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Authors: Kalayna Price

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Grave Dance (2 page)

BOOK: Grave Dance
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I shook my head at John. “We’re almost there.” I could feel the bodies just ahead.

The rushing water broke around a fal en tree a couple of yards in front of us. The ancient hardwood’s giant roots stretched out in every direction, dirt stil covering them, so the root-bal formed a massive mound. The tree hadn’t fal en in this particular flood—moss covered the mound and saplings clung to the root-packed earth. The grave essence emanated from somewhere around that tree, and not only grave essence but a dark knot of magic.

I stepped closer, searching with both my power and my eyes. Then I saw them.

“Feet.”

“Where?” John asked, looking around.

I pointed. In a hol ow near the base of the tree was a I pointed. In a hol ow near the base of the tree was a neatly stacked pile of bloated and decomposing feet.

John’s bushy eyebrows drew together, his mustache twitching downward as he frowned. He mopped sweat off his forehead before tilting his head to the side and giving me a confused look.

He doesn’t see them?
I pointed again, but I wasn’t wearing gloves, so I didn’t want to contaminate the scene.

Trying to figure out the differences between what I could see and what he could see was impossible while staring over multiple planes of reality, so I closed my mental shields, blocking my psyche from the land of the dead—

and whatever other planes it touched. My grave-sight faded. The gray coating of the world washed away, as did the swirls of the Aetheric. And so did the feet.

I blinked as I clasped my shield bracelet back around my wrist. Releasing my grave-sight made dark shadows crawl over my vision—I couldn’t peer across planes without paying a price—but when I squinted I could make out the hol ow where I’d seen the feet. An empty hol ow. Or, at least, it
looked
empty, but I could stil feel the grave essence and the taint of magic lifting off the dead appendages. The essence raked at my shields like icy claws, trying to sink under my skin, into my mind. I shivered.

The feet were definitely there.

“John, we have a problem,” I said, leaning back and trying to shove my hands in my jean pockets—which were blocked by the rubber hip waders. I dropped my hands by my side as everyone looked at me. “There’s a pyramid of feet stacked in that hol ow. I counted four and at a guess, they are al lefts.”

One of the uniformed officers stepped forward. He lifted a long sticklike object with a glass bead on the end.

Spellchecker wand.
He waved the wand over the hol ow.

The bead flashed a deep crimson to indicate malicious magic, but the glow was dim, the magic only traces of residual spel s.

residual spel s.

Stepping back, the officer shook his head. “No active spel s, sir.”

I stared at the empty-looking hol ow. “If they’re not hidden behind a spel , it has to be glamour.”

“Crap,” John said, and turned toward the cop beside him.

“Someone get the FIB on the phone. We’ve got a situation.”

The FIB, as in the Fae Investigation Bureau. Glamour was exclusively fae magic, which meant John had just lost jurisdiction.

I slouched in the front of John’s police cruiser, one foot on the dash, one hanging out the open door. I’d rather have been out of the car—or more accurately, out of the floodplain. The FIB had arrived and ruffled the cops’

feathers. In turn, the cops dashed around, trying to look busy. I was just trying to stay out of the way. But being in the car made me claustrophobic. Actual y, if I was honest with myself, it was more than that. Ever since the Blood Moon, being locked inside a car made me jumpy and made my skin itch. I had a sinking suspicion the sensation had something to do with the iron content in the metal.
No
wonder Falin drove that hot plastic convertible.

The thought of Falin Andrews made my gaze twitch toward the rearview mirror and the two FIB agents reflected in it. I’d met Falin a month ago when he’d been working undercover as a homicide detective on the Coleman case.

In truth he was a FIB agent—and a fae—and during the course of the case he’d ended up under my covers as wel .

But I hadn’t heard from him in several weeks. As the two FIB agents approached, I could see there was no shock of long blond hair or a towering swimmer’s build among the agents who’d responded to John’s cal . I wasn’t sure yet if I was grateful or disappointed.

“Miss Craft?” A woman in a tailored black power suit

“Miss Craft?” A woman in a tailored black power suit approached the car.

Here we go.
I nodded, jerking my foot from the dash as I stood.

“I’m Special Agent Nori.” She didn’t extend her hand.

“You were the one who found the remains in the hol ow?”

Again I nodded, sliding my hands into my back pockets. It had been nearly an hour since I’d released my grave-sight, and my vision was returning to normal, but I stil squinted as I studied Agent Nori. She was a couple of inches shorter than me in her fat-heeled pumps, but she stood completely straight, making the most of her height. She wore her dark hair slicked back like shiny black armor and her piercing eyes were set close enough that her sharp features seemed to come to a point in the front of her face. Or at least, that’s what she looked like currently. Being an FIB

agent meant she was probably, but not necessarily, fae.

What she might look like under her glamour was anyone’s guess. I could have dropped my shields and found out, but one, it would have been rude, and two, and perhaps more important, my eyes glowed when my psyche peered across planes, so she would have been able to tel . I wanted to get out of here without any trouble.

“Can you tel me how you were able to pierce the glamour?” she asked, which was exactly the question I’d feared. Luckily I hadn’t been waiting idly. I’d been planning my answer.

“I was helping the police search for the remains of the . . .

remains, by using my grave magic. The glamour didn’t hide the grave essence emanating from the feet.” I left out that I’d been able to see them. Fae didn’t tend to like it when people could see through glamour. You could lose your eyes for less.

She pressed her lips together and jotted something on her notepad. “So you fol owed this . . . essence? Then what?”

“I tracked where the grave essence originated. I could

“I tracked where the grave essence originated. I could feel that the body parts were there. That no one else was able to see the feet was a good hint we might be dealing with glamour.” Al true—just not al of the truth.

Agent Nori clicked her pen closed. “Miss Craft, when you realized glamour was involved, you didn’t for a moment think it might have been more prudent to inform the FIB

rather than let the mortals blunder around the scene?”

I bristled at the insult toward John and his team. I had a lot of friends in the Nekros City Police Department. Placing a hand on my hip, I lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “They hired me.”

“Yes, wel , I’m sure they appreciate your help, Miss Craft.

Your services wil no longer be needed.” She turned, gravel crunching under her pumps as she walked away. A few feet past the car, she glanced back over her shoulder. “You realize, of course, that this means we’l have to look into the independent fae in the area.” The smile that spread across her face made her bril iantly red lips stretch to flash a lot of white teeth, but it wasn’t a happy smile.

I didn’t balk. I’d recently learned I was feykin, but she couldn’t know that.
Could she?
Plastering on my own smile, I said, “I guess so.”

She left the smal gravel parking lot, no doubt headed back to the place where I’d found the pyramid of feet. As I turned to slide into the car again, movement at the tree line caught my eye. While my eyesight had recovered significantly, I’d been in touch with the land of the dead and the grave quite a bit, so at first al I could see was a moving man-shaped mesh of colors. But as the figure drew closer, I quickly realized that while
male
was the right gender, he wasn’t hu
man
, but fae.

He hunched, his stringy legs never ful y straightening as he slunk closer. Even bent, he stood a head tal er than me

—and I’m not short. He had the same features as a human, but they were al slightly off. His wide eyes were dark, and overly recessed in his skul , but not from il ness. His pale overly recessed in his skul , but not from il ness. His pale skin was the color of a worm’s bel y, as if he had never been exposed to daylight, and his hawkish nose extended nearly a hand’s width from his face, almost hiding the thin lips and pointed chin.

Even now, seventy years after the Magical Awakening, it was rare to see an unglamoured fae. The fae had come out of the mushroom ring, as some put it, because they were fading from memory and thus the world. They needed human belief to anchor them to reality, but aside from the fae celebrities and politicians, a human was likely to see an unglamoured fae only in a venue that profited from showcasing the fae’s differences. Most of those places were little better than tourist traps.

I glanced behind me. Across the parking pit, two officers huddled around the van that had been established as a temporary headquarters for the investigation.
Well, at least
I ’m not completely alone.
Of course, just because the strange fae looked creepy and was near the place where we’d found feet masked in glamour, that didn’t make him guilty. It did make him a suspect, though. Or possibly a witness.

“Can I help you?” I yel ed the question louder than needed, but I wanted to ensure that the officers also heard me. They would want to question the fae.

He paused, then hurried forward in a blur of movement.

He crossed from the far edge of the parking lot to the front of John’s car before my heart had time to crash in a loud, panicked beat. The cops yel ed something I didn’t catch above the blood rushing in my ears.

“Can I help you?” I asked again, not daring to look away from someone who could move as fast as this fae. I slid back a step, and then another, the movement far too slow.

“Are you daft?” he asked, his thin lips splitting with the words to reveal pointed teeth.

I blinked at him, startled, but not because of the implied insult in his words, or because of the threat in his insult in his words, or because of the threat in his expression. No, my shock came at the sound of his voice.

The voice that emerged from that thin, awkwardly threatening body was a rich, deep baritone that made even such an angry question sound musical. He had the kind of voice that, in the old folktales, would have drawn children and young women from their beds. Unfortunately, most of those stories didn’t end wel .

“I don’t know what you mean,” I said, taking another step back. Across the parking pit, gravel crunched under the cops’ running steps. Close. Maybe not close enough.

“Those feet were hidden for a reason.” The fae’s gaze moved over my head, and his eyes narrowed. “This is your fault, and you wil regret your actions,” he said. Then, as the cops neared us, he turned, dashed back to the tree line, and disappeared.

Chapter 2

“S
o, the cops couldn’t find him?” Hol y, my housemate and best friend, asked as her fork slid smoothly through the slice of triple-chocolate cheesecake sitting in the center of the table.

I nodded. “He issued his threat that I would regret leading the police to the feet, and then he ran. Once he reached the tree line, he might as wel have been gone.” I’d been jumpy for hours after leaving the floodplain, but today, in the afternoon sun, my tension seemed foolish. “The only thing I regret at the moment is that the FIB took over the case.”

Hol y shot a conspiratorial glance at the third person at the table, my other best friend, Tamara, and then leaned forward. “Did you-know-who show?”

I frowned at my fork. “You-know-who” would be Falin, the only FIB agent the three of us knew on a first-name basis.

Wel , actual y, I knew him
a lot
better than just that. Even so, two days after we’d closed the Coleman case, he’d taken off without so much as a good-bye.

I stabbed the cheesecake with a little more force than the smooth texture required. “He’s probably working some far more important case,” I said, then swal owed the bite of cheesecake without tasting it. “Good riddance. He’d complicate things.”

Hol y pul ed the cheesecake away from me. “Okay, so I know we have to eat this before it melts—whose idea was it to meet for lunch at an outdoor café anyway?—but don’t scarf it. These kinds of calories have to be savored.”

Tamara murmured in agreement and brandished her Tamara murmured in agreement and brandished her fork. “Oh, I’m in calorie bliss over here,” she said. “And today was Alex’s location choice.”

I shrugged. “I raised a shade to settle an insurance claim this morning. The family refused to believe their father had left a chunk of his estate to an il egitimate son’s widow, so I spent over two hours graveside while the shade verified the wil line by line. I was cold. Besides, it’s not half as hot as it was a couple of weeks ago. The mid-nineties are practical y a blessing in August.”

“Uh-uh,” Hol y said, and made a production of sipping her iced latte. But though we were at an outdoor café, it was a café in the middle of the Magic Quarter—Nekros City’s center for al things magical and witchy. This café boasted the very best charms available for keeping customers cool and comfortable regardless of the temperature. And despite her protests, Hol y wasn’t so much as breaking a sweat in her crisp courtroom-ready suit. “So, was there anyone

else
interesting
?” she asked, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively.

“Hardly.” I had to reach across the table to get to the cheesecake, but that didn’t stop me.

“Oh, come on.” Hol y pushed the plate forward. “It’s been a month since I’ve seen you pick up a guy. You’ve always accused me of being a workaholic, but ever since your business picked up, al you do is raise the dead.” She set down her latte, pul ed out her hair clip, and shook her red locks free. Then she smoothed her hair back again and twisted it effortlessly into a slick bun. She looked every inch the hotshot public prosecutor she was—less obvious was the fact that she was a witch in her own right. “I have court again this afternoon, but after that my caseload wil be lighter. Let’s go barhopping tonight. You need to get out.”

I made a noncommittal noise and focused on my once again empty fork.

“She is out,” Tamara said, though I had the feeling her coming to my defense had more to do with her new coming to my defense had more to do with her new disapproval of barhopping—a stance she’d taken about the s a m e time the large diamond engagement ring had appeared on her finger—than with my current social habits.

Hol y wasn’t exactly wrong. Business was good. Real y good. In fact, it was better than it had ever been. But business wasn’t why I’d stopped barhopping. For years I’d chased away the chil that clung to me after raising shades with a stiff drink and a warm body—preferably a guy I’d never see again after our encounter. That prospect didn’t appeal to me anymore. Besides, somewhere between temporarily swapping life forces with a soul col ector and discovering I was part fae a month ago, my body temperature had changed, and now most people felt blisteringly hot to the touch. There was a short list of guys who could touch me without causing us both discomfort.

Actual y it was a very short list. As in a list of two. That I knew of, at least. One guy had disappeared and the other .

. . Wel , that situation was complicated. It was time to change the subject.

I turned to Tamara, who, as wel as being my friend, was the chief medical examiner for Nekros City. “So did the FIB

take everything out of house?”

“Not yet. So far everyone is ‘cooperating.’ We’l see how long that lasts. Honestly, though, I’m out of my league. I have seven left feet in the freezer, and I have no idea how they were severed from the legs. There are no tool marks, so I’m inclined to believe the dismemberment is connected to the snarl of magic clinging to the feet, but I’ve had no luck discerning any individual spel s.” She shook her head, her lips thinning as her eyes moved past us. She was one of the foremost sensitives in the state. If neither she nor the anti–black magic unit was having any success, the spel s must have been rare and powerful. She shook her head again. “Maybe I’m losing my edge. I also have three bodies on the slab with no clear cause of death. Al the evidence points to their hearts simply ceasing to beat, but why? I stil points to their hearts simply ceasing to beat, but why? I stil don’t know. I need to run some more tests.” Her gaze fixed on the cheesecake. “I paid for a third of that slice. I expect to eat my third, so don’t you hoard it.”

“Take it, girlfriend,” Hol y said, pushing the plate across the table. “Sounds like you two need it more than me. Al the cases I’m working for the DA are pretty dul .”

She updated us on the case she’d be trying in court this afternoon. As she spoke, a shadow caught my eye. We were in the outdoor seating area of a café on a busy corner in the Magic Quarter, so one more passing person shouldn’t have snagged my attention. Of course, this wasn’t just any random stranger.

“That’s him,” I hissed.

Hol y fel silent and Tamara twisted in her chair. “Who?

Where?”

“The fae from the floodplain. He’s over by the magazine rack.” I pointed at the newsstand across the street. The fae, with his strange slumped stance and hawkish nose, held a copy of what looked suspiciously like
Fae Weekly
—a gossip rag—but his attention wasn’t on candid pictures or exaggerated articles. His gaze locked with mine, and I swal owed hard.

“The police issued a BOLO, be on the lookout, on him, right? As a person of interest in the case? I’m cal ing the station.” Hol y pul ed her phone from her clutch, but before she flipped it open, a scream rang out down the street.

For one stal ed moment, the café went quiet as al conversation stopped and the patrons turned to look. My gaze tore free of the fae and I whirled around. A block up the street, cars slammed on brakes, horns blaring, and pedestrians ran inside buildings. Tamara jumped to her feet, Hol y right behind her.

I glanced back to where the fae had stood, but he’d vanished. Of course, that didn’t mean he was gone.
What is
going on?

A car swerved, wheels screeching as it braked, and my A car swerved, wheels screeching as it braked, and my attention snapped back to the commotion in the street.

More screams sounded as people ran, and the air tingled with dozens of charms being activated at once. Then the cause of the panic became sickeningly apparent.

A hulking form lunged onto the hood of a car, which buckled under the beast’s weight. I stared, rooted to the spot. I’d never seen anything like it. I would have said the creature was a wolf, except it was the size of a grizzly bear and covered in shaggy moss green fur.
A fae beast.
It tipped its head back, its nose working the air. Then its red-tinted gaze swung toward the café. Metal bunched under its claws as it hurled itself off the car.

Oh, crap.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said, snagging my purse. “Two steps ahead of you,” Tamara said, already breaking into a run. The air around her tingled as she activated a charm.

Between one step and the next she vanished behind the invisibility charm. I only wished I had one as wel , but the best thing I had was my ability to run. So I did. Fast.

I’d just reached the door of the potion shop next to the café when the air around me chil ed. Death appeared in front of me, his tight black T-shirt pul ing taut over his muscles as he stepped forward into my path.

Soul col ector, Grim Reaper, Angel of Death—whatever you cal ed him, his job was to gather the souls of the dead and dying. Which meant, unless he’d picked a damn funny time for a social cal , someone was about to breathe their last.

Who?
I mouthed, not wanting to be seen talking to someone no one else could see. Not that anyone on the street was likely to notice amid the panic.

Death looked away, his heavy lids drooping to mask his deep hazel eyes. I turned, looking back at the street. Hol y hadn’t run, hadn’t moved.

We were in the center of the Magic Quarter, so magic abounded. Almost everyone—witch, fae, and norm alike—

abounded. Almost everyone—witch, fae, and norm alike—

was getting the hel off the street, but a handful of witches had hung back, magic snapping and crackling around them. Hol y also held her ground. She stood facing the street. I could see only her profile, but her eyes were closed, her fingers twitching.

She’s crafting a spell.

A web of magic catapulted across the street from one of the pedestrians. It snarled around the beast, but with a shake, the creature shrugged off the spel and kept running.

It was headed straight for the café. And Hol y.

I turned back to Death. “Not her,” I whispered.

He didn’t look at me.

No!
I dashed back through the tables, tripping over toppled chairs in my haste. I reached Hol y just as her eyes popped open. She lifted her hands and a bal of fire burst into existence, building between her palms. The rubies she wore on her fingers—gems where she stored raw magic—

glittered in the flames, and the bal of fire burst forward.

The firebal exploded against the beast’s chest, the backlash of heat slamming into us. But the beast didn’t stop. It didn’t even pause. Hol y’s eyes went wide as she backpedaled. The cool and col ected assistant DA was gone. The confident witch? Gone. Al that remained was a mortal staring at her doom.

And behind her, Death, his expression grim.

Hol y’s legs tangled in a chair, and I grabbed her arm, trying to keep her standing, to get her moving. Too late.

The beast’s red eyes locked on us, and it tipped its head back, releasing a bloodcurdling howl. It was the first sound it had made, and al other sound fel away under that howl.

Then the beast was suddenly there, fil ing the sidewalk. Its breath, thick with the smel of rotted meat, tumbled over us.

Hol y could hurl firebal s, but I had no offensive magic. Hel , I could barely cast a circle. Grave magic wasn’t exactly effective on things not already dead. But it was al I had, so I reached for it.

reached for it.

I dropped my mental shields so fast that pain stabbed through my head. The street washed out into shades of gray, the concrete crumbling in my sight, and the chairs rusting as the land of the dead snapped into focus. Bril iant wisps of raw magic swirled through the air. The ground throbbed with the signatures and emotions absorbed from those who’d crossed it.

And the beast disappeared.

It simply vanished. A faint shimmering outline remained, but nothing substantial. In the very center of the strange shape hung a clump of glowing magic.

Beside me, Hol y screamed and slammed backward into the concrete. The front of her blouse ripped open, rent by unseen claws.

Glamour.

The beast was a glamour surrounding a magical construct.

“Hol y, it’s not real!”

She screamed, thrashing under something I could barely see. Around me, the Aetheric thrummed, the swirls of raw magic scattering as someone threw a spel at the beast.

The spel hit the construct and then dissolved into the space that the beast only appeared to occupy.

“It’s a glamour!” I yel ed as a ring of bloody bites sprouted on Hol y’s shoulder.

Hol y’s back arched, her arms thrashing at her sides. I reached for her, and the beast’s head snapped up. Unreal eyes focused on me, narrowed. Then it lunged.

I jumped sideways, out of its path. Its flank slammed into my side as it turned, and I stumbled. The thing might look insubstantial, but it had some mass behind it.

Dammit
. No, it didn’t.

Glamour was an il usion magic so strong that reality believed it to be true—at least for a while. If you knew something was glamour, and your wil was strong enough, you could disbelieve it out of existence.

you could disbelieve it out of existence.

But it’s hard to disbelieve in an animal actively trying to rip your throat out.

The beast’s gaze locked on me, and again it howled. The sound made me flinch. The urge to hit the ground and cover my ears gripped me, but I couldn’t. Hol y’s too-stil form lay between the beast and me, far too close to its massive claws. I’d seen what those claws could do to a car. I didn’t want to know what they’d do to a woman. I had to draw it farther from her.

Death stepped closer to Hol y, momentarily attracting my attention as he crouched beside her.
No, she can’t be . . .

I shook my head, and the beast must have sensed my distraction. Its back legs bunched, preparing to attack. And Hol y would be caught in its charge.

No!
I didn’t believe in the beast. In fact, I
knew
it didn’t exist, and reality had bent to my wil before.

I dove forward, into its attack. I plunged my hands into the misty form just as one of its huge paws landed on Hol y’s chest.

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