Labyrinth of Stars (A Hunter Kiss Novel)

BOOK: Labyrinth of Stars (A Hunter Kiss Novel)
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“YOU’LL WANT TO READ THIS SERIES OVER AND OVER.”

—Angela Knight,
New York Times
bestselling author

THE MORTAL BONE

“Liu’s ability to create a story with amazing characters and an action-packed plot is boundless.”


Night Owl Reviews

“[A] fantastic series . . . The gut-wrenching emotions and startling revelations make for an absolutely spellbinding tale. Already a master storyteller, Liu elevates her game to a new level with this incredible book.”


RT Book Reviews
(4½ stars, top pick)

“A great addition to this series.”


Fresh Fiction

A WILD LIGHT

“Reads like a languid, surreal dream, punctuated by fierce, sudden, and often unexpected action.”


The Miami Herald

“Truly one of the most darkly intense and spellbinding series in urban fantasy today!”


RT Book Reviews
(4½ stars, top pick)

“A roller-coaster ride . . . [Liu’s] depth of imagination and her talent for creating unforgettable characters is masterful.”


Night Owl Reviews

DARKNESS CALLS

“Vividly described and full of paranormal action from beginning to end.”


Darque Reviews

“Liu’s imagination is an amazing place to visit.”


RT Book Reviews
(4½ stars, top pick)

“I look forward to reading the further adventures of Maxine Kiss.”


SFRevu

THE IRON HUNT

“Marjorie M. Liu writes a gripping supernatural thriller.”


The Best Reviews

“From the imagination of one of today’s most talented authors comes a mesmerizing, darkly disturbing world on the brink of apocalypse.”


RT Book Reviews
(4½ stars, top pick)

“Readers who love urban fantasies like those of Charlaine Harris or Kim Harrison will relish Marjorie M. Liu’s excellent adventure.”


Midwest Book Review

“A stunning new series . . . The mythology is fascinating, the characters complicated, the story lines original.”


Fresh Fiction

MORE PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF

MARJORIE M. LIU

“Will charm, tempt, and surprise readers into coming back for more.”


Darque Reviews

“Raises the bar for all others competing in its league . . . Readers of early Laurell K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, and the best thrillers out there should try Liu now and catch a rising star.”


Publishers Weekly
(starred review)

“The boundlessness of Liu’s imagination never ceases to amaze.”


Booklist
(starred review)

“Nonstop adventure . . . A rich world with paranormal elements.”


SFRevu

“Liu is masterful . . . Fiction that goes beyond the boundaries of action-adventure romance or romantic suspense.”


Booklist

“Fabulous romantic suspense fantasy that will hook the audience from the first note to the incredible
climactic coda.”


Midwest Book Review

“Marjorie Liu seems to have an endless imagination for creating new and interesting characters and stories.”


Affaire de Coeur

Ace Books by Marjorie M. Liu

THE IRON HUNT

DARKNESS CALLS

A WILD LIGHT

THE MORTAL BONE

LABYRINTH OF STARS

Anthologies

WILD THING

(with Maggie Shayne, Alyssa Day, and Meljean Brook)

NEVER AFTER

(with Laurell K. Hamilton, Yasmine Galenorn, and Sharon Shinn)

INKED

(with Karen Chance, Yasmine Galenorn, and Eileen Wilks)

Specials

HUNTER KISS

ARMOR OF ROSES AND THE SILVER VOICE

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China

penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

LABYRINTH OF STARS

An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2014 by Marjorie M. Liu.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Ace Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.

ACE and the “A” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-62449-4

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Ace mass-market edition / March 2014

Cover art by Craig White.

Cover design by Judith Lagerman.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

CONTENTS

Praise for Marjorie M. Liu

Titles by Marjorie M. Liu

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Epigraphs

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 24

CHAPTER 25

CHAPTER 26

CHAPTER 27

CHAPTER 28

CHAPTER 29

CHAPTER 30

CHAPTER 31

Para Junot
Entre nosotros, que siempre haya luz

In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying . . .

—T. S. ELIOT

I am the mother, yet the daughter is more,
she is everything that the mother was, and that
which the mother was not becomes great in her;
she is the future and the immortal past,
she is the womb, she is the sea . . .

—VARIATION OF 11.4 FROM RAINER MARIA RILKE’S
BOOK OF HOURS

CHAPTER 1

I
’LL
be honest: I can’t recommend having a demon as your obstetrician.

Fight with them, live with them, feed their hungry stomachs all the M&M’s, chain saws, and small artillery they can handle—but when it comes to taking pregnancy advice, avoid at all costs. Even
if
they’ve been delivering the babies in your family for the last ten thousand years.

“Need ash,” Zee muttered, pressing his sharp little ear to my belly. “Volcanic. Hot. Fresh to eat.”

My husband, sprawled in the grass beside me, started laughing. I flinched. He was turned away from me, so he didn’t notice.

I took a quick breath, trying to stay calm, and focused on the rich, delighted sound of his voice. I tried not to think about how long it had been since I’d heard him laugh—and I certainly didn’t dwell on how starved I was for it. Instead, I listened, listened with all the strength I’d once spent fighting demons—and suffered a panged mix of relief and joy.

I placed a hand on my belly. “Oh, sure.
You
think it’s funny.”

Grant turned his head and flashed me a grin. For a moment I had the crazy hope things might be getting better. But then the shadows crept through his eyes, and his smile turned brittle. He was trying, though, which made it all worse.

I clutched my cold bottle of ginger ale and took a long swallow, using it as an excuse to look away and wash down a wave of nausea. Grant rolled over on his side and placed his hand over mine.

Softly, he said, “Breathe, Maxine.”

“You breathe,” I grumbled, finishing off the ginger ale. I heard a hungry chirp and passed the bottle to the demon nesting in my hair, listening to glass crunch.

It was a warm night. Moon had already set. Around us, demons: Raw and Aaz, sprawled on top of my grandmother’s grave, clutching teddy bears and gnawing on meat cleavers—dashing them with gunpowder, tobacco, to spice the metal. The scent put a burn in the air.

Zee leaned on my stomach, listening to unborn secrets. Playing doctor, nutritionist, making clicking sounds with his skinny black tongue and closing the second lid of his red eyes, as if in a trance. Dek nibbled my ear and hummed the melody to an old Pat Benatar song, “We Belong.” Mal joined him: a soft trill, lilting into the night.

Oak leaves hissed, joined by the tall grass: waves and waves of those delicate dry hisses, rising and falling in the night with the wind. I listened to Grant’s slow, even breaths—the rasp of scales and claws, my own heartbeat—all of it, together, something I tried hard to relax into. As if I could make them, with sheer willpower, the only sounds in the universe.

But nothing—nothing—could drown out the drums.

It wasn’t a beat. Nothing as hollow as a human instrument. A throb, maybe a pulse: organic and wet. Accompanying it, floating like a loose thread, an eerie lilting chorus that sounded like a Chinese opera married to some ancient tribal chant. A melodic, thrusting sound that made the hairs rise on my neck.

I hated it. My mother was probably turning in her grave.

Because here we were—dead center in the middle of three thousand prime Texas acres—and somewhere near us an army of demons was
partying
.

“If I find out they’re sacrificing virgins, I’m chopping off heads.”

“Yes,” Grant replied, and opened his eyes. “Do you smell blood?”

I waited a moment because when someone, anyone in my life, says they smell blood, it’s usually
not
their imagination.

“No,” I told him, and he closed his eyes again.

“It’s the link,” he muttered, sounding tired. “The Shurik are nesting inside that new herd of cows we brought in. It hit me, all of a sudden. The smell and . . . taste . . . of it.”

It was like both of us were pregnant. Me, I had a human baby inside me. Grant had demons. Not just one, but nearly a thousand—more than half of an entire demon army. Bonded to him: through his heart, through his power. Which meant they felt everything he did. A pyramid of influence and dominance, trickling into every living Shurik and Yorana—keeping them under control. Otherwise,
humans
would be on the menu—and not a herd of cattle.

The price was that Grant could feel
them
, as well: the force of a thousand lives, a constant presence in his heart and head. Buzzing, burning, crowding. Voices that whispered, voices begging, voices that brought migraines that showed no signs of abating.

I knotted my fingers around the soft, loose flannel of his shirt, and tugged, gently. “I would do anything to help you.”

“I know,” he said, scratching the rough beard he’d been growing for the last month—a symptom of exhaustion rather than fashion. “I’m learning to cope.”

“Liar.”

“The other demon lords manage. Those bonds make them stronger.”

“You’re not a demon.”

“If I can’t do this,” he said quietly, then stopped, flexing his big hands: all of him, big, warm, hurting. “Breaking the bonds will kill them. I can’t do that. I can’t sacrifice all those lives just to save mine.”

“I can,” I muttered. “You’re not healthy, Grant. You’re barely eating. You aren’t sleeping. And when you do, you have nightmares. You’re going to be a
father
, for fuck’s sake. If we could talk to my grandfather—”

“Leave him out of it.” Grant gave me an unexpectedly hard look, which only made the circles under his bloodshot eyes stand out like bruises. The effect was worse at night: his face hollow. “I’m done talking about this, Maxine.”

He was being so stupid. Stupid and honorable, and courageous, and stupid. My
irritation
had irritation. Zee raised his head, giving Grant a cool look—even as Raw and Aaz jerked to attention, staring. Dek and Mal muttered something musical, and no doubt, vile—drew in deep breaths, rattled their little tails—and spat fire at him.

Grant yelped, rolling away. I laughed.

“Thanks,” he said, from the shadows. But he was laughing, too.

I’VE
always had a good appetite, but being pregnant meant now I ate more like the boys—minus the barbed wire, engine oil, and occasional bomb.

Raw reached into the shadows, all the way down to his shoulder—fished around for a second—and then pulled out a small white cardboard box filled with two hamburgers smothered in cheese, what appeared to be a pound of fries, and a container of frozen custard that had the name of a famous New York burger joint written on the side.

I don’t ask where, or how, they get these things. Not anymore.

I held the box in one hand—propped against the small, barely noticeable bulge of my stomach—and started in on the hamburgers. Grant gave me an amused smile.

“You should eat one of these,” I said, and I thought he would refuse. But then, slowly, he reached over and took the second hamburger from the box.

We were walking down the hill, back to the farmhouse. Going slow, because it didn’t matter that Grant was sort-of-a-demon-lord (and even without that title,
still
one of the most dangerous men on earth), he had a crushed kneecap that had never healed right, and he needed a cane to walk.

The music hadn’t stopped. I kept checking the sky for helicopters, or police lights swerving up the long driveway.

“The odds are against us, no matter what we do,” I said, around a mouthful of burger. “We’ve gotten lucky so far, and that’s with mistakes. Nothing this
weird
is going to stay hidden forever, Grant.”

Nothing this dangerous, either.
For ten thousand years, an army of demons had been locked inside a prison just beyond our world. Until, three months ago, the walls had fallen, releasing the horde upon this earth. An army accustomed to hunting humans. An army that was starving. Starving to
death
.

Now those four demon clans were living on my dead mother’s farm. Packed in like refugees. Eating cows, pigs, anything . . . meaty . . . our money could buy. And not particularly enjoying the taste, either.

“Alaska.” Grant’s hamburger was already gone: eaten in three bites. “We could buy land there. Or somewhere else even more remote, where no one goes. Parts of Canada. Detroit.”

I finished the hamburger and handed him the fries. Again, he hesitated. I waved them under his nose, making “choo-choo” sounds. He snorted, still holding off, and Dek began humming “Sing for Your Supper,” an old film song recorded by the Mamas and the Papas.

Grant narrowed his eyes at the little demon but gave in. After the first several bites, I thought he would puke—that had been happening more and more—but he swallowed hard, waited a moment, and reached for another.

Zee was prowling in the shadows beside us. “Need territory. Migration. Someplace wild. Far.”

I tried imagining such a place. Maybe an island in the Pacific. Deserted. But even that wouldn’t be entirely safe. Humans were everywhere. And there would never be enough food to sustain the demons.

“No such thing on earth,” I said, finally.

Zee glanced at his brothers. “Then leave earth.”

Raw and Aaz stopped tumbling through the grass. Dek’s and Mal’s purrs broke. Grant and I stopped walking and stared at Zee.

“Better to leave,” he rasped, meeting our gazes. “Enter Labyrinth. Find new world.
Safe
world.”

“Safe,” I echoed, and a primal urge to dig, dig and hide, hit me—with dread. Because I knew instantly what he was saying, and it was the one thing I hadn’t wanted to face. The very thing Grant and I had been skirting around for months.

It’s hard, knowing what you have to do. And worse, not quite having the strength to do it.

“Safe,” he whispered, giving me a long, knowing look. “For little light.”

I exhaled, slowly. Grant took my hand. “You think our baby is in danger.”

Zee continued holding my gaze. “Homes change. Or homes die.”

I looked back up the hill at my mother’s grave—at my grandmother, buried beside her. Grant squeezed my hand, but I barely felt his touch. I realized, suddenly, that I had expected to be buried beside them one day. Despite all the time that had passed since my mother’s murder, and no matter how much I had to live for—that was the one grim promise about my eventual death that I looked forward to.

How fucking sad.

Grant suppressed a cough, then another—his thinning shoulders jerked violently. In the six years we’d been together, I’d never even heard him sniffle. Now he was frail.

Another coughing fit hit, this one more violent. I dropped the food, wrapping my arm around his waist as he sank into the grass.

“Sorry,” he murmured, wiping his mouth.

“Don’t be,” I whispered. Our gazes locked. Remorse was in his eyes, and he wet his lips, which were suddenly dry, cracked.

“Grant,” I began, but stopped, overcome with nausea.
It’s the pregnancy,
I told myself, only this felt even more powerful than usual. In fact, I really thought I was going to—

I turned away, doubling over as I began puking into the grass. Nothing came up, but it left me shaken, dizzy. It didn’t feel right, either. In fact—

“Maxine,” hissed Zee. “Door opened.”

Door opened.
I knew what that meant, and dread spread through me. The only door Zee ever talked about was the door to the Labyrinth—that quantum highway that connected countless worlds. The last two times it had opened, I’d felt it—just like this.

Someone had come through. Or
something
.

“Hurry.” I tried to stand, grabbing Grant’s arm, hauling him upright. He struggled with his cane, found his feet. But he didn’t run. He stood stock-still, head tilted as though listening. Raw and Aaz were doing the same, but looking in the opposite direction. Zee disappeared into the shadows.

My right hand tingled: pins and needles. No flesh around my fingers, palm, and wrist—parts of my forearm, lost—covered in a living, sentient metal, an armor that was quicksilver, dreaming. I could feel it dreaming now, dreaming itself to awareness, and it was not a good sensation. It was a warning.

Grant’s hand stretched out, slowly, as if to push me behind him. I took his hand, instead—squeezing it hard.

A sudden lightness fell around my throat. Two demons are heavier than one—and in the space of a heartbeat, Mal dropped into the shadows of my hair and disappeared. I glimpsed, almost in the same moment, his reappearance on my husband’s shoulders—

BOOK: Labyrinth of Stars (A Hunter Kiss Novel)
12.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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