Authors: Laney McMann
Seattle, WA 2015
COPYRIGHT 2015 LANEY MCMANN
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Cover Design by Amalia Chitulescu
Edited by Mary-Theresa Hussey
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to similarly named places or to persons living or deceased is unintentional.
PRINT ISBN 978-1-5137-0013-7
EPUB ISBN 978-1-5137-0044-1
Library of Congress Control Number: 2015915914
For Lloyd & Lori,
Because after everything went sideways,
you held tight and didn’t flinch.
Love you guys.
A little bird, with plumage brown,
Beside my window flutters down,
A moment chirps its little strain,
Ten taps upon my window-pane,
And chirps again, and hops along,
To call my notice to its song;
But I work on, nor heed its lay,
Till, in neglect, it flies away.
So birds of peace and hope and love
Come fluttering earthward from above,
To settle on life's window-sills,
And ease our load of earthly ills;
But we, in traffic's rush and din
Too deep engaged to let them in,
With deadened heart and sense plod on,
Nor know our loss till they are gone.
—Paul Laurence Dunbar
THE SHADOW SHREDDED
and spread across the ceiling.
Cole Spires stepped through a vortex of shimmering energy and sank into thigh-deep, murky water, cursing under his breath as the Shadow disappeared overhead. Danny appeared next to him, splashing muck into his face.
"I hate traveling through blacked gates," Cole complained, throwing an arm out against the crumbling brick wall. “Shut this gateway down and search the crevices. It's in here somewhere."
"Where the hell are we now?" Danny steadied himself against a damp wall, squinting in the dark.
"I think we’re in Venice. It has to be around five-thirty in the morning here." Using the dim light seeping through the ceiling grate as a guide, Cole waded toward a stone staircase. “Italy.” Like the rest of Venice, the building they landed in was sinking.
Glimpses of early morning moonlight shed an eerie green gloom up and down wet walls. Long fangs, laughing mouths, elongated necks, and spiked horns loomed above, and the sculpted stone beasts stared with wide, knowing eyes.
The underground chamber reminded Cole of a haunted art exhibit. The leering gargoyles weren't the ones to fear, though. The real ones lived atop old buildings, not under them.
"I think we're below the Gesuati." Cole edged along the wall, feeling the way with his hands. "We need to shut this Leygate down so nothing else can get through."
"Do you know another Gesuati, Dan?"
"Do you know how not to be an as—” Danny started, but a hiss echoed through the tight underground chamber, cutting him off.
"Well, at least we know we're in the right plac—" A blast of energy cut through Danny's words again and reverberated off the ruined walls with a wail. Cole shouted. Danny went under the murky water, and the Shadow shrieked, its amplification causing the ancient church walls to shudder. The large shadowy form spread apart, bleeding up the dark walls as if it were made of wisps of smoke, its broken shape practically invisible, except for its milky white eyes. The Shadow hissed again, speeding toward the grate in the ceiling. Cole reached for his telum, threw it toward the creature's head, and missed.
"You can't miss it!” Danny came up for air.
"It's dark, Dan! You do it!” Scrambling toward the stairs, Cole snatched his fallen weapon and shoved the knife under his jacket sleeve, point first, relieved it hadn't sunk in the water. The Warden wouldn't be happy about replacing another crystallized weapon in less than a week.
Danny waded noisily after him, searching his pockets for his own weapons. "Get out of the way!”
Cole eyed his friend, while still climbing the steps. "I am trying to run up a flight of stairs in the dark! Can you not see that I am trying to climb the stairs without busting my ass?” He gestured upward with his hands. The Shadow screeched ahead of him. The old bricks rattled and dust and debris flew into the air. "I can't get out of your way if there's nowhere to
!" Cole patted his sleeve for the other telum he carried as he ran, making sure it hadn't fallen out in the water. He would need both weapons.
The Shadow screamed, "
and Cole knew it wasn't shouting to remind him that he and Danny were Primori. It was shouting to alert the other Nefarius of their presence. They would scatter and disappear like rats before he and Danny even reached the street overhead.
"You need to shut the Leygate before more come through!” Yellow lamplight flooded Cole's eyes through the grate in the basement’s ceiling and the cobbled street came into view. Throwing the trap door open above his head, he hoisted himself out. The Shadow slipped between two buildings, and Cole took off down the narrow street after it, his feet sloshing inside his soaked shoes. Danny fell in beside him, his wet jeans brushing together with more noise than a drum.
"What?" Danny gave a sideways grin and turned, heading toward the Giudecca canal.
"The gate?" Cole shouted. "Did you close the gate like I told you to?"
"Did you tell me to close the gate?" Danny laughed, his voice trailing off into the night.
Two more Shadows slipped through the dark, and Cole veered right. In their true form, all Nefarius were like smoke. Shadows and phantoms. Guardians of the Nocturnal Plane's shadow grounds.
Running down a narrow flight of steps, moonlight cast movement from the rooftop far ahead, and Cole's steps slowed. He eased away from the yellow spots of lamp light and found camouflage under the street’s darkened eaves, his focus toward the
Gargoyles of all sizes came alive under the moon’s glow, their
grotesque bodies breaking free from the concrete structures confining them on the rooftop. Horned heads cut away from stone like dormant caterpillars splitting through cocoons. Talons detached
from the building's facade, leathery wings spread high and wide, and the Devil's Children amassed on the roof. The beasts flew down like giant, repulsive bats.
As if in response, the shadowy forms of the Nefarius bled from
between buildings, underneath drains, slipped from eaves, and joined the Devil's Children in the middle of the street. As a united front, the host fled through a gateway of dancing, silver light hovering above the road. It closed down behind them with an
"I saw them," he answered from somewhere in the dark. "That must have been why the Nefarius came here. To group up with the Devil's Children." Danny jogged over.
“For what? They don't work as a team. You know that."
"I left the gate under the Gesauti open. We can get back through."
"I knew you didn't close it. Why don’t you ever listen? And where are we getting back through to, Dan? Colorado?" Cole spat into the muck. "We've been tracking this Alveare for hours. We're in Italy for Christ's sake!” He rested his hands on top of his head.
"Just say, hive, Cole. Warden Caelius isn't here to correct you if you speak English."
Cole glanced at the drawing he'd made on his hand earlier, ignoring his friend. It was smudged, but the depiction was still clear enough: a serpent coiled around an egg. He and Danny had found the symbol branded over the entrance of a burned out church in an abandoned coal mining town outside Denver while tracking the fleeing Shadows. From there, they'd tracked the hive to Italy.
"So, where now?" Danny let out a breath.
Cole walked forward, trying to find what remained of the Shadow’s Leygate in the street. There were always traces. A tiny field of energy, faint colorations on the air, vibrations.
He swiped his hand through the faintest tinge of silver shimmying above the road. He'd always been good at following the paths energy left in its wake. His dad taught him that with the right amount of pull, not too much, not too little, gateways could reopen. Even Leygates that had been blacked and shut down. Cole hated those, though. Blacked gates were nasty, and risky to travel through, riddled with everything from negative energy fields that played tricks with a person's mind, lost souls searching for hosts to embody, direct routes to chasms and vortex gates, or worse, hidden Sheol access that lead to the Infernal Plane.