Authors: Kat Richardson
The fangs felt like knives and seemed to pierce deeper into my flesh than was possible, cutting past the bone and diving for the arteries that sprang from my heart. I pushed my left arm between us as we tumbled and gripped her jaw, shoving her head up with a wrenching thrust. The agony of her bite eased as her head snapped back and the fangs slid out of my skin. Blood coursed down the front of my shirt.
Marsden yelled and I jerked my knees up, separating Alice from me with a hard thrust of my legs. I raised my head a moment and saw Marsden vanish under a pile of dirt and bodies as the angry dead pulled him down into their mass grave.
The smoke black line that connected the kreanou to Simeon lay less than a body length from me and I lunged for it, throwing myself through the air and snatching at it as I arced into its path.
The kreanou screamed a hunting cry of bloodlust and frustration and Simeon yelled as the magic tugged on them both. Alice scrambled across the churned earth like a deadly crab as I gripped the power link with both hands.
The burn of the energy forced a scream from my throat as I tore the binding apart. The hot fragments of control whipped like fractured guy wires, and half of the kreanou’s leash dissolved.
The silver-eyed monstrosity howled bloody anticipation and rushed at Simeon. It looked like a thin streak of red against the darkness as it pounced.
Simeon screamed as it hit him and he spun, trying to fight off the embodiment of rage, but it tore at him and blood flew. The grid of the Grey trembled and warped to suck in the hastening flow of magic that poured out with his life. The kreanou made bestial sounds of delight as it gorged on him, tearing him to shreds.
The death-shock doubled me over as Alice shrieked in rage and lashed at me, catching her hands in my clothes and dragging me close. She gripped me tight a moment, grinning with a sick parody of a lover’s desire. “You cannot stop me this time,” she whispered, trying to capture my gaze in hers, to hold my will and force me to submit to death.
I flipped the knife in my hand and jerked my arms into her with all my remaining strength, driving the blade into her side. She gurgled and twitched, losing her concentration on me. I ripped the blade down, feeling the rough black fabric of her strange bindings tear and fall away. I felt the power that held her together falter. Simeon was not there to reinforce it. Her legs buckled and I kicked her away. But her upper body stayed clutched to mine by the grip of her hands on my shoulders.
The clothes, after all, were nothing but bandages, holding her severed parts together. As she unhinged her jaw to snap her teeth again into my flesh, my gaze fixed on the choker around her neck. The ruby drops were blood that leaked from the edge of the band.
Footsteps rushed toward us—two pair: one fleet, the other desperate. As I reached for the band around her throat, I felt someone cannon into us, knocking Alice and me tumbling toward the fence that contained the Hardy tree and its sunburst of graves.
The kreanou snarled close enough to ring my ears.
I cut the ribbon and Alice screamed, her grip weakening. I thrust her away and she fell backward, scrabbling as blood leaked from the ragged, half-healed wounds that marked her body, glowing white and ringed in black.
“Kreanou, no!” she gasped.
Trembling, the creature teetered to a halt, only barely human, barely controlled, its limbs pulled around into impossible geometries and its face elongated into a lupine snout bristling with rows of gore-splashed fangs.
“It doesn’t want you,” Marsden called to me, running toward us, covered in dirt and grave mold.
I dropped to my knees and brought the knife down across Alice’s neck, feeling the stitches pop and the magic that held her together wrench apart. And I felt nothing else: no pain, no remorse.
The last leash of magic parted and the kreanou lurched forward. I kicked Alice’s body away from me as the monstrosity pounced onto it. Her head screamed and thrashed, gnashing its jaws as her breath ran out. I picked it up and staggered to the edge of the magical vortex hidden in the core of Mr. Hardy’s tree.
I started to tumble into the sucking hole among the keening, churning ghosts, but I felt hands grab me at the waist and hold me to earth. I flung Alice’s head away into the pit and watched it vanish in the unknown dark. One of the creatures who’d caused my death—the important death at least—was gone, and though it didn’t change me back, I felt relieved by her passage.
Marsden hauled me backward, away from the tree. The sound of distant sirens floated on the haunted breeze. I glanced across the churchyard, the turf torn, muddied, and gleaming with the slowly ebbing spells of magic. Of Alice and Simeon, only bloodied shreds of cloth remained. The half-decayed corpse of a young man lay among the wreck of Alice’s bandages—the remains of the kreanou, extinguished with his creator.
Marsden kicked the moldering corpse into the vortex. Then he shoved on the shapes of time, and I tumbled through to a sunny afternoon in the churchyard that stretched nearly to Euston Road. We staggered, exhausted, toward Regent’s Canal and the waiting
The condition of the churchyard at St. Pancras Old Church was written off to vandals. Clerkenwell’s vampires sank into the darkness and kept their own counsel. Of the asetem, I heard nothing. I supposed the one I’d met in the club had reported to Wygan and they were regrouping or carrying on with whatever could be salvaged of their plans. I could have asked Sekhmet, I suppose, but I hoped I’d never see the Lady of Dread again. Not in this life or any other.
I’d accomplished what I’d come for. Will was found and safe. The problems of the Red Brotherhoods of St. James and St. John no longer concerned me. The paperwork to reestablish Edward’s control of—or at least the material grip on—his European holdings was on its way to Seattle and would be there within a day of my own arrival. If he was still around by the end of all of this, I imagined he’d find a way to reassert himself once the smoke had cleared. At least I’d done that much. I didn’t yet know who the mole in his organization was or what was going on, but that was a problem that would wait until I got home.
And I wanted to get home very badly. There were problems there yet to be faced, threats to the world I knew. Wygan was moving to do something, of which I could only guess a small part, and none of his plans would be good for anyone I knew or loved. I didn’t kid myself that destroying Alice had put any kind of drag on his plan. He’d wanted her to change me and her failure would piss him off, but he’d either try again or find a way around it—he was nothing if not tenacious, as I’d discovered.
He’d pushed my father and then me to be his tool, and so far we’d both resisted him, but he kept trying. I knew he wanted to make some kind of gateway in the Grey and that I was the thing he needed to do that. I wasn’t certain how he expected to accomplish that, what power I didn’t yet have that he needed, but I’d figure it out. And I’d stop him.
I no longer had to ask “Why me?” Meeting Marsden and my experiences in London had answered a lot of my questions about why I was a Greywalker and how. I’d removed one of the enemies who’d made me what I was and I felt I was on the road to reasserting control of my own life.
I still had questions, though, and I thought I’d have to find a way to my father’s ghost to answer them. But I suspected he wasn’t as deeply buried as Wygan thought. I was sure it was he who had opened the door to the ghosts I’d been seeing and hearing. They all called me “little girl,” after all, and I was far from little anymore. And I knew things about my father—and my mother—I hadn’t suspected. I loved him a little less blindly and despised her a little less deeply now. I’d have to learn more, but for now, I just longed for home.
There was a lot waiting for me in Seattle. I was heading into an unknown with consequences I couldn’t imagine but envisioned the worst. And I hated the thought that I might have to do worse than I had done in London. I’d killed Jakob and destroyed Alice. They’d wanted me dead and they were monsters, but the grim weight of having killed still hung on me. It wasn’t the same as having plucked a poltergeist apart or torn a trapped soul free of a rotting zombie body. Self-defense drove me to it, I knew, but killing hurt, and there was more ahead, I was sure. Would it become easier, as Marsden had suggested? Would I come not to care? I prayed not. Changes were imminent and I feared what I might have to do and what I might become. But at least home would bring me back to Quinton. Who loved me. I hoped that was going to be enough.
Somewhere over the Atlantic, my cousin Jill appeared, still drowned, still bitter. She glared at me. “It was your fault,” she muttered.
Narrowing my eyes, I reached into her, tangling my fingers in the buzzing energy at her core, and then flicked her away. “You were the one who wanted to go swimming,” I muttered after the vanished ghost. I didn’t need her recriminations—I was sure I could heap enough on myself without her help. But that, too, would have to wait. For now, home would be enough.