Shadow Blood, p.2Jayde Scott
“I don’t trip!” I muttered. Julie grinned. I gritted my teeth, ready to ignore her comment. “So you didn’t think any suspicious sound might be worth investigating?”
She shrugged. “I told you I thought it was—”
“Me stumbling. Yeah, I got it.” I waved my hand and rolled my eyes. “Okay, I’m going back down. You stay here and watch the door.”
I didn’t wait for her answer. Crossing the shop floor and empty hall leading to Elyssa’s office, I held my breath to listen for any sounds. When nothing stirred, I opened the door to the basement and tiptoed down the stairs.
With no window and the lights off, the stairs were bathed in darkness, but my heightened sight helped me find my way around. I was barely halfway down when the gurgling and hissing sound I had picked up before made me stop in my tracks. A shudder ran through me. Hearing it now, in the middle of the night, was even creepier than the first time I encountered it. My heart fluttering in my chest at a million miles an hour, I fought the urge to turn around and leave, and continued my descent.
The staircase ended in a closed door. I gently pried it open and stepped into a narrow corridor with a naked light bulb casting a soft glow on four steel doors that looked like not even a military tank could kick them in. Why would Elyssa need one of those, not to mention four? I figured, even if she stored precious merchandise, a safe or warehouse would usually suffice.
I was about to test one of the doors when movement from inside caught my attention—a soft thump, as though someone was gathering their stuff, then footsteps moving toward me. Whoever was in there was probably the person who knocked me over the head so I had to be careful. With nowhere to hide, I focused and teleported back to the shop floor, then hid behind a lounger.
Darkness had never frightened me but being inside this shop after dusk sent cold shivers down my spine. Particularly now, looking up right into glowing, yellow eyes that I swore weren’t human. My heart skipped a beat. Did Elyssa have some kind of demon pet guarding the store? Since becoming a vampire, I had the strength of ten humans so I wasn’t scared of getting into a fight. Or at least that’s what I told myself so I wouldn’t chicken out. Taking a deep breath, I lurched toward the creature before it could make a warning sound. My hands wrapped around its neck, and I squeezed...fur...no, it was more like feathers.
A bird? And one that didn’t struggle? Weird!
I held it up into the moonlight falling through the windows. It was a dead, life-size, stuffed owl. Was Elyssa a taxidermist? Some kind of sick Norman Bates, who liked to stuff cute, little animals? Shuddering, I stepped back, tripping over my own feet as I dropped the horrid thing onto the recliner.
Laughter erupted behind me. “Gosh, get a grip. It’s not alive. You should’ve seen your face. You were scared shitless.” Julie continued to laugh hysterically and motioned to the creepy dolls and skeleton heads sitting on the upper shelf, staring at me. “I thought those would scare you more.”
“I wasn’t scared,” I whispered. “Just surprised, that’s all.”
“Yeah, right.” She inclined her head, losing interest again. The non-existent attention span of a ghost never failed to amaze me. “Find anything?”
I pressed a finger against my lips to shush her and pointed to the hall. She nodded. A moment later, Maya appeared in our line of vision. As though sensing our presence, she stopped to look around, then left through the front entrance.
“What was she doing down there?” Julie asked. I shook my head and shrugged as I wondered whether she’d been the one to attack me. I doubted a witch was strong enough and yet I couldn’t quite shake off the feeling there was more to the story than I realized.
To make sure Maya wouldn’t return, I waited a good five minutes before deciding I had to find out what Elyssa kept hidden and what the strange sound was all about.
“There’s something in the basement.” I pointed at the curtain concealing the back corridor.
Julie’s brows shot up. “What is it?”
“Not sure but I’m going to check it out. You can wait here.”
“I’m coming with you,” Julie said, determined. “Just in case you disappear again.” I didn’t argue.
For once she kept her mouth shut as we made our way downstairs. I could’ve teleported, but I had done enough of that in the last few hours and my body felt weak and shaky. “Have you ever been down here?” I whispered in front of one of the steel doors. Julie shook her head, wide-eyed, so I continued, “You might need to enter first and invite me in.”
She nodded and disappeared through the wall. A moment later she called quietly, “Come in.” Something was going on. Something bad. I could tell from Julie’s thin and scared tone, and the sharp edge in her voice.
Taking a deep breath, I opened the door and froze on the spot. Ironically, Aidan’s words “Tonight, when darkness descends, you’ll see the scariest thing of your life,” popped into my head. He had been right about that, though I wasn’t going to find it outside Morganefaire’s wall. It was in Elyssa’s basement and I was staring right at it.
I stood in the doorway, glued to the scene before me, unable to utter a word. It was so disturbing, I was no longer sure I even wanted to discover Elyssa’s motives, and yet I didn’t budge from the spot. My body felt so weak I thought I might just faint if it weren’t for Julie clinging to my arm, sending jolts through me. She seemed just as shocked as I was and, for a long time, we just stared ahead in silence.
The room—a tiny cell with a single bed, nightstand, chair, table, and a dirty potty that hadn’t been emptied in a long time—smelled of decay and death, and yet I knew death wasn’t to come yet—not until Elyssa got what she wanted.
A girl sat on the corner of the bed, the mattress barely sinking under her skinny body, the thin material of her dirty, linen dress molding around her protruding bones. The scars on her bare arms and chest were in full view, the light of the single lamp casting eerie shadows across their surface. Judging from her height and small shoulders, she was around fifteen years old, maybe younger. Her long black hair, unkempt and unwashed, hid her lowered face as she continued to stare into the bowl of water in her hands, unaware of our presence. Or maybe she knew we were there but was too afraid to look up.
The water twisted and twirled, as though brought to life by the girl’s stare. My gaze moved to her gruesome scars, some fresh, some faded, some shallow and some so deep the flesh and skin never healed. I wondered what sort of person would inflict this kind of pain upon another. Smudges stained the wall behind her. Beneath her naked, bloodstained feet was a labyrinth of bones stretching like dominos into the dark corners where the scant light of the single lamp couldn’t reach. For all I knew they could be real bones, maybe from an animal. I pinched my nose hard, partly to keep me from turning into a lunatic at the sight of blood, and partly to block out the stench of filth and what else not.
She must have heard or sensed me after all for she peered up eventually, and the light revealed her face. I suppressed a startled yelp. Even though her features looked surprisingly young, her skin seemed as old as parchment, though whether from old age or unnatural causes I couldn’t tell. But it wasn’t her age or the way her lungs whistled whenever she dared take a breath that sent shivers down my spine. It was her eyes that freaked me out big time.
The eyes of the dead.
They looked white as snow, even whiter than her skin, which was so pale I doubted it had ever seen the light of day. Summoning my courage, I inched closer until my thigh almost brushed her worn dress. She lifted her white eyes for a second time, then lowered them again, whimpering, as though she feared what might happen to her if she stalled her action.
“It’s okay. I won’t hurt you,” I whispered, peering into the bowl of water. A hazy gray crowded my vision until I saw nothing but blurry shapes. And then it was gone again.
“We have to go,” Julie whispered. “I think someone’s coming.” He
My heart beat so fast, I couldn’t hear a sound but I didn’t doubt Julie’s word. “We’re taking her with us.”
Julie shook her head vehemently. “Are you crazy? Do you have any idea what she is?”
Anger rose inside of me. I didn’t know and I didn’t care. All I knew was that I couldn’t leave a fragile child or whatever she was to Elyssa’s mercy. Clearly, Elyssa was deranged, or why else would she hold a poor girl prisoner? Ignoring Julie’s protests I gently removed the water bowl out of the girl’s hands and lifted her up in my arms. She was lighter than I thought. Her heartbeat was like the soft flutter of wings against my chest. I feared if I wasn’t careful my immortal strength might just pulverize her thin bones to dust.
“I’ll see you at home,” I said to Julie and closed my eyes to teleport, vaguely aware of footsteps thudding down the stairs and stopping in front of the steel door.
Julie’s piercing voice yelled something that I didn’t understand. The air spun around me for longer than usual, twisting and turning until the nausea in my stomach became unbearable and I almost threw up. Drained and shaky, I opened my eyes and found myself standing in the hall of our guest quarters, the living room door being the only obstacle between Aidan and me. I could feel him through our bond. He was inside, hot waves of turmoil wafting from him. In a minute I’d bury myself in his arms and inhale his scent, ready to forget the harsh world around me. The thought brought tears to my eyes, maybe from exhaustion and despair, or from the shock of seeing so much suffering and death within a short time. I gently lowered the frail girl’s body on the bench in the hall. My hand wrapped around the knob to push the door open when a voice resounded from inside, “When’s your girlfriend coming back?”
I stopped dead in my tracks, my palm pressed against the door as I listened. The voice was an unpleasant reminder of the past, floating through me, leaving a bad sensation in the pit of my stomach. It had been days since I last heard that voice, when Aidan had struck a deal to work together to save the world from eternal slavery, even if that deal meant trusting the traitor who tried to kill one of my friends for his own benefit.
Hearing the voice now could only mean things weren’t going according to plan and something was about to happen. Something huge, so we had to work together, whether I wanted it or not. My palm was slick with sweat as I pushed the door open, scooped up the unmoving girl and entered the living room, where one of the people I despised the most met me with a fake, wide grin that couldn’t even fool the blind.
“Gael,” I muttered. “You decided to join us. How lovely.”
“Please call me Seth.” He kissed my cheek, leaving a wet trail behind. I fought off the need to wipe it off. His gaze moved to the girl in my arms. Eager to protect her, I pressed her against my chest instinctively.
“A souvenir?” Seth raised a brow, amused. “Keeping yourself amused by playing around in the cemetery while Aidan works long hours?”
Was he calling me a grave robber? That was about the freakiest thing anyone had ever said to me. And how dare he insult the poor creature? “She needs help,” I said to Aidan, ignoring the demi-god.
“Amber,” Julie whispered behind me. “Are you flipping crazy? The woman’s dead.”
I shook my head. “No, she’s not. But she’s very close to it.”
“So she’s not a souvenir, but she’s very close to it?” Seth asked.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” I snapped.
“One of your spirit pals, perhaps?” His brown eyes shimmered. He was making it really hard—if not impossible—to like him.
I shot him a sarcastic smile. “Perhaps.”
Aidan reached me in two long strides and lifted the girl out of my hands, his expression darkening. “Where did you find the remains?”
“No, she’s not dead yet. It’s such a long story,” I said. It was a long story indeed, one I couldn’t tell without breaking into tears. Even though I barely knew Seth, I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of seeing me cry. “We need to get her to a hospital. She’ll need an IV because there’s no way she can eat. She’s way past that now.” My words fought their way out of my mouth so fast I barely breathed as I spoke.
“Babe—” Aidan hesitated. His expression was pained.
I frowned. “What?”
“She’s dead. She’s been dead for a long time.”
I peered from Aidan to Seth, who avoided my gaze, to Julie, who hovered in the doorway, her fingers fidgeting with her hem as she whispered, “I told you so.”
“But that’s not possible. I just saw her move and she had a pulse—” My voice died in my throat as I looked at the brittle body in Aidan’s arms, only now noticing the grayish hue of her skin.
“What you saw was a dead body kept alive by someone else’s will,” Seth said, coldly. “The moment you removed the body from the source, you released it from its spell.”
My brain fought to grasp the meaning of his words. Forcing a corpse to peer into a bowl of water? It didn’t make any sense. Even though I couldn’t believe I had been carrying a dead person, I didn’t regret my rescue mission. The girl was free from her bondage...from her torture at Elyssa’s hands. At least her body would be at rest now. And as for Elyssa, I wanted to rip her heart out.
“Why would anyone do something that horrid?” I asked flatly.
“You mean keeping a corpse as a pet?” Seth’s dark eyes flickered, and for a moment I wasn’t sure whether he was appalled by the idea, or whether it actually appealed to him. “See, someone needed a seer and didn’t have a real one.” He pointed at the girl’s body. “She gave up her life to become one.”
Aidan grabbed a blanket from the couch and wrapped it around the body. My heart went out to the poor person who had to endure all this pain and degradation. “What are you going to do with her?” I asked.
“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it,” Aidan said.
“You’ll give her a proper burial?” I insisted.
My gaze remained glued to Aidan and the blanket on the sofa. He seemed to consider his words for a while. “We can’t be caught with the body, but I’ll teleport back to the woods in Scotland and give her a proper burial.”
“Thanks,” I whispered. “You have no idea how much that means to me.”
“Did you think he was going to throw her in the city dumpster?” Seth asked.
“Why are you here?” I muttered. Seriously, he was wasting precious energy and time, not to mention the fact that he was driving me insane.
“You didn’t tell her?” Seth shot Aidan an amused look.
“What’s going on?” I asked. Aidan avoided my probing gaze. My bond picked up on something. Guilt. I couldn’t believe the guy. “You asked him to join us?”
“We need to find the murderer and bring him to justice before Morganefaire turns against us. Seth can make himself invisible. We can’t,” Aidan said, as though that might just excuse the fact he made this decision without asking me for my opinion.
Seth was a cold, heartless killer whose word was worth crap. No one trusted him because he was a skilled liar, just like his sister, succubus goddess Layla. Demi-god or not, I couldn’t believe Aidan still thought Seth could possibly add anything to our quest.
I scanned the floor, too shaken to form a coherent thought, and that’s when I noticed the broken furniture and torn rugs. The bookshelves had been emptied and tossed to the ground. Carved ornaments, now shattered to pieces, littered the floor.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Someone broke in,” Aidan said quietly. “Kieran’s getting Blake.”
My gaze moved to Seth who lingered near the curtain that led to Maya’s quarters. He didn’t seem particularly fazed by the whole mess. In fact, for a second I thought I caught the tiniest hint of a smile spreading across his lips.
“I need to talk to you,” I said to Aidan, my tone leaving no room for disagreement. He nodded and followed me upstairs to our bedroom, t
“What’s Seth doing here?” I took a deep, calming breath and raised my finger to stop Aidan’s excuses. “No, don’t even try to explain his presence because it’s fruitless. I never trusted him and I never will, no matter what you say. If it weren’t for you helping him to snatch the Lore Court throne from under his sister’s nose, I doubt he’d let us live to see the light of another day.”
“Babe, listen.” Aidan moistened his lips as he inched closer, his blue gaze slicing into the very core of my being. “The Council won’t support our agenda so we need to be careful.”
I raised my brows. “Meaning?”
“They’ll hang us out to dry if things go sour.”
“What?” I couldn’t stop my outburst. “We’re helping them. They should stick up for us.”
“They’re trying to stay on neutral ground,” Aidan said. “We need all the help we can get. If they see a demi-god on our side, they might just change their mind.”
I snorted. “Yeah, they might also decide to chop off his head once they find out he’s half-Shadow.” According to Aidan, the witches and warlocks of Morganefaire weren’t exactly friends with the Shadows. I had yet to find out why.
“They’ll never know.” Aidan’s expression clouded over for a second. “There’s something else we need to talk about. Kieran said you saw a wound on the witch’s body.” His voice trailed off, resembling a question.
I nodded, thinking back to a few hours ago when we joined the Night Guard to patrol the Morganefaire wall. The killer had turned up and dropped the witch’s body when I saw him. “It was on her shoulder, like the skin was torn off to reveal the flesh beneath.”
“The north side of the wall wasn’t guarded,” I hurried to add. “According to Julie, whoever was supposed to guard it, didn’t show up today and yesterday.”
Shadow Blood by Jayde Scott / Mystery & Detective / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes