Aftermath, p.1Andrea Cremer
Also by this author
Also by the same author:
RIFT (August 2012)
RISE (January 2013)
A NIGHTSHADE Novella
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Forbid us something, and that thing we desire.
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales
ADNE HAD LEARNED to live with nightmares years ago. Since the day her mother suffered and died, tangled in the shadow grip of a wraith, Adne often woke trembling, covered in sweat, with a throat raw from screams. Wanting to show a brave face, she hadn’t told anyone—not her father, not even Connor—how frequently the night terrors shook her from sleep, sudden and violent. But life had changed and she couldn’t continue to keep that secret, because she rarely spent a night without Connor.
When Adne jerked up with a cry that evening, Connor was awake immediately. He cradled her trembling body in his arms.
“It was a dream,” he whispered before she said anything. “Easy now.”
He stroked her mahogany hair, his fingers pausing briefly when they found the sweat on the back of her neck.
“Your mother?” Connor asked quietly when Adne’s limbs had stopped shaking.
Adne shook her head. She wasn’t ready to talk yet.
Connor pulled Adne against his chest and she tucked her head beneath his chin. The nightmares she’d told Connor about had been those of her mother and the wraith. But since the war’s end, something had changed. The shadows that visited her now were different, yet unsettlingly familiar.
“Do you want to tell me about it?” Connor asked.
Shaking her head again, Adne lifted her face to press her lips against Connor’s cheek. He took her chin in his hand, turning her further until her mouth met his. Adne waited for the warmth of Connor’s skin and the gentle strength of his touch to chase the nightmare away, as she knew it would. Guilt caused a slight twinge in her chest as she hurried to lose herself in sensation. In the joy and ceaseless thrill of having this man in her arms each night, holding her, kissing her. When they were twined together in the dark, Connor made it clear how long he’d wanted her too.
After the nightmare, Adne’s desire for intimacy wasn’t only about loving Connor; it was about using him to chase away her fears. And she didn’t want to use him. But Adne couldn’t think of anything else to do. She was frightened by her dreams, but she was more afraid of what Connor would think if she shared the visions with him.
Telling Connor the truth was out of the question. Telling anyone was out of the question.
Connor’s lips were on Adne’s neck and she closed her eyes. The cold sweat that covered her body gave way to the heat spreading over her skin. Adne twisted her fingers through Connor’s silky chestnut hair before wrapping her arms around his neck. She clung to him, willing away the shadows still creeping into the edges of her consciousness, her body electric with tremors of fear and desire. Connor had always been light to her. Pure light and hope in the face of sorrow and despair. Whatever darkness threatened her now, Connor would keep it at bay.
He had to.
* * *
The library at Rowan Estate looked like a tornado had torn through it. As Sabine turned in a slow circle, observing the damage, she thought it bore a strong resemblance to its state just after Shay had closed the Rift. Considering all the cleanup work and restoration she’d done to get the place back in shape since then, she was not amused by this new development.
“Over here!” Adne called.
Sabine picked her way through the rubble until she reached Adne’s side.
Adne crouched among what had been dozens of bookshelves, riffling through splintered wood and torn pages. “Things have been taken.”
Sabine leaned over her. “How can you possibly know that?”
“You’re not the only one who spent hours getting this place organized,” Adne said. “I gave up days of my life cataloging this section—and I swear it’s not all here. There are several books—important books—that are missing.”
“Are you sure this isn’t what’s happened to them?” Sabine asked, picking up a pile of debris that looked like it had gone through a shredder.
Adne laughed, but Sabine recognized the determined set of her jaw. “No. I’m sure that’s what whoever did this wanted us to think,” Adne said. She swept her arm toward the rest of the library . . . or what was left of it. “They wanted us to think it was an attack, when it was actually a theft.”
“So, case closed?” Connor kicked aside pieces of a shattered marble bust. “Good work, Adne. Can we go home now?”
“Hardly.” Adne was bent over the remnants of books at her feet.
“I didn’t sign on to play detective,” Sabine said. “Can I go beat up the thieves for information instead?”
“Sounds like fun.” Connor laughed. “But it’s thief, not thieves. The second one managed to get away.”
“How’d that happen?” Sabine asked. The Searchers weren’t sloppy and the thieves were human; catching them should have been easy.
“He displayed his immensely noble character by tripping his associate, so we were busy catching that guy while the first one made it to the getaway car,” Connor said. “He drove into a populated area where we couldn’t pursue him without drawing unwanted attention.”
“That’s a no go.” Ethan walked up, apparently having overheard the last bit of their conversation.
“How’s that?” Sabine asked.
“He’s been hexed.” Ethan sat down next to Sabine. “He can’t answer questions about who employed him or why.”
Sabine’s gaze swept over the ransacked shelves. “What do you mean hexed?”
“Hexed, cursed,” Adne said. “Whatever you want to call it.”
“Black magic?” Sabine’s frown deepened. “How is that possible?”
“Why wouldn’t it be possible?” Connor twirled a lock of Adne’s hair in his fingers. She batted his hand away, but not without throwing a teasing smile his way.
“Because the Rift is closed and the Harbinger is gone,” Sabine said. “I thought that meant the Keepers’ magic was cut off.”
“The magic from the Harbinger, yeah,” Connor said. “So no wraiths, but magic—basic magic—is still around. That won’t ever go away.”
“Don’t sweat it.” Ethan put his arm around Sabine’s shoulders. “Black magic keeps us employed. We have to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand.”
“So you think Logan is behind this hex?” Sabine asked, pulling Ethan’s arm further around her so she could nestle against him. “And the theft?”
“He’s our number one suspect,” Ethan said. “Wait—replace number one with only. Only suspect.”
Adne smiled, but her eyes remained worried. “Why did he want those books?”
“What were they about?” Connor asked. He’d picked up pieces of a broken vase and was entertaining himself by trying to fit them back together.
“That’s what worries me,” Adne said. “They were about the Keepers’ heritage. Family lines. Legacies.”
“You’re worried because Logan’s checking out his family tree?” Sabine asked. “Maybe he’s just lonely. After all, he’s the only Keeper left, right?”
“No, he’s not.” Ethan frowned. “There are a few younger Keepers still scattered around the world. They’ve gone into hiding, trying to prevent us from tracking them down. Though it’s sort of a moot point. I think they’re more paranoid about us finding them than we’re interested in hunting them. They’re harmless now. Just humans dabbling in the dark arts.”
“Exactly,” Adne said.
Connor dropped the vase fragments. They broke into even smaller pieces when they hit the floor. “I think you skipped a few steps. I didn’t get a resolution from that conversation.”
Adne smiled. “Sorry. I mean that the younger Keepers, who didn’t end up as withered husks because they weren’t living on borrowed time like Lumine Nightshade, are still out there. But they don’t have power—at least, not power like they used to.”
“You think Logan wants to get it back.” Sabine ground her teeth.
“Maybe . . . probably,” Adne said. “The books that are missing aren’t only family trees. They recount the origins of the Keepers.”
“Hmm,” Connor said. “Oh . . . uh-oh.”
“Uh-oh is an understatement.” Ethan fingered the hilt of the dagger belted at his waist.
Sabine asked, “Can he do it? Find a way to restore their power?”
Adne rubbed her temples, suddenly looking weary. “I don’t know and I’m not sure how we find out. Logan took the books that hold the clues we need.”
“But we do have this.” Connor produced a small wooden box from inside his long leather duster. “Check it out.”
“What’s that?” Sabine asked. She took the box from him, since Adne’s head was still bowed. The box was intricately carved of ebony wood, and it was locked.
“We took this off the thief we did manage to catch,” Connor said. “It was the only thing he was carrying. The other guy had the books.”
“Hmm.” Sabine ran her fingers over the patterns and deep grooves of the wood. “I wonder what’s inside.”
“Let’s find out,” Connor said. He snatched the box out of Sabine’s hands and picked the lock. He opened it, peered inside, and frowned.
“Give it here.” Adne reached up and Connor handed it to her.
Adne gave a little gasp. “Oh!”
“What is it?” Sabine peered over her shoulder.
Within the box lay a torn sheaf of paper, a small, oddly shaped white stone, a pair of gold rings, and a pendant.
Sabine reached inside and picked up the rings. “They’re engraved on the inside of the bands.” She peered at the tiny markings. “A. Hart, E. Morrow. Amor et fidelitas.”
“Love and loyalty,” Adne murmured. “Wedding rings?”
“That’d be my guess,” Sabine said.
“Women.” Ethan reached over Sabine and grabbed the piece of paper. “Going for the jewelry before the evidence!”
Sabine elbowed him. “The jewelry is evidence.”
“Right.” Ethan winked at her before reading the faded ink. “Alistair Hart Nightshade, 1388–1666, Great Fire of London.”
“That’s weird.” Adne took the paper from Ethan, turning it over in her hands.
“You mean that he died at age 278?” Connor asked. “I’d say that’s par for the course in our line of work.”
“No,” Adne said. “I mean that the stuff in the box is way older than this note. This is paper, not the parchment they would have used in the Middle Ages.”
She held the paper up to the light. “I think it’s signed on the back, but the ink is really hard to make out. Wait . . . yeah . . . here’s the name. C. Nightshade, 1859. Oh great.”
“What?” Sabine asked.
“That has to be Cameron Nightshade,” Adne said. “He built this place. Rowan Estate is named after his wife. He came over from England in the eighteenth century, she showed up a little later—they were the first Keepers in North America.”
“Are you jockeying for Silas’s old job?” Connor asked. “What’s up with the history lesson?”
Adne stuck her tongue out at him. “I just happened to spend some time reading the books I was cataloging and not trying to get out of my responsibilities . . . like some people I know.”
Connor shrugged. “I’d rather be out in the field than in a musty old room.”
“It wasn’t musty until all the shelves were obliterated,” Adne said.
“So Cameron left a note in Alistair’s box?” Sabine asked.
Adne nodded. “If I’m remembering right, Cameron was Alistair’s son.”
“But why would Logan care about this stuff?” Ethan reached into the box, picking up the small white stone. “And what the hell is this white rock doing in here?”
Sabine took a closer look at the object and began to laugh.
Ethan threw her a sidelong glance. “What?”
“That’s not a rock,” she said. “It’s a knuckle bone.”
“Gah!” Ethan dropped the bone. Fortunately, Adne shoved the box out in time to catch it.
“Why would anyone keep a bone in there?” Ethan said, rubbing his hands on his coat.
“It was a thing,” Adne said. “Usually it was only for saints and other famous types, but the bones of the dead were thought to have great power . . . that’s more bad news for us.”
“You think Logan wanted this stuff to work some nasty mojo?” Connor asked.
“I’d say that’s a safe bet.” Adne picked up the pendant. “This is a lot prettier than the bone.”
Sabine leaned close. The pendant was an oval about the size of her palm, hanging from a thin gold chain. The bloodred ruby was rimmed with gold, and a ghostly image—a rose centered between two crossed swords—hovered in the gemstone’s depths.
“That’s beautiful,” she whispered.
“That’s an intaglio,” Connor said. “It’s kind of a cameo in reverse. They inscribed the image into the gem’s surface—that’s what gives it so much depth. They were sentimental gifts and the words carved into the setting usually had mystical significance or power—like a talisman.”
They all stared at him.
Finally, Ethan said, “How the hell do you know that?”
Connor coughed, looking at Adne and then away. “I . . . uh . . . may have been doing some reading about jewelry recently . . . uh . . . yeah.”
Adne blushed, lowering her gaze back to the contents of the box. A small smile played on the corners of her mouth.
“Anyway,” Connor said, “that’s what the necklace is.”
Sabine reached out, taking the pendant from Adne. She turned it over.
“This is inscribed too,” she said. “Sanguine et igne nascimur.”
“In blood and fire we are born.” Adne shivered. “Anything else?”
“Another name,” Sabine said, her voice growing quiet. “Eira.”
A numb silence fell over the group.
“The first Keeper,” Adne said. She snatched the pendant from Sabine. She shoved it into the box and slammed the lid, like Pandora’s futile effort to stop horrors from spilling out into the world. When she looked up at them, she was trembling. “Logan’s going back. Back to the very beginning.”
Adne felt the others’ eyes on her as she grabbed the box and fled the library. She had no idea where she was going, but soon she was outside, breathing fresh Colorado air. The day was bright and though the air still carried a chill, Adne could taste the promise of spring. Her swift walk picked up to a run, her feet seeming to have a will of their own, while her mind was muddled.
When she finally stopped, she was breathing hard. Her breath rose in small puffs. Adne looked around, trying to get her bearings as well as understand why putting together the pieces of Logan’s break-in had sent her into a panic. When she saw where she was, her knees buckled and she dropped to the ground.
Aftermath by Andrea Cremer / Young Adult / Fantasy have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes