you were kidding.”

“I’m not going to beat up a city councilor.” Juliet might be thirsting for Brad, but I didn’t want a visit from the Goons.

“But you
must
. She’s a werewolf. If you don’t slap her down, she’ll think you’re weak. She’ll think she can push you around.”

“Let her try. Anyway, I trust Kane.”

Juliet opened her mouth, but I didn’t want to hear whatever it was she was going to say. Enough about Simone. I kept talking. “That Old One you’ve been interrogating, Colwyn. Has he said anything else about Pryce?” The Old Ones had hidden Pryce during the time Myrddin worked to revive him. Juliet’s Old One was the best lead for finding him now.

She shook her head. “Only what I told you before. The Old Ones are looking for him, too.”

“Do you think they’re working together?”

Juliet considered. “I doubt it. When Pryce’s name came up, Colwyn’s thoughts flared crimson. Lots of anger on that topic.” She stared into her empty mug. “I think Colwyn has realized I can eavesdrop on his thoughts. He tries to shield them. But sometimes things slip through. I’m not certain, but I think Pryce has something the Old Ones want.”

“What?”

“I don’t know. That’s what Colwyn is shielding. But the thought of it makes him livid.”

“Do you think Pryce has his precious secret to eternal life?”

Juliet shrugged. “Personally? I don’t think any such thing exists. But that doesn’t mean Colwyn has given up his illusions. All I know is that Pryce has something Colwyn believes is his.” She stood and stretched, yawning. “Dawn’s on its way. I’m going to resume the shroud.” She carried her mug to the dishwasher
and placed it in the top rack. “But speaking of people who want something someone else has—keep an eye on that Simone. If you’re not going to beat her up, at least ‘watch her like Argus,’ as the Bard might say. That werewolf thinks Kane is already hers.”

JULIET MAY HAVE BEEN TUCKED SNUGLY INTO HER COFFIN, but I wasn’t ready for bed. Not with her warning about Simone still ringing in my ears. I
did
trust Kane. He’d traveled across an ocean to tell me I was important to him. More than once, he’d stepped up to face danger beside me. He’d risked his own life to rescue me. Those things mattered. Emerald eyes and glossy chestnut hair weren’t enough to turn his head.

Or they wouldn’t be, if Kane were human. But he was a werewolf. What if the pull of raw instinct was strong enough to stir a need in the lone wolf to start a pack of his own? Although he hadn’t said anything, the signs were there that he wanted to take our relationship to the next level. Signs my own commitment-shy brain had chosen to ignore. He’d given me a key to his apartment. My bathrobe hung beside his on the bathroom door. Last fall, he’d asked me to come with him on his full-moon retreat. As a shapeshifter, I could take on a wolf’s form if I chose. But I’m Cerddorion, not a werewolf, and the whole idea had made me uncomfortable. If I pretended to be a wolf, I wouldn’t fit in with the real ones. Worse, I wouldn’t be true to myself. When I explained all that, he dropped the matter.

Kane knew what I was. He knew I’d never be an ersatz wolf. And he also knew I’d never be a mother. Among my kind, only females can shift—and they lose the ability if they give birth. I’d decided long ago that my path was to carry on the Cerddorion tradition of protecting the world against demons. If Kane wanted to start his own pack, it wouldn’t be with me.

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