Autumn Whispers (Page 11)
“I promise to go home and rest. But our lives . . . there is seldom down time. We’re . . .” And then I stopped. I couldn’t tell her about Shadow Wing. I couldn’t tell her about the war back in Otherworld. All I could do was shrug and give her a faint smile.
She held my coat for me. “I understand. Perhaps more than you know.”
I headed out of the room, bracing my arm from time to time against the wall to steady myself. “Where are Camille and Menolly?”
“I imagine the morgue. It’s—”
“I know where it’s at.” I waved her off. “Go do what you need to do.”
I found the elevator and punched the button for the third floor down and held on as the car descended to the underground levels. The Faerie-Human Crime Scene Investigation unit had the main floor, then three stories below ground. There was rumored to be another floor, lower still, but no one had ever confirmed it. Not even when I was dating Chase.
Riding in the quiet elevator, I stared at the nicely polished mirrors in the corner. I knew they housed hidden cameras and I realized just how pale I must have looked. Too fucking bad. There wasn’t anything I could do about it right now except take it as easy as I could.
The doors opened with a soft whoosh and I stepped out. The morgue was straight ahead and I pushed through the double doors with a muted thud.
Here, the dead came to rest, limbo before their final consignment. Here, memories were severed. Blood and bone were mere leftovers of lives once lived and now lost. Death played no favorites, claiming the young and the old, the sick and the well. There was no get-out-of-jail-free card. And then my gaze fell on Menolly. She was standing in the middle of six tables covered with the snow white blankets of the dead. Sheets so pristine they made me shiver.
There were ways to cheat death . . . but at a high cost. Menolly had found out the hard way. Though eternity had not been her choice, she made the best of what she had. I wondered—could I do it? Could I face an unchanging existence, caught in my body, my soul trapped until either fire claimed me, the sun took me, or a stake plunged through the heart? Mortal thoughts, these, and not easy ones.
Camille had her phone out and was writing down the names of the dead as Menolly turned from table to table, the expression on her face fading from horror to disbelief. She was losing her ability to take it in—I could see it in her eyes. She’d reached overload and, for the first time in many years, fear flickered in her eyes. She began to back away toward the wall, whimpering.
“Camille!” I nodded toward Menolly and Camille dropped her pad and pen, softly moving forward. Menolly was crouching again, leaning against the wall, and the predator was coming to the surface. She looked cornered, like a mountain lion trapped against a cliff face.
“Be careful.” I kept my voice low.
“Yes, I see.” Camille didn’t look back at me—she was close enough that she didn’t dare take her eyes off our sister. When Menolly was in the grips of this sort of stress, her vampiric nature rose up, and it would be all too easy for her to attack those trying to help her.
“Call Nerissa. Get her on the phone. See if she’s here. Chase may have dragged her in to talk to some of the customers at the fire—that’s what she does.”
I punched in Nerissa’s number and she answered almost immediately. As Camille speculated, she was in the building—a boon for us—and I quickly explained what was going on. She hung up, on her way down before I finished.
And then, Camille was kneeling just out of arm’s reach. Not far enough to save herself, but enough to give Menolly a second to clear her thoughts, should she attack. Camille held out her hands in an imploring gesture.
“Menolly . . . can you hear me? Menolly, honey, it’s Camille. Your big sister. Remember me?”
The frightened, trapped look in Menolly’s eyes flickered. She pressed against the wall, shaking her head. “Get out of here.”
“No. We can’t leave without you. You need to let us help you. Listen to my voice.” And as she spoke, Camille’s voice grew stronger. She didn’t have the command voice down pat, but she could force a reasonable facsimile when necessary. “Menolly, I want you to listen to me. Do you hear me?”
“Leave me alone . . . just . . . leave . . .” Menolly stammered and fell silent. “Don’t make me walk past their bodies again. What have I done?”
“You did not do this. It was a fire. You are not to blame. We know it was arson—you know this. Listen to me. You aren’t at fault.” Camille’s voice grew stronger, but Menolly still resisted.
And then, from behind us, came a male voice. Chase.
“Menolly. Stand up. Now.” His voice rang through the room, echoing with authority. I shivered, staring at him. I knew he had some ability in this, but had no clue he had reached this level. I wasn’t even sure if he recognized how well he was able to use a command voice.
Nerissa stood behind him, her eyes teary as she took in the scene. But she kept quiet, letting Chase take the lead. He moved forward, slow and deliberate.
“Menolly. Listen to me. Come back to us. Come back to yourself. Do you hear me? Answer me, now.”
And just like that, Menolly’s face flashed again and she turned to Chase, her face softening out of the predator’s gaze. As she saw Nerissa, her expression crumbled. She folded then, not in defense, but in tears, and Nerissa ran forward, gathering her in her arms.
“My wife, my beautiful, wonderful wife, can you forgive me for this?”
As Nerissa led her through the field of bodies, holding Menolly’s face to her breast so she wouldn’t have to look at them, Chase gestured to Camille and me. We turned to follow, leaving the carnage behind.
When we arrived home, it was nearing 2:00 A.M. We were ragged and beat but the first thing Camille did was make me lie down on the sofa while she went to check on Iris. Nerissa led Menolly into the kitchen where I could hear them talking softly.
“What gives?” Roz brought me a light throw and covered me with it.
“Seven people died in the fire at the Wayfarer, and Menolly is blaming herself since it’s her bar.” I leaned back against the pillows gratefully. I hadn’t realized just how shaky I still was until we’d gotten to the steps and Shade had to carry me up. It felt awkward—I wasn’t a small woman—but when he saw I was having problems, he had swept me into his arms without a word and carried me inside.
Roz’s expression fell. He slowly sat down beside me. “No. That’s going to kill her.” He shook his head. “I wonder if I should go talk to her—”
“It gets worse. She received threats—two calls, one tonight, from someone threatening to burn down the bar. She’s going to be asking herself why she didn’t take it seriously after the first one. And we’re going to have to have an answer she can live with. Right now, Nerissa is with her. Give them some time. How’s Iris doing?”
“Still no sign of the babies but we’re getting closer and she’s a trouper. Trillian and Vanzir, of all people, are helping Hanna and Mallen. They told me to stay out here. Apparently, I get too panicked when it comes to a woman in labor.”
The look on his face said everything and I pitied Mallen trying to work around Roz, especially with his ill-disguised crush on Iris. Even though I knew Roz was seeing Hanna, I also knew they were just doing the friends-with-benefits thing, and that neither one was up for anything permanent.
Shade tapped him on the shoulder. “How about letting me sit next to my fiancée?”
Roz jumped up. He’d learned all too well what crossing a dragon was like—thanks to a thrashing that Smoky gave him early on. He walked softly around both of them now, even though Shade was only half dragon and a lot less possessive.
“I’ll take a peek in the kitchen and see how Menolly’s doing.”
As Roz left the room, Shade turned to me. “I’m sorry I didn’t make it to the hospital, but I had a hell of a time finding Bruce. Camille called me to tell me what was going down—not only with Menolly, but with you. We’re going to have to find the dreglins and wipe them out, of course. How are you feeling, love?”
“Like I got hit by a burning hot sledgehammer. Actually, though, I’m a lot better. And . . .” My thoughts went back to the image of Chrysandra, lying there, burned to a crisp and still alive. “I’m fine. I just need a little rest, but I’m fine.”
Shade wrapped his arm around my shoulder and pulled me to him, my head resting on his shoulder. “I know. I know. Sometimes, you see something that never leaves you. Sometimes, there’s no way to erase a horror from your memory.”
“She was in so much agony. She hurt so fucking bad and they couldn’t do anything to stop it. The healers were just going to let her linger, mired in the pain, until she finally died. We couldn’t let that happen.” I began to cry, the tears finally coming as I leaned into his arms. “I wanted to take her soul, right there. But I couldn’t use my powers—Greta would have had my hide. I wanted to shift and let Panther rip out her throat—make it quick and easy.”
“You wanted to give her release.” Shade held me as the tears trailed down my cheeks. “I know. But healers have certain rules . . . they live by a code.”
“There comes a time when death is healing in itself.” I looked into his eyes. “Menolly killed her, and the healer let her do it. He knew. He knew that it would be a blessing. She had to finish what the arsonist started.”
“We do what we have to. Every rule has an exception. Nothing in this world is black and white—not even Shadow Wing. There’s always another side to the story, always another perspective. So, you know it was arson?”
“Not officially, not yet. But we know.” I told him about the letter and the phone calls. “We have no clue what’s going on. But somebody torched the place. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
“Fuck. Then we find who did it and we take care of them.” Shade gently placed his hands on my shoulders and pushed me back to stare in my face. “I have something to tell you. Perhaps this isn’t the best time, but I want you to be prepared.”
Nothing good ever came from the words “I want you to be prepared.” But Shade was stubborn and if he wanted to tell me whatever news it was, he would do just that.
“Okay . . . let’s have it. But I’m too tired to steel myself so if it’s really bad, be ready for me to go to pieces.” I waited.
“My sister is coming to visit next week. Her name is Lash. She wants to meet you.” The way he said it told me exactly what was going down. His family had heard about me and they were sending a scout to find out just who the hell I was.
Once again, my stomach lurched. I cleared my throat. “So . . . this is news, all right. Is she like you? Half shadow dragon, half shadow walker? Kind of helpful to know who my judge and jury is going to be.” I still had no clue what the Stradolans—the shadow walkers—were, Shade had always evaded my questions, but I wanted to know just who was going to be giving me the once-over.
Shade knew when I was being sarcastic and he bopped me gently on the nose with one finger. “Lash isn’t that bad. She’s not coming here to . . .” He stopped, then laughed. “All right, yes, she’s coming here to look you over, but I think you’ll like her. And I think she’ll like you. And yes, she is both shadow walker and shadow dragon. Though I came from an earlier clutch, so technically I’m her older brother.”
I kept my mouth shut, but inside, my stomach was a fluttering lek of butterflies. If she’d only showed up a week ago, it wouldn’t have been a problem. But now? With everything that had just gone down in the past day? Not so good. But I said nothing. I didn’t want to make Shade feel bad. Instead, I adjusted myself against the pillows and rested my arm on the back of the sofa. The wound hurt like hell, but it would heal. Best to just let this little blip alone till I was actually facing it. Or rather, her, as the case was.
“I hope she likes chaos. If she’s going to stay here, she’s going to be subject to a whole lot of it.”
Roz reappeared. “Nerissa took Menolly downstairs. I think she’s going to apply a little touch therapy, if you know what I mean. Menolly seemed a bit calmer by the time they headed to her lair.”
Just then, Camille dashed in. “Baby number one is here! Iris just had a little girl and everything looks lovely. I’ll be back as soon as baby number two arrives.” She vanished before we could say a word.
I looked up at Shade and, for the first time today, I laughed. “Go Iris!” A wave of relief washed over me as I realized that at least one thing was going right.
“For such a little thing, she has the strength of many men.” Shade broke out in a smile and I realized that I hadn’t been the only one worried about our Iris. Birthing twins—especially for first babies—was a rather daunting thought. But it was half over, and so far, so good.
“Iris is going to be such a mama bear to those babies. She’s scarier than all of us put together when she’s pissed.” And Iris also had some pretty incredible powers. We’d seen her turn someone inside out before with her magic. And while it wasn’t something she could do at the drop of a hat, she was not just any Finnish house sprite. She was also a high priestess of Undutar, with the tattoos and the scars—both physical and emotional—to prove it.
I scooted up, so I was resting half against the pillows, half against the back of the sofa, and took Shade’s hand. I was starting to feel sleepy, and as he caressed my fingers in silence, the idea of a quickie crossed my mind. But before I could say anything, weariness took over, and the toll of the wound hit me. I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.