Winter (The Manhattan Exiles) (31 page)

BOOK: Winter (The Manhattan Exiles)
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She has the queen’s temper.” Katie took a sip of tea. It was tepid, and sweet, and didn’t wash away the lump in her throat. “She isn’t one of us. I would remember.”


Of course you would.” Siobahn paced once in front of her desk. She picked up the television remote and blacked the overhead screen, banishing scenes of the tumbled Monument. “And so would I.”


Are you implying she’s real?”


Oh, she’s real alright,” said Winter. “Pounded me with her fists all the way here. When she wasn’t quivering in the back seat because of all the iron, or sobbing over every bridge, or promising to boil my blood in my veins. She’s the genuine article, so genuine Father Dan over there almost made her break out in hives.”


Brother Daniel,” the priest corrected mildly.


That’s learned behavior,” Katie said slowly, considering. “Or so Angus believed. The iron sickness, the water, the rest. Most of us have managed to unlearn it, if slowly, because we’ve had to, to survive. Are you saying she’s fresh from Court?”


Not that fresh.” Winter wrinkled his nose. “She stinks of spoiling.”


Win!” Summer protested softly. “You’re not being fair.”


My sister’s decided she should be Hannah’s friend, not yet having realized Gloriana’s daughter is cut from the same snake-skin cloth as her mother.”

Katie s
et her empty tea cup on Morris’ proffered tray. She picked up her cell phone and cradled it in her lap between the folds of her skirt.


Are we sure she’s Gloriana’s?” she asked, ignoring Winter. When Siobahn only raised her brows, Katie sighed. “How did she end up on our side of the Way, in Virginia?”


The real Hannah’s human mother and uncle used to run tours,” answered Winter. “Through a local cave. Cornwallis’ Cave. According to the family, Darlene often took her baby to work. One evening, when she was closing up for the night - “


Darlene was knocked down and left for dead,” Hannah said. Siobahn had relaxed her hold on the girl. She stood on her own, arms crossed tight against her ribs. She was already beginning nurse hatred, Katie noted. “They thought it was a mugging. When Uncle Lewis found Mama, he believed her to be dead.”


She wasn’t,” Winter said. “Although badly concussed. I presume the girls were switched while she was unconscious. Human baby for
sidhe
. They don’t resemble each other much now.” He shrugged. “Maybe as children they did.”

Kat
ie ran one finger over the buttons on her cell phone. The tea was turning sour in her belly. Suddenly, she wanted to go home, back to her tiny apartment, back to her empty bed. She wanted the forgetfulness of sleep.


Don’t you see?” Siobahn was pacing again, agitated. “Hannah came through the cave. There must be a Way back.”


Malachi’s death has addled your wits,” Katie returned, tired. “Why not simply step through Stonehenge? Whether Gloriana left a Way open in Virginia, or in the D.C. Metro, or even in Jersey, it does us little good. We cannot leave the island. Nothing’s changed.”


Something has,” the Fay Queen retorted. She smiled sweet as Gloriana ever did, showing sharp teeth. “Winter’s found us a bargaining chip.”

 

Hannah sat on the couch next to Katie. She drew her knees up beneath her dress and shivered. Katie thought the girl was trying to garner pity.

It didn’t work. She’d been cursed with Gloriana’s face, and Gloriana would never be anything but hated in Siobahn’s home.

“And the original child?” the priest spoke, surprising the
sidhe
. “The human child? Has she spent sixteen years lost under the mound?”


Winter found her, here on this side,” Summer answered. She stood alongside the couch, next to Hannah, protective. “In the Metro wall.”

Father Daniel blinked. He was really remarkably ugly, Katie thought, with his shaved head and smudged tattoos. Still, he exuded a solid confidence that made her wonder.

“Whatever he was trying to do with Aine,” said Winter. “It went wrong.”


Sorrow was made specifically to destroy demon-kind. The blessings on the blade are likely to disrupt any fairy magic nearby.”

Winter stared at the priest.

“Demon-kind?”

Katie didn’t like the human’s smile.

“Pope and his compatriots certainly believed the fay were a part of Lucifer’s army.”

Summer drew herself up, obviously insulted.
“We are not demons! Demons are monsters, made-up monsters, just like angels, vampires, witches, werewolves, the Easter Bunny, the devil, and god.” She stopped, blushing.

Father Daniel only smiled wider.

“Either way,” he said. “The sword would have put a nasty twist in any ritual magic your man tried.”


I wonder,” said Siobahn. The Fay Queen stepped back behind her desk and picked up a small box. Katie recognized it. She’d helped Angus charm the amber locks herself. “I wonder if the human knew what he had in that sword.”


He knew enough to play with blood magic,” said Morris, startling Katie. She thought it might have been two centuries since she’d last heard him speak anything of import. “He knew enough to cast a Summoning.” He paused, absently arranging empty tea cups on his silver tray. “Likely he knew exactly what he had. Mayhap, your ladyship, the question is: how did he get the blade, and what did he plan to do with it?”


Mama found it in the cave. She kept it under her bed,” Hannah said. “She meant it for me. She meant to cut off my head, I think.”

Summer gasped. Hannah leaned a little into the other girl. Katie watched
without sympathy. Gloriana’s whelp was an excellent actress.


It’s true.” Hannah shivered. “She thought I didn’t know, but I did. Uncle Lewis told me. He took the sword from under Mama’s bed and buried it, buried it deep in the garden. Winter made me show him where. He promised he’d break all my fingers if I didn’t.”


And you deny demons,” the priest murmured.


The scabbard was still in the ground,” Winter said, ignoring Brother Daniel. “I thought I’d better bring it along.”

Siobahn set Angus’ box back on her desk with a thump.

“Pope’s sword. I suppose we all believed it lost, buried amongst Court treasure. Gloriana was very proud, when she discovered how to blunt its curse with a scabbard cut from Adam’s children.” She glanced at her son, then away. “It doesn’t matter. What is it to us, now? Smith is dead. We have the sword, contained, and the pieces of the scabbard. The blade cannot harm any more of our family. The matter is put to rest.”


The matter of the sword, perhaps,” said Katie. “But what of vengeance?”


We’ll have it,” Siobahn promised. “At long last, we’ll have it. Hannah is the key. Gloriana will fall.”


Oh, I don’t doubt that.” Katie rose from the couch. “And I wish you luck, Siobahn. But I came here for Winter, and that hasn’t changed.”

 

Ignoring Summer and Lolo’s vehement protests, Siobahn ushered Winter and Katie into Barker’s sickroom and shut them in.


She’s your grandfather’s blood,” Katie said, scanning the dull boudoir. Barker lay almost motionless beneath several blankets. Only the color in his checks and the faint rise and fall of his chest distinguished the red-headed
sidhe
from a corpse. “It’s said Angus Murray would roast his own children to feed his starving people.”


She doesn’t believe you’ll hurt me,” said Winter.


Or she doesn’t care.” Katie tilted her chin pointedly at the stones in Winter’s ears. “Did she shed even one tear when she maimed you, child? When she made you susceptible to this mortal world?” She shrugged. “And I mean to kill you, for Bran.”


You won’t kill me.”

He’d set himself against the bedroom door. In his hand he held a bronze knife. She’d last seen it hidden beneath Lolo’s coat.

“I could probably,” Katie said, “bring you to your knees simply by speaking.” She knew exactly how the punishment in his ears worked, and she infused each word with the shards of Bran’s absence.

He went white, and then green, the wounds on his face standing out, but he didn’t fall. His grey eyes were large with her pain, but he didn’t bend.

“That won’t work,” he gasped, squaring his shoulders. “I’ve had a lot of time to practice. Your loss is hardly the first I’ve felt, lady.”

She grabbed him by the throat, shoving him hard against the door until the frame shuddered. She was old, and strong, and she’d lost the only love she’d ever found.

He struck at her with Angus’ knife. It sliced through her Missoni dress, and then through her forearm. She hissed, plucking the knife free as Winter wriggled away.

She tossed the knife onto Siobahn’s bed. Her blood stained Barker’s blankets.

“You can’t harm me with that,” she said. “Not truly.”

Winter rubbed at his throat. Her hands had left a bruise.

“I’m sorry,” he said, hoarse. “I’m sorry. I loved him too. And Aine. And . . . Richard.”

Katie hadn’t know Siobahn’s curse could work both ways. Possibly
even Siobahn had no inkling. But somehow Winter reversed the
geis
, and his own regret poured into her skull, his own grief and loss, and a decade weighted down by guilt and loneliness.

He’d had practice, learned how to shield himself. Katie hadn’t. She went down on her knees on the carpet, the pieces of her already shattered heart crumbling to dust.

“Bran,” she wept. “Bran,
mo chroí
. My love.”

Winter knelt on the rug at her side.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

His loss was too heavy to bear on top of her own. She clamped her hands over her ears, groaning, so at first she didn’t hear her phone when it rang.

 

 

 

 

 

Winter

 

I found Gabby where Bran said I would, locked in an old Scooby Doo lunch box on our kitchen table.

I didn’t have Richard with me, so I had to dodge cops and media and military to get back into the tunnels. I used a Glamour. It’s less fun than playing hide and seek with a Marine and his AK-47, but a lot more efficient.

Lolo wanted to come, but I didn’t want him to see Richard’s destruction up close and personal, so I left him back at the hospital with Bran and Summer and Hannah and Brother Dan.

The Franciscan friar had insisted on making the trip back to D.C. with us. It didn’t take a mind reader to see Dan had history, most of it as rough as he looked. I figured he’d make the drive south whether I spit in his face or not, which was okay. Because I thought I might need his help.

He hadn’t said much the entire trip, except to scold Lolo when the he lobbed gummy worms at Hannah.

Pope’s sword came with us, too, asleep in its little box with
the rubies, wrapped in the pigmen scabbard. It was mine, now, like the
sidhe
stones in my ears, another weight on my shoulders.

I’d promised Siobahn I’d take
Sorrow back with me to Virginia, find a way through the Cornwallis Cave, and use it to cut down Gloriana, and free the Manhattan exiles from their
geis
. For my father.


I would far rather handle Gloriana myself
,

Siobahn said before she sent me away.
“But I can’t. You can,
Geimhreadh
. Take Hannah, use her as bait, and finish it. Don’t come home until it’s finished
.

It was a familiar line, one that I’d first heard at eight.

“You let the
sluagh
through,
Geimhreadh
. Don’t come home until you’ve fixed the problem”.

Siobahn always feels like icicles in my skull. She’s the world’s biggest brain freeze.

My father was the lightning to her glacier. Now that he’s dead, I figure nothing can melt her again.

 

Richard’s bomb tore a crater the size of a soccer field beneath the Monument. I suspect proximity to my rift may have made the explosion more powerful than Richard intended. Human technology and fay magic really don't mix well.

The obelisk fell at a right angle toward the Mall, breaking into three large pieces as it hit. Luckily, no one was killed, although
several transients were in the hospital, a few floors below Bran, recovering from shrapnel injuries and plain old shock.

Homeland Security was calling it a terrorist attack.

Most of the real damage was underground in the Metro. Bran had barely made it out in one piece. As it was he’d had to haul himself up Federal Triangle on a broken pelvis. He passed out pretty much on the station steps. Seems several rocks had fallen on his head as he’d run, and one had cracked his skull.

But Bran’s been hanging out with the Grey Lady for a long time. He’s not that easy to kill. As soon as he’s able to travel, he’ll be spending his sick leave in Central Park, and welcome to it. Liadan scares the shit out of me.

The Orange Line was gone between McPherson and Smithsonian. L’Enfant Station was still intact, but badly shaken. Stone had fallen from the barrel ceilings, and everything was covered with soot and ash. The usual scents were gone, overcome by the perfume of char and grease.

It would be a while before the trains ran our tunnels again.

Things were a little better past Capitol South. There were new cracks in some of the walls, and the electricity was out, and there was a coating of ash on our gate. It was unlocked.

I keyed the code on the door and stepped into darkness.

“Gabby?”

I knew my way through our home blind, but I Gathered starlight anyway. Nothing frightens me anymore, but I’d had a strange quiver in my gut ever since I’d learned Richard blew our world to pieces.

Everything appeared as I’d left it. I could feel the absence of the Wards, but they’d been fading for years.

I wanted Richard to step from behind a curtain and tell me it was a mistake.

I found a wooden crate half filled with creep-tastic gas masks. Bran said the masks hadn’t really worked, that the rubber had cracked in the cold, providing hardly any protection.

I could have guessed that, but I’d give Richard points for trying.

“Gabby!”

Nothing. Bran thought she was probably dead, if not from the concussion then from dehydration.

I kicked the wooden crate: once, twice, until I lost count, slamming the wood with my boot. My starlight went out.

I stood in the darkness, panting. I don’t cry, not ever. Weeping is for noobs and
infants. But that quiver in my stomach had become a cramp, and I had to double over, hugging myself, to keep the pain back.

It took a while to regain control, and even then I couldn’t hold the starlight I Gathered. I felt shaky and half asleep. Trapped in one of those dreams you have after eating too much take-out and marathoning zombie movies.

I managed to light one of Richard’s lanterns. I wiped my face with the back of my hand. The burns were healing, but the gashes in my throat where the Grey Lady had tried to strangle me still ached.

I held the lantern close to protect the curtains, then took it with me into the kitchen.

The Scooby Doo lunchbox was there, on the table. Richard had punched holes in the cheap metal, so at least she hadn’t suffocated.


Gabby?”

She could have been squealing at the top of her lungs, scratching until her nails bled, and I
might not know it. I held the lantern over the box. The flame trembled with my hands.


God,” I said in the Gaelic. “Please. Just this one thing. Just once.”

I set the lantern on the kitchen table. I flipped the two snaps on the lunch box and opened the lid.

I looked inside.

She lay on her left side, still, tail curled around her tiny body. At first I couldn
’t tell if she was breathing, but when I held the lantern up again, she opened one eye against the flickering light.

I don’t ever weep, but I scooped her up in my hand and held her against my chest and for a while I couldn’t move.

 


Bran says Richard thinks you’re gone.”

I’d brought water in a flask in my pocket, and she drank it from a saucer while I sat at the table, my head on my folded arms, down at her level. The lantern burned between us. She hadn’t run away, but maybe that was because she wanted the water.

I needed to believe she hadn’t run because she knew who I was.


Richard
is
gone. The
sluagh
took Aine, and Richard went after.”

The mouse slicked her wet paws across her nose. She was very dusty. I couldn’t tell if Gabby was in there or not.

“I think I’ve found another way between worlds. It’s in a cave, in Virginia. I’m to go across. Siobahn’s orders.”

Gabby curled her tail around her toes, watching. I’d foraged Doritos from our pantry, and scattered them on the table, but she
didn't touch them.


Father’s dead. But maybe you remember that? We hadn’t really spoken for ages, but I don’t know what to do without him.”

The lantern stank of kerosene, the way Richard always had.

“What do you think they’re doing to Aine and Richard? Bran says they wanted her blood. But Richard’s no good to them at all. They’ll devour him, or worse.” I swallowed. “I think he meant to save her. He won’t. He’s nothing against them, alone. Once they’ve used Aine, they’ll probably devour her, too. It’s my fault, I shouldn’t have left them.”

The mouse
looked at me. I stared back, searching for any sign of intelligence. She was breathing too quickly. I worried that she’d taken lasting harm from her confinement.

I picked a corn chip up
between two fingers, carefully offering the treat.


You should eat. You’re
aes sí
. You have to keep your strength up. I need your help. I can’t destroy Gloriana without you.”

She sniffed at the chip, then turned away, on alert, white fur puffed. At first I thought she was going to run, and I made a sound of distress. But she froze, listening, ears pricked toward the back of the tunnels.

I couldn’t hear whatever it was that caught her attention, but I could feel it. The dirt beneath us had begun to gently pulse, breathing in and out, an almost impossible-to-feel inhale and exhale that once was the sole property of my favorite Monument.

I grabbed Gabby before she could run and tucked her safely into my pocket.

I reached for my gun, but I’d left it with Lolo because the
sluagh
were gone, imprisoned behind fallen rock, and I don’t kill humans.

I made do with Angus’ knife instead of my Glock.

The entire length of tunnel was pulsing, now, breathing just for me.

I knew what it was. Although I didn’t understand how.

I ducked past the kitchen curtain, through Lolo’s room. I didn’t need the lantern. The faint glow of unearthly twilight infected our home.

In my room Richard’s clock had stopped, long hands literally frozen.

Twilight turned to white daylight, bleaching the junk pile to grey and black. My eyes stung, and my breath was fogging in front of me, turning to ice crystals. I could smell familiar corpse-rot.

I walked to the edge of the pit and looked down.

It was smaller than I remembered, about as large as a bathtub, and oval. It floated about three feet off the ground, black at the very center, fading to blue and grey and then ice-white at the edges.

It sucked air in and spat it out out again, cold and fetid.


Damnú air
!” I swore, clenching my little bronze blade until my knuckles hurt.

It was my portal. It had moved. Or been moved. I didn’t know. But I knew it was mine, my mistake. It resonated in my teeth and bones.

I didn’t see any ghouls.

I slid down the side of the pit, scattering dirt and gravel. The ground was already beginning to ice over in patches.

I’d spent a lot of time in the last ten years staring into my mistake. I knew the view better than I knew my own heart.

The center wasn’t actually as pitch black as it appeared from a distance. There was a dark landscape beyond my unlucky door: jagged mountains and a flat, inky lake. Sometimes there was a sun - or a moon, I wasn’t sure which - oval and white.

I hated that bleak landscape, that small glimpse into the cell Gloriana had chosen for her Host. It was evidence of my mis-placed ego, proof of my shame.

It was also a reflection. Our prison may have been warmer, greener, more pleasant, but it was still exile. We didn’t belong.

I’d never seen home, never known the Court Siobahn longed for. With Malachi gone, I was the only hope she had left to regain it.

The sun/moon was up on the other side, reflecting on the flat black lake. I wondered if Richard had seen the lake before he died, before they’d torn him apart. I wondered if Aine was still alive, and suffering in the noxious cold. She was small, too skinny, and human. Even if the
sluagh
were careful, she wouldn’t survive the dark landscape long.

It was possible she wasn’t dead yet. It took time to rip a hole between worlds, and a lot of blood. They’d have to bleed her several times. There was an art to it. I knew that intimately.

The portal breathed on me, waiting.

I remembered Aine’s hand in my own when I’d first coaxed her above ground. She’d been so frightened her pulse thumped against my wrist, but she’d trusted me to keep her safe.

And I’d lied to her. About who and what she was. I’d let her believe I was her friend.

It was possible she wasn’t dead. Yet.

Gazing at the lake, I tried to recall the last time Siobahn had touched me in affection, and couldn’t.

I wished I’d
had the foresight to bring Pope’s sword with me. Then I decided it was better I’d left it with Summer. She’d need it when she met Gloriana in Court.

Once you’ve made one huge mistake in your lifetime, a second one’s not such a big deal, really.


Póg mo thóin
,” I swore. Gabby wriggled in my pocket.

T
hen, taking a last, deep breath of fresh air, I stepped out of this world and into the next.

BOOK: Winter (The Manhattan Exiles)
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