PrologueFrom the Hardcover edition.
Mac: 11:18 a.m., November 1
Death. Pestilence. Famine. They surround me, my lovers, the terrifying Unseelie Princes.
Who’d’ve thought destruction could be so beautiful? Seductive. Consuming.
My fourth lover—War? He ministers to me tenderly. Ironic for the bringer of Chaos, creator of Calamity, maker of Madness—if that is who he is. I cannot see his face, no matter how I try. Why does he hide?
He caresses my skin with hands of fire. I char, my skin blisters, bones fuse from sexual heat no human can endure. Lust consumes me. I arch my back and beg for more with parched tongue, cracked lips. As he fills my body, he quenches my thirst with drink. Liquid spills over my tongue, drips down my throat. I convulse. He moves inside me. I catch a glimpse of skin, muscle, a flash of tattoo. Still no face. He terrifies me, this one who keeps himself concealed.
In the distance, someone barks commands. I hear many things, understand none. I know that I have fallen into enemy hands. I know also, soon, I will no longer know even that. Pri-ya, a Fae sex addict, I will believe there is no place, nothing else I would rather be.
If my thoughts were coherent enough to form sentences, I would tell you that I used to think life unfolded in a linear fashion. That people were born and went to . . . what’s that human word? I dressed up for it every day. There were boys. Lots of cute boys. I thought the world revolved around them.
His tongue is in my mouth, and it’s tearing apart my soul.
School. That’s the word I’m looking for. After that, you get a job. Marry. Have...what are they? Fae can’t have them. Don’t understand them. Precious little lives. Babies! If you’re lucky, you live a good, full life and grow old with someone you love. Caskets then. Wood gleams. I weep. A sister? Bad! Memory hurts! Let it go!
They’re in my womb. They want my heart. Tear it open. Gorge on passion they can’t feel. Cold. How can fire be so cold?
Focus, Mac. Important. Find the words. Deep breath. Don’t think about what’s happening to you. See. Serve. Protect. Others at risk. So many died. Can’t be for nothing. Think of Dani. She’s you inside, beneath that adolescent thumbs-in-the-pockets, one hip cocked, thousand-yard stare.
I orgasm without ceasing. I become the orgasm. Pleasure-pain! Exquisite! Mind-melting, soul-shredding, the more they fill me the emptier I am. It’s slipping, all slipping, but before it goes, before it’s gone completely, I get a hateful moment of clarity and see that.
Most of what I believed about myself, and life, I derived from modern media, without questioning any of it. If I wasn’t sure how to behave in a certain situation, I’d search my mind for a movie or TV show I’d seen, with a similar setup, and do whatever the actors had done. A sponge, I absorbed my environment, became a by-product of it.
I don’t think I ever once looked up at the sky and wondered if there was sentient life in the universe besides the human race. I know I never looked down at the earth beneath my feet and contemplated my own mortality. I tunneled blithely through magnolia-drenched days, blind as a mole to everything but guys, fashion, power, sex, whatever would make me
feel good right then.
But these are confessions I would make if I could speak, and I can’t. I’m ashamed. I’m so ashamed.
Who the fuck are you? Someone shouted that question at me recently—his name eludes me.
Someone who frightens me. Excites me.
Life’s not linear at all.
It happens in lightning flashes. So fast you don’t see those lay-you-out-cold moments coming at you until you’re Wile E. Coyote, steamrolled flat as a pancake by the Road Runner, victim of your own elaborate schemes. A sister dead. A legacy of lies. An unwanted inheritance of ancient blood. An impossible mission. A book that is a beast that is ultimate power, and whoever gets their hands on it first decides the fate of the world. Maybe all the worlds.
Stupid sidhe-seer. So sure you had things headed in the right direction.
Here and now—not on some cartoon highway from which I can peel myself, stand up, and magically reinflate, but on the cold stone floor of a church, naked, lost, surrounded by death-by-sex Fae—I feel my most powerful weapon, the one I swore never to give up again—hope—slipping away. My spear is long gone. My will is...
Will? What’s will? Do I know the word? Did I ever?
Him. He’s here. The one who killed Alina. Please, please, please don’t let him touch me.
Is he touching me? Is he the fourth? Why conceal himself?
When the walls come tumbling, tumbling down, that’s the question that matters. Who are you?
I reek of sex and the scent of them—dark, drugging spices. I have no sense of time or place. They’re inside me and I can’t get them out, and how could I have been such a fool to believe that at the critical moment, when my world fell apart, some knight in shining armor was going to come thundering in on a white stallion, or arrive sleek and dark on an eerily silent Harley, or appear in a flash of golden salvation, summoned by a name embedded in my tongue, and rescue me? What was I raised on—fairy tales?
Not this kind. These are the fairy tales we were supposed to be teaching our daughters. A few thousand years ago, we did. But we got sloppy and complacent, and when the Old Ones seemed to go quietly, we allowed ourselves to forget the Old Ways. Enjoyed the distractions of modern technology and forgot the most important question of all.
Who the fuck are you?
Here on the floor, in my final moments—MacKayla Lane’s last grand hurrah—I see that the answer is all I’ve ever been.
Dani: 2:58 p.m., November 1
Hey, it’s me—Dani. I’m gonna be taking over for a while. Fecking good thing, too, ’cause Mac’s in serious trouble. We all are. Last night everything changed. End-of-the-world stuff. Uh-huh, that bad. Fae and human worlds collided with the biggest bang since creation, and everything is a mess.
Fecking Shades loose in the fecking abbey. Ro through the roof with it, screaming that Mac betrayed us. Ordered us to hunt her. Bring her in dead or alive. Shut her up or shut her down, she said. Keep her away from the enemy, because she’s too powerful a weapon to be used against us. She’s the only one who can track the Sinsar Dubh. No way we can let her fall into the wrong hands, and Ro says any hands but hers are the wrong ones.
I know stuff about Mac that she’d kill me for, if she knew I knew. Good thing she doesn’t know. I never want to fight Mac.
But here I am, hunting her.
I don’t believe she spiked the Orb with Shades. Pretty much everyone else does, though. They don’t know Mac like I do. I know Mac like we’re sisters. No way she betrayed us.
Seven hundred thirteen of us alive at the abbey at five o’clock last night. Five hundred twenty-two sidhe-seers left at last count. Taking Dublin back. Hunting Mac. Kicking every bit of Fae ass we see along the way.
No sign of her yet. But we’re headed in the right direction. There’s an epicenter of power in the city, reeking stinking nasty Fae as toxic as the fallout plume from a nuclear explosion. We all feel it. Taste it. Practically see the mushroom cloud hanging in the air. We
don’t even talk to one another. Don’t need to. If Mac’s still in Dublin, that’s where she is, straight ahead. No way any sidhe-seer could turn away from this kinda pull. I hope she’s nailing their butts with the spear. We’ll fight back to back like we did a couple nights ago.
But I’ve got this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach...
Bull-fecking-crikey! I don’t feel sick. I never feel sick. Sick is for wusses and wannabes.
Mac can take care of herself. She’s the strongest of us all.
“ ’Cept me,” I mutter, with a swagger and a grin.
“What?” Jo says behind me.
I don’t bother answering. They already think I’m cocky enough. I have reasons to be cocky. Uh-huh, I’m thatgood.
Five hundred twenty-two of us closing in. We fight like banshees and can do some serious damage, but we’ve got only one weapon—the Sword of Light—that can kill a Fae.
“And it’s mine.” I grin again. I can’t help it. Fecking A, it’s the supercoolest gig in the world to be a superhero. Superfast, superstrong, with a few extra “supers” in me that Batman would trade all his toys for. What everybody else wishes they could do, I can. Behind me, Jo says “What?” again, but I’m not grinning anymore. I’m back to feeling prowly, pissed. Being fourteen—well, I almost am—blows. One minute I’m on top of the world, next I’m mad at everybody. Jo says I’m hormonal. She says it gets better. If better means I’m gonna turn into a grownup, thanks but not. Gimme a blaze of glory any day. Who wants to get old and wrinkly?
If the Unseelie hadn’t taken the power grids down last night, turning the whole city into a Dark Zone, I’d’ve come after Mac sooner, but Kat made us hide like cowards ’til dawn. Not enough flashlights, she said.
Duh, I’m superfast, I said.
Great, she said, so you’d have us watch you whiz superfast right through a Shade and die? Smart, Dani. Real smart.
Pissed me off, but she had a point. When I’m moving like that, it is hard to see what’s coming at me. With the power grids down, ain’t nobody gonna dispute the Shades own the night once it falls.
Who put you in charge? I said, but it was rhetorical and we both knew it, and she walked away. Ro put her in charge. Ro always puts her in charge, even though I’m better, faster, smarter. Kat’s obedient, dutiful, cautious. Gag me with a spoon.
Crashed and burned cars everywhere we turn. I thought there’d be more bodies. Shades don’t eat dead flesh. S’pose other Unseelie do. The city is spooky quiet.
“Slow down, Dani!” Kat yells at me. “You’re speeding up again. You know we can’t keep up with you!”
“Sorry,” I mutter, and slow down. With what I feel up ahead and this stupid sick feeling in my stomach—
“Not sick.” My teeth clench on the lie. Who the feck am I kidding? I feel sick, sick, sick. My palms and pits are slick with dread. I wipe my sword hand against my jeans. My body knows things before my brain can. Always been that way, even when I was a kid. Used to freak Mom out. It’s what makes me fight so good. I know what I’m gonna find up ahead is gonna be one of those things I’ll wake up in the middle of the night wishing I could scrape out from behind my eyeballs.
Whatever we’re headed for, whatever’s throwing all that fallout into the sky, is more Fae power than I’ve ever felt before, all clumped together in one place. The way we work things, the other sidhe-seers close in and pound ass while I do what I’ve been doing best since Ro took me in when Mom was murdered.
We range out like a net. Five hundred strong. Drape ourselves, sidhe-seer by sidhe-seer, around
the epicenter and close in tight. Nothing’s getting through us unless it flies. Or sifts.
Aw, crap! Or sifts. Some of the Fae can travel from place to place at the blink of a thought—just a hair faster than me, but I’m working on that. I have a theory I been testing. Haven’t worked out the kinks yet. The kinks are killer.
“Stop,” I hiss at Kat. “Tell ’em all to stop!”
She cuts a hard look my way but bites a sharp command that rips down the line. We’re well trained. We move together and I tell her my worry: that Mac’s in there, in serious trouble, and if the bigbads throwing off all that power are sifters—which most of the big-bads are—she’ll be gone the second we’re spotted.
Which means I’m going in alone. I’m the only one who can sneak-attack fast enough to pull it off.
“No way,” Kat says.
“No choice, and you know it.”
We look at each other. She gets that look grownups get a lot and touches my hair. I jerk. I don’t like to be touched. Grown-ups creep me out.
“Dani.” She pauses heavily.
I know that tone like I know the back of my hand, and I know where it’s going: Lectureville on a runaway train. I roll my eyes. “Save it for somebody who cares. Newsflash: It ain’t me. I’ll go up”—I jerk my head at a nearby building—“to get the lay of things. Then I’m going in. Only. When I. Come. Back. Out.” I spit each word. “Can you guys go in.”
We stare at each other. I know what she’s thinking. Nah, reading minds isn’t one of my specialties. Grown-ups telegraph everything. Somebody kill me before I get one of those Play-Doh faces. Kat’s thinking if she makes the call against me and loses Mac, Ro’ll have her head. But if she lets me make the call and things go bad, she can blame it on headstrong, uncontrollable Dani. I take the blame a lot. I don’t care. I do what needs to be done.
“I’ll go up,” she says.
“I need the visual snapshot myself, or I could end up grabbing the wrong thing. You want me coming out with some fe—er, effin’ fairy in my hands?” They rip me a new one when I cuss. Like I’m a kid. Like I haven’t spilled more blood than they’ve ever seen. Old enough to kill but too young to cuss. They make a pit bull poodle around. What kinda logic is that? Hypocrisy pisses me off worse than most anything.
Her face sets in stubborn lines.
I push. “I know Mac’s in there and for some reason she can’t get out. She’s in major trouble.” Was she surrounded? Wounded that badly? Had she lost her spear? I didn’t know. Only that she was in way deep shit.
“Rowena said alive or dead,” Kat says stiffly. She left “It sounds like she’ll be dead soon and our problems will be solved” hanging unspoken.
“We want the Book, remember?” I try reason. Times I think I’m the only one in the whole abbey that’s got any.
“We’ll find it without her. She betrayed us.”
Feck reason. Pisses me off when people jump to conclusions they have no proof for. “You don’t know that, so stop saying it,” I growl. Somebody’s fist is holding Kat’s coat collar, got her up on her toes. It’s mine. I don’t know who’s more surprised, her or me. I drop her back on the ground and look away. I’ve never done anything like that before. But it’s Mac in there and I have to get her out, and Kat’s wasting my time big-time with total BS.
Her mouth sets with tiny white lines around it, and her eyes take on a look I get a lot. It makes me feel mad and alone.
She’s afraid of me.
Mac isn’t. One more way we’re like sisters.
Without another word, I give my feet the wings they live for and vanish into the building.
From the rooftop, I stare.
My fists clench. I keep my nails real short; still, they gouge blood from my palms.
Two Fae are dragging Mac down the front steps of a church. She’s naked. They drop her like a piece of trash in the middle of the street. A third Fae exits the church and joins them, and they stand, imperial guards around her, heads swiveling, surveying the street.
The raw sex they’re throwing off blasts me, but it’s not like V’lane, who I’m gonna give my virginity to one day.
I’m as obsessed with sex as anybody, but those...things...down there...those incredibly—fecking A, they hurt to look at; something’s wet on my cheeks; are my eyes boiling in their sockets?—beautiful things scare even me, and I don’t scare easy. They don’t move right. Storms of color rush under their skin. Black torques slither at their necks. There’s nothing in their eyes. Nothing. Eyes of pure oblivion. Power. Sex. Death. They reek of it. They’re Unseelie. My blood knows. I want to fall on my knees at their feet and worship, and Dani Mega O’Malley don’t worship nothing but herself.
I wipe my face. My fingers come away red. My eyes are leaking blood. Freaky. Kinda cool. Vamps got nothing on Fae.
I close my eyes, and when I open them again I don’t look directly at the things guarding Mac. Instead, I take a wide-angle image of the scene. Every Fae, fire hydrant, car, pothole, streetlamp, piece of trash. I map objects and empty spaces on my mental grid, lock it down tight, calculate margin of error based on likely movement, slap it over my snapshot.
I squint. A shadow moves in the street, almost too fast to see. The Fae don’t seem to know it’s there. I watch. They don’t respond to it. No heads swivel to follow it. I can’t focus on it. Can’t make out its shape. It moves like I move . . . mostly. What the feck? Not a Shade. Not a Fae. A blur of shadow. Now it’s hanging over Mac. Now it’s gone. Bright side—if the Unseelie aren’t noticing it, they shouldn’t notice me when I whiz in to snatch her. Dimmer side—what if whatever it is can see me? What if we collide? What is it? I don’t like unknowns. Unknowns can kill.
I catch the glint of Mac’s spear in a red-robed man’s hand. He’s carrying it at arm’s length from his body. Only Seelie or humans can touch the Seelie Hallows. He’s one or the other. The Lord Master?
They have Mac. They have the spear. Don’t know if I can grab both so won’t try. Would chance it if it wasn’t Mac. They hurt her bad. She’s bloody everywhere. She’s my hero. I hate them! Fae took my mother and now they’ve taken Mac. I refresh my snapshot of the scene right before I let myself go nuts inside, let that ancient sidhe-seer place in my head swallow me whole.
Instantly, I’m cool and perfect and detached from everything. I’m the Shit. It’s the most massive high in the world!
I zip from one freeze-frame to the next. No inbetweens.
I’m on the roof of the building.
I’m in the street.
I’m between the guards. Lust—wantneedsexdie—incinerates me, but I’m moving too fast and they can’t touch what they can’t see and they can’t see me and all I have to do is not cave; hate, hate, hate, make armor from it. Got enough hate to Kevlar all Ireland’s Garda.
I grab Mac.
Heart in my throat! Shadow-thing blocks my path! What is it?
I’m past it.
Hear Fae shouting behind me.
Then I’m screaming at Kat and the crew to get their asses in there, grab that spear, and kill those bastards.
Mac in my arms, I freeze frames as fast as I can, heading for the abbey.