Authors: K.C. Finn
Shadeborn: Volume Three
K. C. Finn
Copyright © 2015 Kimberley Finn
All rights reserved.
This novel would not exist without the dedicated proofing of Miss Kimberly Timms, who untangled my spasmodic typing when the words flew out of my brain too fast. It is also dedicated to Kameron Mitchell, the Shadeborn Superfan, who has waited very patiently for Lily and Novel’s story to continue.
Many weeks had passed since Lily Coltrane last dreamed of earth. That all-encasing earth, grounder of all elements, now surrounded her weakened form as she tried to dig her way out of it. She saw her fingers bleeding from the strain of dragging her nails against the gritty dirt, though she felt no pain, and her head grew heavier with each passing moment. Her mind faded in and out of blackness, threatening to dim forever. Lily knew her trauma was a dream by the rise and rumble of the earthquake beneath her, and the way the obsidian soil shifted in waves, like a great ocean simply waiting for her to drown in its depths.
She willed herself to wake, but Lily was trapped in the state that minds often find themselves wandering to, that place somewhere between waking and never waking. The earth was clouding her vision, thundering in on all sides from some great unseen dump-truck in the nightless sky. No stars could be found in the blackness above Lily’s head, nothing to draw her shadepowers from, to make the incredible magic that could blast the earth away. She felt as though she ought to give in to the dream’s wishes, her bleeding hands and fingers curling into fists as she resisted the temptation of defeat for just a moment longer. Sometimes, Lily knew, that extra moment was all it took for things to change from darkness to light.
That was when she saw her saviour. The form of Lemarick Novel stood in the near distance, a sudden apparition resplendent in his usual Victorian garb. He seemed to shine out of the darkness despite his black morning suit, for his face shone whiter than white. His sharp, angular features were daubed in the vivid make-up that he usually wore only on the stage, his brows arched in black paint to match his lips. Lily found a new strength in her dreamstruck heart, and pressed forward in the earth as it moulded to a path beneath her feet. She was escaping, and Novel was there to pull her from the nightmare and protect her, as he’d promised he always would.
Something was wrong. Lily knew it from the moment Novel opened his mouth, for she could see his painted lips moving, but they made no sound. She rushed to Novel on that dark hilltop of nothingness, her arms flying out widely to envelop him in an embrace. He reached back, a new desperation sparking deep in his pale blue eyes. Whatever spell held him in silence, Lily was certain she could break it with her touch.
The touch never came, for Lily felt an impact so fierce that she reasoned she could hardly be dreaming any more. Novel was still there, his handsome face watching her from only a foot away, but there was a new sadness in his gaze that she couldn’t fathom. Lily reached out with one blood-soaked hand, feeling the surface that she had smashed into. It was an invisible wall, put in place by some unknown power to obstruct her, and however hard she pounded upon it, it showed no signs of breaking.
Novel approached from the wall’s other side, his palms resting upon it to line up with Lily’s own. She saw his bright white hair cast astray, and in her dream-addled state, her hero seemed to be growing darker before her eyes. His pale face grew ashen and withered as his muscles drew in, looking gaunt and meagre. Even his bright white hair was turning back to its former blonde hue. Novel was wasting away right in front of her, and Lily could do nothing to smash down the barrier that stood between them. She was losing him, minute by minute, in the torture of a nightmare.
Lily was losing Novel forever.
Lily awoke with such a start that she almost knocked Novel clean off his perch. He had come to sit beside her on the piano bench, and as her mind awakened more fully, she saw him wobbling precariously to prevent a fall to the ground. Memories of reality flooded back to Lily and the darkness of the impenetrable dream faded away. She had been using the piano bench as a stool in the attic, to sit at an old desk that was currently filled with books. She remembered studying, and that was good. It meant reality was back where it should have been.
To her horror, Lily saw a trail of drool on a glossy page that was titled:
Punishment for Beggars in the 14
. With the swiftness of pure embarrassment, she tried to wipe away the mess with her sleeve before Novel could spot it. As she made her hasty motions, she felt Novel’s warm hand come to rest at the centre of her back, and some belated memory told her that he must have touched her there before, waking her when she had fallen asleep on her books. She turned to him, taking in the concern in his once-frosty eyes, and all memory of the wasting, unreachable Novel in the dream disappeared. He was here, he was all right, and that was all that mattered.
“Sorry,” Lily mumbled sheepishly, “have I been up here long?”
“All evening,” Novel answered in his usual deep, well-spoken tone. “It’s nearing midnight.”
Lily gave a profound and desperate sigh. She had promised herself that she would spend the month of August reading up, in preparation for her new year at Piketon University, but all the commotion of moving in and living at the Theatre Imaginique had gotten in the way of that plan tremendously. It was the night of August 31
, and it was her last chance to make good on her promise to be studious. She had taken herself up to the rehearsal space, in the attic of the old, gothic theatre to get some quiet study time under her belt. The last time she remembered checking her watch was at eight that evening, and now she was certain she’d been fast asleep for most of the time thereafter.
Novel was peering over her shoulder at her books, and his arm continued to slide until it found a good place to rest around her middle. Lily leaned into his touch, looking down into the pile of history textbooks, sources and study guides that she had been neglecting for the last thirty days. A despondent little sigh passed her lips, and she felt her huff of breath push against Novel’s calm, still chest.
“Are you studying crime and punishment?” Novel asked, his voice coming to life a little more, perhaps at the prospect of the grisly topic.
“From medieval to present day,” Lily replied, “but it’s
She slammed the drool-stained book shut to emphasise her frustration.
“This topic is a fate worse than death,” she added glumly, “and, having been dead, I feel I’m qualified to say that.”
Novel’s grip on her tightened when she said the ‘d’ word, and she reached to soothe him by stroking the back of his hand. He had witnessed the very death that she was talking about, and though the memory was still fresh in both their minds, they seemed to be dealing with it in very different ways. Novel didn’t want that moment mentioned, and he’d made that very clear, but Lily was compelled to talk her way out of her grief every time she thought of almost leaving this world behind. This incompatibility left the couple in an eerie silence, which was only broken by a sudden thumping sound, which came directly from the centre of the book pile.
“We’re not alone up here, are we?” Novel asked, one pale brow quirking as he looked at the now-animated books.
All of Lily’s textbooks were slowly being shunted one way or the other, as an enormous tome with a cracked leather cover forced itself to the top of the heap. This crimson volume, with its ancient brown pages, belonged both to Novel and Lily now. It was their shared knowledge of all the magic that people of their supernatural nature could learn to conjure. It was the Book Of Shade, and apparently, it wanted their attention.
“It hasn’t bothered me all night, until you came up here,” Lily mused with interest.
The Book Of Shade opened its own cover with a thump, as it was wont to do whenever something magically relevant was occurring. Lily and Novel watched with rapt curiosity as its ancient pages turned, flapping wildly like an impatient bird, until it found what it wanted to show them. Curling black script appeared on the open pages in a font that only shades were able to see. The book detailed an air-powered spell that required several sketchy diagrams to illustrate. Novel frowned at the page, reading the title of the cast aloud.
“Cushioning spell,” he said. “Why on earth is it showing us how to produce a massive air cushion?”
Before Lily could even suppose an answer, the door to the attic room burst open with a creak and a bang. Novel was on his feet in seconds, and was already approaching the new intruder before Lily could swing her half-dead legs into action. Even as she turned, she felt a cold shiver that made the tiny hairs on her neck stand to attention, and she was not surprised by the figure that she beheld when she finally made the rotation on the piano stool.
Baptiste Du Nord made a terrible habit of bursting into rooms without knocking. It was as though he felt he had permission to trespass anywhere in Novel’s theatre, even when the illusionist and Lily were alone together. Where some months ago, Lily might have dismissed this behaviour as impetuousness, now she knew the truth of Monsieur Baptiste. The theatre’s elegant Master of Ceremonies was a bloodshade, a vampyric sort of creature who relied on drinking Novel’s blood to sustain his own survival. From the moment Baptiste had first supped a drop of the magically-enhanced blood of a shade, he and Novel had been bonded together.
It was a bond that Lily resented, because she didn’t understand the way that the two men reacted to one another. No words had passed in the few seconds that Baptiste had been in the room, but already Novel was racing for the door, as though the very atmosphere surrounding the elegant MC had told him all he needed to know about the situation. Lily could only stumble after the men as they stormed from the attic, trying – and failing – to quash the queasy tingle of jealousy that was rattling in her chest.
“What is it?” she asked as she followed them down the labyrinthine corridors of the theatre’s top level. “What’s happened?”
“It’s Salem,” Baptiste answered, without daring to look back and meet Lily’s eye.
“He’s on the roof,” Novel said, looking up at the ceiling, as though he could see right through it.
Suddenly, the Book Of Shade’s instructions on creating a colossal air cushion made sense, and Lily didn’t need to hear the end of Novel’s words to know what Salem Cross was doing on the theatre’s roof. The vision of Salem's hollow, disillusioned face haunted the back of her mind, and the revelation left her mouth in little more than a whisper as she quickened her pace.
“He’s going to jump.”
Better The Death You Know
Salem Cross appeared to be waiting for the stroke of midnight to make the jump that would end his life. He must have known by the commotion that Lily, Novel and Baptiste were already on their way to the rooftop, but the older shade was poised on the very precipice of the gothic stones when they arrived. He was studying his thick, silver watch with interest, until he suddenly loosened it from his wrist, and let it dangle over the three-storey drop that ended with the cold, hard pavement of Old Mill Lane below. Lily saw the watch glittering by the moonlight as the last few seconds ticked towards the twelve, before Salem let go of it entirely. The silver watch disappeared into the empty night, and Salem stepped forward as though he intended to do the very same thing.
“Stop!” Lily cried. “Salem, please! Not again!”
There had been a botched hanging, a botched fire and a botched suffocation in the last two weeks, but the few days prior to this one had been quiet at last. The contents of the Theatre Imaginique had gingerly decided that Salem Cross was through with trying to kill himself, but Lily had never really believed that they were right. She remembered the deep, impenetrable sadness that she had seen in Salem’s eyes, after he had made the lightsider's choice, and sacrificed all of his magic to save her life. The once-cocky showman was a shell of himself now, and he kept his head low and focused on the ground far below as he gave Lily his final reply.
It was all that Salem said before he took that last step. He fell from the roof with the flutter of the night breeze flapping at his shirt, and Lily found herself shooting into the air with a burst of instant gravity. Her magical instincts had kicked in, even before her mind knew what was happening, and she was sure that if she flew fast enough, she could be at the ground before Salem was, ready to cushion his fall.
She was only six feet into the air when a force more powerful than her stopped her flight, hooking her at the waist with a hard, invisible grip. It was as though the night breeze itself had punched her in the gut. Lily rotated in the sky, her furious eyes landing on Novel’s pale hand, which was outstretched in a gripping motion as he arrested her. Lily wrestled with his power as the more experienced shade pulled her back to the ground, growing wild in her panic as she waited for the horrible, inevitable sound of Salem’s body hitting the pavement below.
“What are you doing?” she demanded, frustrated by the knowing, silent look that Novel shared in that moment with Baptiste. “He’s your father, Novel! You can’t just let him-”
“It’s all taken care of,” Novel replied, just as Lily’s feet touched the ground.
And, as much as he frustrated her to no end, Lily saw that level look in his gaze that told her she should trust him. Baptiste stalked past them both, his long, dark coat billowing in the night breeze as he stepped up to the edge of the roof. He perched right where Salem had been standing. Lily had once seen the MC fall off that same ledge himself, though she now knew that he would have had the foresight to transform into a bat part-way through the fall. For now Baptiste did not transform, he merely craned his long neck over the precipice, licking his lips in thought as he scanned the darkness.
“He’s got him,” Baptiste said, and it seemed to Lily that he sounded a tad disappointed as he spoke.
Lily felt a hand sliding against her own, and a series of orange flames ignited around her fingers as Novel gripped them. He led her towards Baptiste, who spared those flickering flames a dim glance for just a moment. They signified the Kindred Flame, a magical connection that two compatible shadesouls could share. Lily held Novel tightly as he guided her to glance over the edge of the theatre’s roof.
“Let… me… go!” Salem cried breathlessly, as he struggled with a huge stone hand that was gripping him by the leg.
Lily had occasionally noticed that the Theatre Imaginique had many gargoyles carved into its stony outer walls, but she had never before seen any of them come to life. A great stone demon, with a face part-dragon and part-lion, held Salem upside down in its clasp. Its clumsy talon-laced paws were trying to turn the shade around in its grip, but Salem’s fruitless struggling made it very difficult for the stone creature to cope with holding him still. The shade was like a wriggling baby in the hands of a tired parent, and he seemed to be feeling all the embarrassment of his situation. His grand plan for death had been foiled once again, and Lily couldn’t help the sense of pity that rose in her gut when she beheld him in the grip of the stone leviathan.
“I don’t believe you’ve met Gerstein, have you Lily?” Novel asked.
The gargoyle gave up on holding Salem still, and dangled him by one leg again so that he could turn one thick arm and wave up at the trio on the roof. Lily watched his stone form shifting with amazement, but Salem’s strangled cries were still cutting little dents into her soul.
“All right, all right,” Novel shouted over the din his father was making. “Gerstein, put him back inside the building, will you?”
Novel turned, a little breeze kicking up the long black tails of his suit as he strode back towards the staircase that descended into the attic. Baptiste was still standing where Salem had made his leap, and Lily found herself looking up at the tall figure for a moment. The MC donned a silver waistcoat that caught every reflection of the moonlight, and when his face turned to view hers, it was half-bathed by the same bluish glow. Somewhere deep in his usually-dark eyes, a glimmer of light flickered like a tiny candle in the centre of a vast cavern. Baptiste did not come down to her level, looming instead like a new gargoyle cemented into the rock.
"Something wrong, Mademoiselle?" he asked, and his voice still dripped with that golden quality his words had always had, back when she'd thought him charming and mysterious.
Lily thought. A great many things were wrong with her current situation.
The closing of a door drew her eyes away from the MC, and Novel was suddenly nowhere to be seen. Without so much as an excuse me, Baptiste leapt from the precipice of the roof and swept past Lily in a streak of silver and shadows, thundering towards the door in fierce servitude to his master. Lily looked up at the stars, which always glowed brightly in Piketon's small-town sky, and sucked in a breath that filled her with late summer warmth. A blue glow fluttered into existence all around her, and she felt its strange, watery tingle surrounding her limbs as the starlight renovated her power.
She felt a little better when the starbather's glow receded again, tensing her arms as the new shadepower pulsed in her veins, settling into her blood. Then, she was on the move, padding back down the many corridors and stairwells of the crooked old theatre that she now called her home. The sound of gathered voices was easy to follow, and it led Lily to a room on the second floor of the building, one that she had not previously seen. Judging by the indignant shriek, and the ranting and raving that followed it, the room belonged to Dharma Khan, the Imaginique's resident siren.
Dharma was standing against a painted black wall where a double window had been opened wide, and beneath it there lay the now-crumpled form of Salem Cross. It seemed that the gargoyle on the Imaginique's outer walls had found an easy-to-reach spot to dump the suicidal shade back inside the building, but Lily saw no sign of his massive stone hands beyond the window. Dharma shifted to close the frames and the curtains, her shapely legs carefully stepping over the complaining lump on the floor. She pulled her dark locks back behind her ears with slow, sensuous hands, glancing down.
"Not again, Salem," Dharma purred in her low tone. "How many times are you going to try this? Isn't it clear that Fate doesn't want to you to die just yet?"
"Screw Fate," Salem answered, his weary face still half-buried in the plush red carpet.
Novel and Baptiste were already present at the scene, and the men moved to hoist Salem to his feet and get him out of the siren's way. Dharma was dressed in one of her usual slinky numbers - a black baby-doll nightgown, with little red bows - and Lily now saw that the colour combination suited her room to a tee. She had always imagined that the siren lived in luxury, and now she saw the plush, silken proof of it in every furnishing the lavish room could offer. It made Novel's bedroom look more like a library than a boudoir.
"You're going to have to lock him in his room again," Novel told Baptiste, whose lithe limbs were now holding the much-larger Salem steady.
The bloodshade gave a curt nod, and Lily did not miss the rough manner in which he yanked and heaved the dead-weight shade from the room. She wanted to tell him to treat Salem better, but the stony looks of both Novel and Dharma told her that she'd be laughed at if she did. They seemed to have lost their sympathy for Salem’s great sacrifice somewhere in the last few weeks, and Novel now stood brushing off his dark suit, and preparing his face with a look of apology. It was one that Lily suspected was not entirely sincere.
"Sorry about the shock, Dharma," Novel told her. "This was the nearest open window, you see."
The siren settled herself on the edge of her bed, one long-nailed finger toying with the soft crimson sheets.
"It's all right," she answered with a shrug. "It's been a while since a man's hurled himself through my window. In some ways, it's just like old times."
Her dark gaze glittered with a joke that Novel didn't seem to get, but Lily gave her a knowing grin in return. Lily thought that she and Novel ought to have left Dharma to go back to sleep, but the illusionist was crossing the plush carpet as he moved farther from the door. Dharma had a great black dresser that took up the entire wall opposite her window, consumed by massive wardrobes, a long, oval mirror, and a set of drawers that separated the two. On top of the drawers, there hung a portrait on the wall, which depicted a handsome soldier in a uniform that Lily recognised from her college studies.
"Boer War," she said, crossing to join Novel at the portrait. "Love the feather in the hat."
To her surprise, the man in the portrait suddenly blinked, and looked up at the feather with interest. Within the ornate frame, he reached up with one painted hand and toyed with the plume.
"Do you think it suits me?" he asked her.
Lily felt that comforting hand resting across her shoulders, and she could see the small smile creeping into Novel's lip, just in the corner of her vision. Try as she might, she could not look away from the animated figure in the picture frame.
"Lily, this is Gerstein," Novel informed her.
Her brow furrowed instantly, one absent hand pointing back over her shoulder.
"But he's the gargoyle," she breathed.
The smiling young soldier in the portrait tipped his hat, the long feather drooping in front of his nose.
"Not quite, dear lady," Gerstein replied. "I am a man of many faces in this theatre."
Novel leaned on the chest of drawers, looking from the portrait to Lily's face, which she quickly realised was still slack with fascination. She blinked her surprise away, awaiting the illusionist’s explanation.
"Gerstein is a simulacra," Novel began, "which is to say, he exists as a spirit without physical form. He can use any object which resembles a face and possess it, which is why I have him patrol the roof at night, inside the gargoyles around the walls."
The portrait soldier nodded along with every word, adding: "If it's attached to this building, I can take control of it. Anything with a face."
Lily found her mind racing to the many faces of the theatre, inside the old posters of productions gone by, and the cherubs that adorned the upper and dress circles of the auditorium. She wondered how many other portraits and photographs there were that she had never noticed, where Gerstein's watchful eyes could inhabit them at any moment. And, though the fellow in Boer War uniform seemed pleasant enough, Lily wondered if there were pictures in her bedroom that he might have been able to get into, should he choose to do so.
so nice to have someone to watch over you," Dharma said from her bed, which the portrait overlooked.
"Right," Lily answered, an unsure smile forming with a twitch upon her lips. "Well, I guess it's nice to meet you, Gerstein."
"And you, my dear," Gerstein replied, with another tip of his hat. His painted eyes shifted their focus as he went on. "It's a good thing that I was inside the big griffon when your father fell, Novel. I'd only just come from the wolf's head on the west corner. Dashed fine luck, eh?"
Novel, who had been smiling right up until that last remark, suddenly turned his face to stone. Something grave and frightful overtook him, and his pale eyes darted to Lily's face for a moment, which sent her into a panic that equalled his own. He looked like he was on red alert once more, but the urgency passed before Lily even had the time to ask him what was wrong. When the illusionist looked back to the man in portrait, it was with a withering, discerning pull in his lips.
"I do not believe in luck," he answered in a low, almost threatening tone, "as you well know."
He was gone from the room with a speed that could only have been enhanced by his magic, leaving Lily and Dharma to exchange baffled looks, before Gerstein broke their silent wonder.
"Was it something I said?”