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Authors: Kalayna Price

Tags: #Urban Life, #Contemporary, #Epic, #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General

Grave Dance (8 page)

BOOK: Grave Dance
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Do you remember seeing or otherwise sensing the feet floating through your territory?”

The kelpie’s lips once again curled back from those sharp, predatory teeth. “The grotesque offering? The meat was putrefied by magic. It offended me.”

Offering?
That was an unusual way to view body parts dumped in the river, but the feet the police had found were certainly saturated with dark magic, so I guessed we were talking about the same thing. I shuddered at the idea that she’d actual y tried to eat one of the feet, but if I thought about it, that wasn’t real y unexpected.

“Do you know where the, uh, ‘grotesque offering’ was tossed into the river?”

“In the place that reeks of iron, near one of the thundering gates.”

gates.”

Well, that’s as clear as river muck.
The place that

“reeked of iron” was probably the city—no fae liked iron and the city had a lot of it. But what were the “thundering gates”?

I didn’t get a chance to ask. A hiccup erupted in my chest, interrupting me. I pressed my fingers over my lips just as a second hiccup hit, fol owed by a third.

The charm. Glamour—and not from the kelpie or Malik.

I whirled around, glancing over the bank, the bridge, and the road as I turned. Nothing. My gaze shot to where the woods encroached on the river. Stil nothing.

Another hiccup gripped my chest, bursting from my throat, and I cringed.
Okay, charm, I got the point.
There was glamour being used nearby, but I real y wished the charm had a better way of warning me. At least I’d had the foresight to attach the charm with a quick-release clasp this time. I unhooked it from the bracelet and pried open my shields.

My grave-sight snapped into focus, painting the forest in muted shades as the landscape decayed. Several yards away, amid the forest of rotted trees, a trol moved silently through the wilted underbrush. His shoulders were wide enough that he had to turn sideways to step between two thick trees and avoid tearing the dark business suit he was wearing. His hands, each as big as my head, dragged the ground beside bare green feet sticking out under the hemmed legs of his slacks. I thought for a moment his hands were brown with moss green mounds over his knuckles, until I realized he wore gloves, the leather worn away on the top.

He moved slowly, sucking in his gut to al ow more clearance between the tree trunks. But not enough clearance. Bark flaked off the trees as he brushed past.

Beside me, the kelpie’s ears twitched, the skin on her neck quivering as she snapped her head toward the forest. The trol ’s glamour might have hidden his footsteps, but we al trol ’s glamour might have hidden his footsteps, but we al heard the explosion of bark.

Malik wrung his hands, glancing from the forest to me.

“What do you see?”

“Trol ,” I whispered, hoping the trol in question wouldn’t hear. He’d paused when he brushed against the tree, as if waiting to see if we had noticed.

We had.

I’d met only one trol before, and it had been rather slow on the uptake. This one looked much more astute—it was probably the suit. If nothing else, the suit definitely implied that roaming the wilds wasn’t part of his normal routine.

“I’m guessing trol s aren’t common in this area?” I asked, but the only answer I received was a loud splash behind me.

I turned in time to see ripples and the kelpie’s dark shadow fade under the surface of the water. I glanced at Malik—or at least at where Malik had been. Now there was only his retreating back.

I whirled back around, and the movement dislodged smal pebbles, sending them tumbling down the bank to make
plink plink
sounds as they hit the water. The trol was running now, bounding toward me.
Crap.
My muscles tensed, preparing to send me bolting away. My car wasn’t far, just on the other side of the bridge. Then the trol reached into his coat, pul ing his sidearm and in the process flashing the badge at his waist.

“Freeze—FIB,” he yel ed as he leveled a gun large enough to be a smal cannon at Malik’s fleeing back.

I froze. For one endless moment, even my heart stopped.

Then the next beat crashed hard, threatening to knock me forward. I lifted my hands slowly, palms open to show I carried no weapon and was preparing no spel . Not that it mattered. The trol never looked at me.

He thundered by, each stride of his tree-trunk-thick legs eating the ground in a massive gait. Stil the distance between him and Malik grew.

between him and Malik grew.

“Malik Shel ycoat, by order of the winter court I command you to stop,” he yel ed, his voice booming but already breathless.

Malik dove into the forest, slipping silently through the underbrush until he vanished among the trees. The trol crashed after him, trees shuddering and bark exploding like shrapnel as he shouldered through.

I remained by the bank, my hands in the air until both fae had vanished from sight. Then I lowered my arms, glancing around. I could stil hear the trol ’s loud pursuit in the distance, and I half expected to spot the trol ’s partner approaching me, gun out and cuffs in hand. But there was no one.

Time to get out of here.

I grabbed my purse from where I’d dropped it when the trol appeared and snapped my shields closed. I hadn’t had my grave-sight active long, and I hadn’t actual y reached for the grave or used my power, but darkness stil swam over my vision. I dug the glasses I often needed after the ritual from my bag and blinked, giving my sight a moment to adjust. It did, and after a couple of stil -rushing heartbeats, my vision cleared enough that I was confident I’d be able to drive. Then I made my way over the bridge, not exactly running, but just barely not.

The FIB was an official law enforcement entity—I probably should have waited to see if the agent’s backup would arrive. There would definitely be questions about what I was doing out in the middle of nowhere with a person of interest in a homicide case.
I’m not fleeing the scene,
I told myself, but I was. And I knew it.

I’d just crossed the bridge when I noticed the shadow leaning against my car. I stopped short, squinting to make out the figure. I groaned and started walking again when I final y recognized the woman.

“Agent Nori,” I said as I approached.

“Miss Craft. You have a tendency to show up where you

“Miss Craft. You have a tendency to show up where you shouldn’t.” She flashed some teeth. “It seems you found the fae who was harassing you.”

I twisted the strap of my purse in my hands as I focused on her nose, not her eyes. “I was mistaken about his involvement.”

“I see.” She drew the word out so it had multiple syl ables.

“Be that as it may, he’s stil wanted for questioning in an open case. If you encounter him again, give me a cal .” She pressed a card into my hand. “And, Miss Craft, let me give you a little
friendly
advice. Those who don’t have loyalty to a court don’t have loyalty to anyone. Be careful with whom you associate.”

“Right.” I slid into my car and got the hel out of there, silently wishing luck to Malik as I drove away.

Chapter 7

I
cal ed Caleb on my way to the Magic Quarter to meet Rianna, but he didn’t answer his cel . I didn’t like the idea of walking into the Bloom alone, but Tamara was working late and I wasn’t going to cal Hol y. That left me with only one other person.

“Thanks for meeting me here,” I said as Roy popped into existence in the passenger seat of my car. A ghost for backup in Faerie probably wasn’t much backup at al , but he was the best I had. If nothing else, at least he was a second pair of eyes.

“Hey, no problem. It’s not like I have a lot of better prospects to haunt,” he said, folding his hands behind his head. “So, what’s on the agenda? A little breaking and entering? Some undercover work? Or just a little good old spying?”

I pul ed into a metered spot a couple of blocks from the Bloom—that was as close a parking spot as I could find.

“Actual y we’re going to meet with an old friend of mine.” I paused, my hand stil on the stick shift. There was an issue with bringing Roy along that I hadn’t thought of before now.

“I’m meeting Rianna.”

Roy’s hands fel and his face screwed up tight. “Tel me you’re going to manifest me.”

“Uh, no.” By “manifest,” Roy meant he wanted me to pump him with enough energy to make him physical in the land of the living. The first time I’d done it he’d punched Rianna. At the time that had been a good thing, as she’d stil been under Coleman’s control and on the opposite side, but Roy had deeper reasons to hate Rianna—she’d side, but Roy had deeper reasons to hate Rianna—she’d been involved in his death. Unwil ing though she might have been, Roy was having a hard time forgiving his murderer. I guess I couldn’t blame him. “Try to play nice,” I said, giving him a pleading smile.

His fists bal ed by his side, but after a moment he gave me a sharp nod. “Fine.” He stood—straight through my car, which was rather disturbing—and walked to the sidewalk.

I hurried to catch up.

He sulked as we walked to the Eternal Bloom, his shoulders slumped and his gaze down. After two attempts to start a conversation with him—which both received only noncommittal sounds in response—I didn’t bother trying to converse with someone that no one else on the street could see. I would make it up to him later. Maybe I’d buy him some Legos—the little blocks were light enough for him to pick up if he concentrated. Roy floated through the main door when we reached the Bloom. I, on the other hand, had to pul it open.

“Hul o, lass. Welcome to the Eternal Bloom,” the bouncer, a red-bearded man perched on the stool in the entry said, his accent thick. “Check al iron items here, and do’na forget to sign the ledger.”

“No iron,” I said, pul ing a pen from my purse.

The entry wasn’t large, just a short room with enough space for the bouncer, his stool, and the pedestal with the ledger balanced on top. I saw only one door, but I knew there was another one not accessible to the majority of the bar’s clientele.

As I stepped up to the pedestal and ledger, the short man stood on his stool. Even with the stool’s height, he only reached my chin, but he peered around my shoulder, watching me write my name, and most important, the date and time. I wrote as legibly as possible. I was about to step into a pocket of Faerie—I wanted to make sure I emerged on the same day I entered.

“Ah, a VIP,” the bearded bouncer said once I put my pen

“Ah, a VIP,” the bearded bouncer said once I put my pen away. He puffed on the pipe clenched between his teeth and then blew a smoke ring in the air. The sweet, tobaccoscented smoke stung my eyes and tickled my chest. I coughed, waving a hand in front of my face to clear the air. When I blinked away the moisture in my eyes, I found two doors along the back wal where there had been only one before.

The little man smiled around his pipe. “Enjoy your visit, lass.”

“Right. Thank—” I stopped myself before I thanked the man. Hitching my purse higher on my shoulder, I glanced back at Roy. “Coming?”

“Yeah, right behind you,” he said, but he was staring at the newly appeared door, a frown etched hard in his shimmering face.

Maybe I’ll owe him more than Legos for backing me up
in there.

I jerked open the door and then hesitated. Roy wasn’t fol owing.

“We won’t be long,” I promised.

The ghost bit his lower lip. “I can’t go.”

Okay, that was a little much. I knew he was mad at Rianna, I got it, but he’d said he’d back me up. He must have seen my thoughts on my face because he shook his head.

“It’s not . . .
her.
It’s the door. It feels wrong. Definitely not safe.”

I stepped back into the entry, letting the door swing shut, and studied it.
Safe?
Wel , I wouldn’t describe Faerie as safe for anyone, but the fact that he said it felt wrong did concern me. The door was some sort of portal to another place—it might not be safe for Roy.
Hell, it might not be
safe for me.
But that was another story.

I thought back. I’d seen a ghost, or at least a spirit, in the Bloom before. Wel , actual y I’d sort of
created
a ghost when I’d jerked the spirit from a dead, animated body of a when I’d jerked the spirit from a dead, animated body of a slaver’s pet grave witch. “I’ve seen ghosts in there,” I told Roy, leaving off the rest of the story.

“Yeah, but did the ghost leave?” He stepped back, farther from the door. “It feels like a cemetery gate.”

That wasn’t good. Cemetery gates kept ghosts—and other, rarer forms of the dead—locked inside. Even newer cemeteries typical y had a ghost or two, the older ones many more, though the ghosts rarely started their spirit-life in the graveyard. Like some sort of spirit roach motel, the ghosts could enter the cemetery, but they couldn’t leave.

While Roy might get annoying once in a while, I definitely didn’t want to get him stuck in Faerie.

“Okay, stay here,” I said, and realized the bouncer was studying me, his bushy red eyebrows drawn together and his pipe in his hand.

“Lass, talking to invisible faeries isn’t uncommon here, but I happen to know none are present.”

In other words, he thought I was crazy. I gave him a tight smile.

“Ghost,” I said by way of explanation, and the little man squinted as if that would help him see the spirit among us. I ignored him, turning my attention back to Roy. “I shouldn’t be long. If I’m not out in an hour or two . . .”

I trailed off. If I wasn’t out soon, what was he supposed to do? He couldn’t come after me, and unless he tracked down another grave witch—and last I’d heard, the closest one not in Faerie was over a hundred miles away—he couldn’t communicate with the living. A ghost real y was terrible backup.

I didn’t finish the sentence. With a quick wave good-bye, I jerked the door open and let myself into the VIP area of the Eternal Bloom.

I signed another ledger inside the door, again printing careful y. The attendant, a sour-faced fae with long, careful y. The attendant, a sour-faced fae with long, donkeylike ears and cloven feet, nodded, taking the pen from me and shooing me farther into the Bloom when I would have dawdled in the doorway.

The Eternal Bloom hadn’t changed since the last time I was here. The giant tree growing through the floorboards and blooming with an impossible arrangement of shimmering blossoms dominated the center of the room, its large limbs spreading to form a leaf-and-flower-fil ed canopy over the tables in the bar. I didn’t stare at the tree long—it had nearly entranced me last time.

In the far corner, a new fiddler had taken the place of the one whose strings I had severed to halt the eternal dance.

A smal cluster of dancers spun around him, but not yet a third as many as I’d freed during my last visit. I could just barely hear the lively jig the fiddler played over the murmur in the bar, and I moved farther away so I wouldn’t be drawn into the dance.

The crowd in the bar boasted a mix of the grotesque and the beautiful. While some of the patrons either stil wore their glamour or were, in fact, human, many were very obviously fae,
other.
Smal , large, winged, floral, too-manylimbed, too-few—they were a dizzying display rarely seen on the streets. While the fae had announced their presence and needed mortal belief, they kept their own counsel more often than not and had no interest in becoming sideshows—not that I blamed them. I let my gaze move quickly, not lingering long enough to cause offense as I searched for Rianna. I spotted her at a smal round table at the very back of the room.

She stared at her drink as I approached, never glancing up. Her note had said she needed my help, but she didn’t appear anxious, and certainly not fearful as she sat in the crowded bar. If anything, she looked dejected and worn down. Her narrow, slumped shoulders were thin under the drab gray gown she wore and her skin was pale, sickly. If she was in danger, I would have expected her to be she was in danger, I would have expected her to be watching the other patrons, to glance nervously from person to person as she scanned the room, or at least to glance at the door once in a while, looking for me, since she’d asked me to meet her here. But she didn’t look up from the wooden mug in front of her, not even as my approach put me only tables away. Of course, maybe she didn’t have to

—she’d brought a guard dog.

The huge black dog stepped around the side of the table when I approached. The thick hair on its back stood up, and it glared at me, its black irises ringed with red as if splashed with blood. A low growl tumbled from behind rust-colored teeth.

Rianna’s head snapped up at the sound, her sunken green eyes a little too wide. Then her gaze landed on me, and her thin lips spread into a weak smile. She jumped to her feet.

“Al!” She al but ran around the side of the table. Her arms wrapped around my shoulders, the rough material of her gown scratchy against the skin left bare by my tank top.

“I was afraid you wouldn’t come.”

She stepped back. Before I’d seen her inside Coleman’s circle a month ago, I—and the rest of the world—thought she’d died four years back. It turned out she’d been kidnapped and enslaved in Faerie. When I’d destroyed Coleman, the silver chains holding her had dissolved, but she looked no better now than the last time I’d seen her.

Roy cal ed her the Shadow Girl, and she truly looked like little more than a shadow of the girl who’d been my best friend in academy. Her grayish skin lacked any rosy hint of health, her once-vibrant red hair now hung listlessly around her shoulders, and her eyes had the haunted look of someone who had seen too much pain and too much evil—

which,

considering

she’d

been

enslaved

to

a

megalomaniac, she probably had.

“Of course I came,” I said as I stepped back. A pang of guilt that I hadn’t come earlier, that it had taken a plea for guilt that I hadn’t come earlier, that it had taken a plea for help nailed to my porch to get me to the Bloom to see her, wiggled under my skin and whispered what a horrible friend I’d turned out to be. I ignored that voice. “It’s been too long,”

I said, smiling. Both the smile and the statement were true

—I real y was glad to see her. We hadn’t had any time to catch up when I’d seen her last. But even as the words left my mouth, I could feel the awkwardness between us.
What
do you say to your best friend after she’s been enslaved
by a psychopath and presumed dead?
I fidgeted with my purse strap. “So, what’s happening? You said you needed help?”

She nodded and led me to the table. The enormous dog continued growling, lower now but no less threatening. He stepped in front of Rianna, blocking her from me with his own body. Rianna cooed at him under her breath. “It’s al right, Desmond. This is the old friend I told you about.”

The dog stared at me, and I felt a trickle of sweat trail down my neck as he caught me in the glare of those redringed pupils. The growl leaking out of Desmond’s throat ceased, but he kept his rust-colored canines exposed.

“New pet?” I asked as I sank into the chair across from Rianna.

Her hand moved to the massive dog’s head, and he leaned against her legs, dropping his muzzle in her lap.

“No, not a pet. More of a friend turned guardian. This is Desmond. He’s a barghest. Desmond, this is Alex Craft.”

The barghest lifted his head briefly, gave me an unimpressed glance, and then nuzzled Rianna’s thigh.

Back at you, buddy.
Not that I could say as much out loud. I mumbled a quick “Nice to meet you,” just to be polite.

I hadn’t read much about barghests, but I vaguely remembered a tale suggesting that seeing one was a portent of death—
not reassuring
—but they were fae creatures, or perhaps lesser fae, so polite was the best approach. Not that Desmond seemed inclined to show me approach. Not that Desmond seemed inclined to show me the same courtesy.
Guess we’ll agree to ignore each other.

I pul ed my chair closer and leaned forward. “Your letter sounded urgent. Are you okay?”

She nodded. “I have an odd request,” she said, her hand stil idly stroking the dog’s head. “Can I see your palms?”

I blinked at her.
My palms?
“Are you reading fortunes now?” I joked, but obediently placed my open palms on the table. Then I gasped.

Dark red liquid coated both of my hands—red liquid that looked a whole lot like blood.

I jumped to my feet. “Are you hurt?” I asked, starting around the table. The blood had to be hers. It must have transferred to my hands when I hugged her.

Desmond rounded on me, blocking my way.

“I’m fine, Alex, Desmond. Both of you, sit.”

I frowned at the fae dog and then at her again.
What’s
going on?
When Rianna just stared at both of us, I final y returned to my side of the table and sat. We were both stubborn—spending half our lives as roommates during academy had provided plenty of opportunities for our unyielding natures to butt heads. She’d asked me to come and I wanted to hear what she had to say, so for now I sat.

BOOK: Grave Dance
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