Authors: Hazel Hunter
Tags: #Romance, #Paranormal, #Romantic Suspense, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense, #Witches & Wizards
HOLLOW CITY COVEN BOOK FOUR
By Hazel Hunter
Book Four of the Hollow City Coven Series
An undead city. An ill-fated love. A nightmare relived.
Wiccan researcher Gillian Granger can hardly believe she’s reached her life’s goal, but the accomplishment is tempered. The ancient city of Tenebris holds as many terrors as it does wonders. As she and Shayne wander its ghostly streets, Gillian must finally admit she’s been there before.
But as the bond between her and Shayne grows ever deeper, they find that the city’s claim on him is just as strong. Though Gillian had once dreamed of finding the Hollow City, now she’ll do anything to escape.
IT WAS THE evening of the Firefly Festival in Tenebris. The great city had always been known for its gorgeous green fireflies, but on the eighth day of the twelfth month, the city was filled with fireflies from all over the world. Gold, green and red specimens clustered in elegant glass containers, while the beautiful women of the town went about in dresses of gold and green to mimic the fireflies’ glow.
Galia looked out over the city from her balcony. She was dressed in her priestess’s white and gold, but Rhea had also given her an amazing crown of sparks to wear. They were viridescent and lovely, but Rhea had said they would only last the night.
“Still, that’s enough time, isn’t it?” her friend had said with a sigh. “You look beautiful, Galia.”
Galia had smiled then, but now she wondered. What did Rhea know? Galia felt different somehow, changed. Soon, everything would be settled––one way or another. All she had to do was wait until midnight. The only thing she had to do was remain calm until then. She decided to peak at the city.
Though she’d only wanted to spy the festivities and gaiety, word spread that the young Oracle was at her window. By the time she looked down again, a small crowd had gathered. When they saw her look, they began chanting her name. It wasn’t her real name, of course, just the title she’d taken.
Galia took a deep breath. She had to do her best not to curse them. They didn’t deserve that. If anything, they deserved a better Oracle. Perhaps after tonight, they would have one.
Aware that her firefly crown made her an easy target, she back away from the window. For a few minutes she paced. Then she tried to read. But she couldn’t stop thinking about the packed satchel hidden at the back of her closet. Her mind buzzed like a hive of bees. She was almost ready to make her way to the temple early when the timbre of the cries outside changed. Before they had been light and merry, wonderfully celebratory and sweet. Now there was an ugly edge to them.
Though she knew she shouldn’t, Galia raced back to the balcony. She tried to hide at the far edge, but it was pointless.
“She is at the window, let her see!”
“Let her see what we are doing for her!”
“Let the blood be shed!”
They pushed a man to the front. Someone grabbed a handful of his hair and pulled it back. His face was bloodied, his eyes wild. But she knew him and, in that moment, she knew her life was over.
GILLIAN AWOKE SLOWLY. It was like swimming up through murky water, stuck in sludge that would not let her go. Maybe that was best. Some part of her wanted to sink back into unconsciousness.
Aren’t I done? Isn’t this over yet?
Though she asked the questions, she already knew the answers. Wakefulness came, whether she wanted it to or not.
“Gillian?” She felt an arm slide under her shoulders and roll her. Her sore muscles protested. “Gillian?” She opened her eyes to see Shayne’s one blue eye and one brown staring intently into her face. “Are you all right?” Shayne hugged her close, her head pillowed on his shoulder. The ground underneath them was cold and hard. “Gillian?”
“I’m all right,” she said. Even in her own ears, her voice sounded distant and sleepy.
“I think we’re here,” Shayne said quietly.
Here? She sat up. Tenebris?
They were at the gates of a city. It was the end of her search!
Shayne sat up next to her, and draped an arm around her shoulders.
“Tenebris,” she whispered.
As surely as she knew her own room in Los Angeles, she knew that this was the Hollow City. One moment they’d been at the gate in Cappadocia, and now they were here.
Shayne got to his feet and helped her up. Though she wobbled she couldn’t help but stare at the ruins.
“I can’t believe it,” she whispered.
“I can,” Shayne said, with so much conviction that she had to look at him. He grimaced. “After that trip? I could believe we’re on the other side of the universe.”
It was true. Though Gillian had always known that the dragon’s eye seeds would be the bridge to reach Tenebris, she’d had no idea what kind of bridge. She’d never imagined a starry, reality-bending journey that had left her and Shayne breathless, then unconscious. In a strange way it felt as though they’d gone beyond the bounds of reality, and yet stepped inside a hidden dimension that had been there all along.
“The Hollow City,” she said, the words finally ringing true.
“Hollow or not,” Shayne said, nodding at the gates, “it looks solid enough.”
Though worn down by millennia, the entrance to the city had clearly once been grand. Two enormous, fluted columns rose to either side of a wide thoroughfare strewn with rubble. Hand-in-hand, she and Shayne approached. The pillars were carved from a delicately pink stone, veined with what looked like gold.
“Was this once an arch?” Shayne wondered, gazing at the chunks of stone in front of them.
“Is that a statue?” Gillian asked.
She pointed, dead ahead. Low courses of footings and the short bases of building foundations were everywhere. A few remnants of low walls stood, here and there. Shoots of verdant grass and brightly flowered weeds dotted the tumbled landscape. Beyond the ruins lay a desolate and brown, parched plain. But in the midst of it all, the white statue was like a beacon.
“Not another statue,” Shayne muttered.
Gillian grimaced. He was right. The statue with her face in the Midnight Market had given her a vision of being stabbed to death that had left her reeling. In the tunnel of Göreme where she and Mathias had hallucinated––and he had tried to kill her––there’d been a colossal statue submerged in the underground lake. So far their experience with statues left something to be desired.
But at the thought of Mathias, her chest constricted, and she came to a stop. He’d stayed behind in Göreme, battling their attackers, trying to protect them as they escaped. But it wasn’t just worry that sickened her. It felt wrong for the three of them not to be together, to be doing this without him.
“Do you think he’s all right?” she whispered.
Shayne seemed to understand her train of thought.
“Let’s just say I pity the Templars who get in his way,” he said.
Though the words were encouraging, Gillian saw the worry in Shayne’s eyes.
As they picked their way around fallen blocks of stone and made their way to the sculpture, Gillian was a little relieved to see it wasn’t her. Instead it was a man who stood straight and tall, head erect, eyes searching the distance, a powerful hand on the sword at his side. It reminded her of a Greek or Roman figure. The man, who wore a toga, was well-muscled and powerful, perhaps some type of soldier. But as she gazed up, she found herself drawn to his face. Despite the fixed gaze, she cocked her head at the line of his jaw. Then she recognized the nose, and finally the lips.
Shayne cursed, low and angry. His shoulders tensed as though he’d throw a fireball.
“I’m sick of statues,” he said.
It was a sculpture of Shayne. Though the ancient dress and weapons had thrown her off at first, there was no doubt.
Without a warning, Shayne raised his hand and shot a bright bolt of fire at the statue. Gillian cried out, and clapped a hand over her mouth. The fire crackled and sizzled against the stone for several seconds before Shayne stopped. Though there was a blackened layer of soot over it, the sculpture was unharmed.
“So it’s real stone at least,” Shayne growled. “Not an illusion.”
Gillian took his hand gently, almost nervously. “No, not an illusion.”
As though someone might have seen them misbehaving, Gillian glanced back to the gate. But what she saw there froze her heart.
“Mina?” she whispered.
Shayne spun, hands ready. “Where?”
“At the gate,” she said lowly, staring at her.
Mina was draped with a dirty white burial shroud. Whipcord thin and pale, her hair was white and her pink lips dry and stretched. But she had no eyes. Where they should have been there were only black hollows, hellish and empty. Goosebumps sprang to Gillian’s skin and her heart began to hammer. It felt as if there was a hole opening up inside her.
“You’re waking us,” Mina said.
Though far away, Gillian reached out to her. As though the spell had been broken, Mina disappeared. Gillian dropped her hand.
“What is it?” Shayne demanded. “What did you see?”
“A thin woman with pale hair. She was standing at the gate. It was Mina.”
Shayne frowned, and stepped in front of her. When Mathias had touched the water of the submerged lake, he had become Mina, before he’d tried to kill her.
“I don’t see her,” Shayne said.
“She’s gone.” Gillian glanced at the city. “She said we were waking them up.”
“Well maybe we can just walk right back out that entrance,” Shayne said. “Dead things should stay dead.”
“I don’t think we have a choice,” Gillian said.
“Oh?” Shayne said. He took her hand. “Let me show you.”
“It’s not that I want to wake the dead,” Gillian said, “but look around.” She turned to look for herself. “Where’s the portal?”
“On the other side, there was the Magician’s gate, a portal, some type of launch point. There’s nothing like that here.”
“But if there was a gate on the other side,” Shayne said “there has to be a way to go back.”
“I agree,” she said. “But not out there. I think it has to be in the city.”
Shayne thought, and nodded reluctantly.
“How likely is it that I can convince you to stay here while I try to locate it?”
She stared at him.
He nodded. “Didn’t think so. Do you still have the dragon’s eye seeds?” She patted the pouch in the pocket of her tunic. “All right. If necessary, we might both need some.” Gillian arched her eyebrows. In the Midnight Market, Shayne hadn’t even wanted her to find them. “I can’t fight what I can’t see. But if we can get to the portal without either of us needing to poison ourselves, that’d be my choice.”
In the wrong dose, dragon’s eye seed was lethal. Though she hadn’t forgot that, it was the key that had unlocked their journey here. She nodded.
“Shall we?” he said, gesturing past the statue.
But as they turned to go and move farther into the city, it was clear something had changed.
“Are you seeing it too?” Gillian asked.
“I think I am.” The buildings were more whole, the streets in better repair. “Like you said, it’s waking up.”
As they moved down the main thoroughfare, the buildings became more dense as well as varied. Though Gillian didn’t see them changing, they had to be. Each time her gaze moved from one side of the street to the other, the structures changed in subtle ways she couldn’t name. Though the statues had reminded her of ancient Rome and Greece, the city itself seemed more modern, though not much.
“It’s like walking through the Italian Renaissance,” she said quietly.
Majestic domed structures with colonnaded fronts seemed to dot the growing skyline. Elegant, open villas were visible in the distance, when they could look down the longer streets. Waterless fountains, not unlike the one in Göreme, occupied the larger intersections. Plain masonry buildings of multiple stories were interspersed as well. Apartments?
But as they crossed yet another intersection, Gillian realized they were approaching a building with an enormous round, stained-glass window. Unlike the myriad structures they’d passed, in various states of disrepair, this one looked almost whole. The window was a beautiful profusion of greens, blues, and purples, creating an abstract image. The light reflecting from it was almost blinding in its beauty.
“I want to go in,” she said softly.
Somehow, with all the strange dreams and statues, her years of research had taken a back seat. For just a few moments, Gillian wanted to relish the results of her work. They were walking through Tenebris, legendary home of the most powerful Wiccans in history, and she and Shayne were probably the only people to ever do this.