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Authors: Vicki Keire

Shadowed Ground

BOOK: Shadowed Ground
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“The Chronicles of Nowhere is written in the style of a fan dance. Teasing, but never quite revealing everything, you’re always left craving more. Like some kind of addict, I’m now awaiting the next instalment with baited breath. Ms. Vicki Keire is, quite simply, brilliant. The world that she has built, and the characters she has populated it with, are so rich.”
– Ginny Lurcock, Pure Textuality

 
  1. Start Reading
  2. Acknowledegments
  3. About the Author
  4. Copyright
  5. More Books
  6. Full Table of Contents

Chapter One: Common Ground

Chloe stared at him across the rim of her steaming cup. She seemed unsure whether to drink the coffee that wreathed one side of her face with steam; to ask more questions she didn’t really want answers to; or to just eat her shredded toast. The kitchen table stretched on between them like some messy, unexplored universe. Surf slapping against sand in the distance was the only sound in the kitchen. She clutched her coffee like it was the one familiar thing in a disordered world.

Even the cup from which she drinks is strange, he realized, holding tight to his own familiar mug. Her entire world, turned upside down and shaken sideways. He looked down at the scratched wooden table. He’d eaten his breakfast quickly, almost as soon as it came off the stove. There was no plate in front of him, only a thick sense of expectation and a red leather book tied with a ribbon. She looked at it sideways, as if it might bite her.

“So.” She indicated the diary with a nod. “I want to make sure I understand this. I had an aunt, but she’s dead, and this is her diary?”

He wondered how much he should tell her, and how quickly. She didn’t seem to know her father had been murdered too, on one of his clandestine visits to the Landing. Eliot didn’t want to upset her too badly, not when he’d just gotten her back. But then he remembered how he left her in an alley, to be swarmed by the Abandoned. He thought about the one who had used her as a human shield and burned her almost into a coma. Remembering its disgusting grin and rippling skin, he couldn’t help blurting out, “She left it for you. Callista. Before they got her.”

Chloe’s fingertips turned white around the handle of her coffee mug. “Got her,” she repeated slowly. “The Abandoned. You mean, they killed her. Like they tried to kill us, right?”

Kill you, he wanted to correct, but didn’t. She’d come so close to dying. “Chloe, I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry about your aunt. Your parents were supposed to tell you, if the need ever arose. But there’s only me, and I don’t know how to tell you about her, or even if I should, so I thought I’d let the diary do it for both of us.”

She squared her jaw and looked away, brushing his stumbling apology away with a quick flip of her brown hair. Her fingers drummed against the leather, but she wouldn’t look at it. “This is supposed to help? With the… things I can do… and enemies stuff?”

“I hope so. I haven’t read it. She warded it so that only someone of her line could touch it.” He tried to look reassuring, and was pretty sure he failed.

“What do you mean, she warded it?”

Wordlessly, he took it from her. The cover pulsed red against his fingertips. He dropped it with a curse as steam curled from his singed hand. “That.” He grimaced. “Burns like hell every time.”

“Damn, Eliot.” She eyed the diary as if it had suddenly grown very sharp teeth. He watched her visibly gulp and close her eyes, counting to a very quick ten before opening them again. Ignoring the diary, she grabbed his hands and turned them over in her own. He was glad to see two fingers and part of his palm would only blister. Stupidly, he’d used his sword hand.

Her concern melted into anger and finally, wonder. He could tell his hands shocked her as much as the warding. They were battered and rough; he was pretty sure hers had done nothing harder than wash the occasional dish. She turned his hand over in hers and examined it, staring as if it alone could make sense of the strange world in which she found herself. Scars marked the hand cradled in hers like a map legend written in letters she was just learning to read.

“What happened to your hands? To mark them like that?”

He held them up between them, flexing his fingers. “I work with them, that’s all,” he lied.

She wrapped her arms around herself. “What kind of work? What would do that to you?”

He was surprised to find her scrutiny embarrassing. He tried to laugh if off as he ran his rough hands through his hair until it stuck up in different directions. “Of all the things you could ask me,” he murmured softly. “I’m a Guardian, Chloe. Your Guardian.” The laugh melted away as he searched her face for something. “You truly remember nothing, do you? I wonder how they managed it.” He raised an eyebrow, as if making a joke, but his eyes were hard. A challenge. “I use my hands to hurt and kill people, Chloe, and anything else that gets in our way.”

She looked away, as if deciding whether this was a line she wanted to cross, or a barrier best left intact between them. “That’s not all.” She shoved the diary underneath the arm that had held her coffee. A deep breath. She’d made up her mind. It was to be a crossing, then. She reached for his hands again. He tried to move subtly away, but she wouldn’t let him. Her hands were trembling and smooth around his exposed, upturned wrists. “Why are some of the scars silver?” she asked.

“Wraithfire,” he said, just as softly. “It leaves scars like metal. We don’t know why, only that too much of a burn will kill you. We think it has something to do with the Abandoned’s chemical make-up, and that the fire is a part of them. Of course, without access to the right technology, we just don’t know.”

Her look of interest sharpened. “The right technology? What do you mean?”

Her hands still trapped his. He wished she’d let him go. This was hard enough without her looking at him like a terrified but hopeful puppy. “From before. The place we came from.”

“From the world that burned?”

“Annwyn, yes. It was more advanced than here.”

He felt her faintly then, through their bond: awful longing regret mixed with pain. She was full of competing questions and desires, he could tell. Questions about Annwyn, and her aunt, and a desire to touch the scars. Scars that nested around the fingers that held her own. Instead, she looked at him as only one other had: Cass, when he’d done some deadly thing especially well.

“How?” she asked hoarsely. “How did you get these?”

How much, he wondered. How much to burden her, how much to trust. “Defending your aunt,” he said, deciding at last. I will tell her everything she wants to know. “I failed.”

Chloe’s eyes bulged. When she let go, they both wrapped their arms around themselves; identical images of revelation followed by retreat. She twisted the ribbon binding the diary.

“So that’s what I have to look forward to, then? Silver scars?” Her question was light, but underneath was a layer of sadness. So they wouldn’t discuss it, then; Callista, and her brave death, would wait. He didn’t blame her. He hated the memory, hated that he’d failed. Chloe smiled, bitter and quick. “I never really liked tank tops anyway.”

“It gets better,” he tried to promise, but she just kept hugging herself, not meeting his eyes. “Not at first. But one day it just becomes a part of you. Cass helped me get through it…after. He kept telling me how important I was.” Eliot felt himself smile in spite of himself. “He always did, no matter how much I managed to lose myself.” He tried to project reassurance and safety to her. He gave her his best half-hearted smile, but underneath he felt like a wild animal, ready to bolt. No one knew this part of him. Not even Cass knew it all. “I hated waiting for you, Chloe. I hated being stuck there, at the Landing, hiding from the world. All the training and hard work, always hoping it would be for nothing.” She looked at him blankly, so he rushed on. “I hoped you wouldn’t need me, but I also hoped you would. It made me crazy. I did some stupid things. Then, when Cass had enough, he took me straight to the portal. He reminded me of how my mother died, and why. Then he reminded me of you.”

Her eyes widened. She held the diary like some kind of shield. “What about me?”

He could not keep the bitter hope from his face then. He wondered if she could feel it, the way he felt her. “That I was bound to you. Or rather, that we were bound together. They had made you forget, and even though I didn’t have the luxury of forgetting, you were going to need me someday. If I was dead, or lost, you would be, too.”

She smoothed the diary out on the table in front of her. “I never thought of forgetting as a luxury. I dreamed of our world, of it burning, and I woke up screaming my whole life. It haunted me, and I hated them for telling me it wasn’t real. I knew it was real.” Hot, angry tears splashed onto the red leather cover between her fingers. “I hated not knowing your name. They could have told me at least that. What would it have cost them? To tell me your name?”

He felt it then, the strong and sure bond between them, and knew the guilt-tinged anger she felt towards dead and missing parents was coming through her to him. The desire to trust him. Feeling the kind of lost for which there was no anchor. It was all her, and he could feel her at long, long last: the bond between Guardian and Ward, alive. He would feel her stronger emotions; he would know when she was in danger; could find her approximate location no matter where, or what.

She would be able to call to him.

He wanted to crow in triumph.

He remembered that long ago day when Cass had thrown him, face first, against the limestone wall of the portal, saving him from himself. You were right. It was worth it, he wished he could tell him. But there was only her, perplexed at his sudden joy, and a whole universe that had somehow managed to narrow itself to nothing but the two of them.

Trust me, he thought fiercely, and let her feel a little of his joy.

Chapter Two: The Monster You Know

Things were going badly for Alexander Ravenwood.

He was used to things going badly, but always to him, directly, and he could always find a way to deal with it. He prided himself on creative means of getting out of his own messes.

But things going badly for the people he loved was an entirely different story. For one thing, there were so very few people he loved.

Carson was his friend, but his little sister was his very world.

He was pretty sure he was watching her daily languid death.

He sat as close to her as he could at the breakfast table. He silently blessed Elizabeth, Carson’s wife and their housekeeper of countless years. She’d had the sunny little breakfast nook installed without anyone’s permission a few years after his mother died. Elizabeth simply called in the workmen, ordered the furniture, and began serving Alexander and his sister breakfast together, like a regular family. Since his father breakfasted on nothing but coffee and pills while running the world behind his massive desk, Alexander wondered if Charles Ravenwood III even knew the sunny little breakfast room existed.

Not likely, he decided. He’d have found some way to ruin it by now.

Breakfast was also the only time of the day the Smith clones left the two of them alone. Charlotte was so vitriolic these days, but she lost some of that in the mornings. Instead, she behaved like a zombie. It was like she ran out of poison in the night, the further she got from the Smith clones. Alexander made the difficult decision that he preferred Zombie Charlotte to hateful, clone-worshipping Charlotte.

He was determined to break through to her, no matter what. Mornings were the best time for his assault.

“Come on, Charlotte. Just a bite. Elizabeth made these just for you.” He danced a strawberry muffin across her field of vision. Charlotte didn’t even focus on it. “Mmm. Ok, then. Not hungry. Again. How about juice? Just a sip? It’s fresh. I juiced it myself, first thing, just for you.” He nudged the glass towards her.

BOOK: Shadowed Ground
8.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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