Night Seeker, p.1part #3 of Indigo Court Series by Yasmine Galenorn / Fantasy
The code of the Akazzani: To observe. To record. To embrace silence.
The role of the Akazzani: The Akazzani are the preservers of knowledge. They are the guardians of the past. The Society neither interferes with, nor directs, events. Born nine to a generation, from the hidden fortress of Mazastan, the Keepers go about their work, in secrecy and privacy. Only the researchers whom they employ walk among the nations of the world, searching for information. The oracles of Mazastan are culled from both yummanii and magic-born, and they train in both the darker magical arts and martial arts, for they have—over the centuries—been forced to protect their sanctuary from invaders. No one has ever successfully breached their defenses.
—From Secret Societies of the World
The night was still. Snow drifted slowly to the ground, where it compacted into a glazed sheet covering the roads. Favonis—my 1966 sparkling blue Pontiac GTO—glided through the empty streets as I navigated the icy pavement. We had to be cautious. The Shadow Hunters were out in the suburbs tonight, searching for those who braved the cold. They were running amok, and New Forest, Washington, had become their hunting grounds.
Equally dangerous, Geoffrey and the vampires were also out in full force, patrolling the streets. Clusters of dark figures in long black dusters wandered the shopping areas, their collars turned up, hands in pockets, searching the crowds for Myst’s hunters, trying to prevent any more massacres from happening.
At least we could bargain with the vamps and have a chance of winning through reason. They weren’t like the Vampiric Fae; they weren’t out to destroy everyone they met. But still, it all boiled down to the fact that two bloodthirsty predatory groups now divided the town. And they were aching to shake it up.
As for us? We were on a reconnaissance mission.
Kaylin was riding shotgun. My father, Wrath—King of the Court of Rivers and Rushes—and Lannan Altos, the vampire I loved to hate who had become an unexpected ally, sprawled in the backseat.
We were on our way to see what was left of the Veil House, if anything. We’d been holed up for two days, planning out our next moves. Finally, tired of being cooped up, I suggested an expedition. If we could sneak back onto Vyne Street, we might be able to scavenge something useful from out of the ashes.
I dreaded seeing the pile of rubble. I expected to find a burned-out shell filled with soot and charcoal, soggy from the snow. So when Rhiannon had suggested coming, I stopped her. Better that I go rather than my cousin. She’d grown up at the Veil House. She’d lost her mother there. Asking her to go on a raiding expedition would have been cruel. Besides, the four of us were the least likely to be killed. I’d wanted to bring Grieve, my lover, but it was dangerous to have him so close to the Golden Wood at this point.
A glance over my shoulder told me that my father was doing his best to avoid touching the metal framework of the car. The iron in the car hurt him, but he swallowed the pain, saying nothing. I admired his strength and reserve, and thought that finally I had a role model—someone I could be proud of in my family. But as he lurched against the side, a nasty thought struck me.
“You don’t think I’ll develop a weakness to iron, do you? Favonis has never bothered me before. ” I’d only recently discovered that I was half–Cambyra Fae—one of the Uwilahsidhe, the owl shifters—and that Wrath was my father. And the Fae did not get along with iron.
“You are worried about this?” Wrath leaned forward, still looking ill at ease. “Have you noticed a problem?”
“No. It’s just that…I wonder, as more of my Fae lineage comes to the surface, will I be more vulnerable to the things you are?”
“Eyes back on the road, please. I don’t fancy dying in this contraption. ” He gave me a slight shake of the head. “If you were to develop our intolerance to iron, it would have happened by now. The only reason you didn’t discover your owl-shifter capabilities earlier was because of the spell I laid on the pendant. I hid it for you, charming it so that you would not remember until you were ready. And I also placed a spell on you, when you were a baby, that you remain unaware of your heritage until you found the necklace and I could teach you how to fly. ”
“Good, because I love my car. ” I longed to flip on the radio, to listen to some sound other than the quiet hush of our breathing, but it wasn’t a good idea. We were doing our best to avoid drawing attention. I’d wanted to make this trip during the day, but Lannan couldn’t travel then. And during the day, we would have been far more visible to Myst and Geoffrey’s spies. So here we were, in the dark of the night, creeping through the streets, hoping to find something at journey’s end that would help us.
“What are we looking for?” Lannan asked. “I don’t understand why you want to go back to that husk of a house. I have money. If you need something, I can buy it for you. ”
I shook my head, glancing toward the rearview mirror, even though I knew I wouldn’t see his reflection. “Not everything we need can be purchased. Especially with Myst and Geoffrey hunting for us. I want to see if we can find any of our magical supplies. Last week, I finished making a lot of charms for Wind Charms. If any survived the fire, they might come in handy. And I just need to see…” I paused.
“You need to see the Veil House and what happened to it. ” Kaylin said. “A reality check. ”
I kept my eyes on the road, even as my voice was shaking. “Exactly. ” I nodded. “But don’t even use the word ‘closure’ to me. There can never be closure, not until Myst is dead and routed out of the wood. ”
I pressed my lips together, still bitter over the way things had fallen out. Two of our most powerful allies had turned their backs on us because I refused to go along with a plan that would have changed me forever. I’d refused to let them turn me into a monster, so they walked away and left us dead in the water.
As if sensing my thoughts, Wrath leaned forward and put his hand on my shoulder. The weight and strength in his fingers reassured me. “You chose the correct path. It may be more difficult than the one Geoffrey offered you, but you must trust in your instincts, Cicely. ”
I nodded, trying to rest the feelings of betrayal that ran through my heart. What was past was past, and we’d have to do without either Lannan’s people or the Summer Queen’s help. And that brought up another sticky matter. My father, Wrath, was married to Lainule, and he had chosen to help me rather than side with her. A sick little fear niggled inside of me—would she come after me, too, for claiming his allegiance?
As I turned onto a side street, I flicked off the headlights. We’d wing it in the dark from here. Favonis fishtailed and I eased the wheels into the skid, slowly pulling out before we bounced off the curb. The silent fall of snow continued, as the long winter held us hostage in her embrace.
Fifteen slow minutes later, we approached the turnoff onto Vyne Street, a cul-de-sac. This town—and the Veil House—had been the only home I’d ever truly known. For years, I’d longed to get myself off the streets, to run away from my mother, who was a strung-out junkie and bloodwhore, and return to New Forest. Now that I’d gotten my wish, all hell had broken loose.
As we approached the end of the road, where the Veil House had stood until two nights ago, I realized I was holding my breath. What would we find? And would we have to fight off a host of Myst’s Shadow Hunters to get through to the ruins?
I pulled into the drive, finally daring to look over at the house. A blackened silhouette stood there—and my heart began to race. It wasn’t burned to the ground, there was still something left. I reached for the door handle.
“It’s not all rubble!!”
I started to jump out of the car, but Lannan snaked over the backseat and looped his arm around my neck, yanking me back. “Be cautious, my beautiful Cicely. The night is filled with predators. Don’t go running over there without us in tow. ” His voice was seductive but oddly protective.
I glanced over my shoulder at him. Lannan Altos, with his jet black vampire eyes that gleamed in the dark, set off by the golden hair that fell past his shoulders. He was gorgeous, and a freak, and his fingers lingered on my skin. I tried to ignore the lurch in my stomach at his touch.
“Point taken. ” I’d been so eager I’d almost lost my head. And losing my head could lead to losing my life. I was learning, but over the years I’d had plenty of occasions on which I’d had to leap without looking, and I’d gotten used to hitting the ground running. But here we had to bide our time. The hunters who dogged our heels were far more deadly than any perv or junkie or cop on the street.
I leaned back in my seat, staring at the house. Beyond the three-story Victorian stood the Golden Wood, which spread out, buttressed against the foothills of the Cascades on its far edge. But the golden glow of the Summer Queen was only a memory, and now the forest belonged to Myst, with her spiders and her snow. The aura of the trees burned with a sickly greenish blue light, and I began to tremble. Evil lurked within the woodland, and a ruthless darkness.
I closed my eyes, calling for Ulean. We were bonded, she and I—she was the essence of the wind, an Elemental linked to my soul, and we worked as a team.
Do you sense anything out there?
Her words came in a rush through my mind. Yes. Two of the Vampiric Fae are around back of the house, hunting. If you creep up on them, I’ll be able to keep your scent from traveling ahead of you.
Anything else I should know?
She is out there, far in the forest, weaving her magic. And she is hungry, and angry. You stole Grieve back from her—she wants your blood and your soul. Myst is growing stronger even as the winter strengthens.
I nodded, then turned to the others. “Two of the Shadow Hunters are on the far side of the house. Ulean will run interference for our scent, but be prepared to take them down. No prisoners, no survivors. ”
No prisoners. That had become our creed. I was still getting used to the feeling of being a killer. “Murderer” wasn’t a label that weighed easily on my mind, but it was what it was, and Myst was who she was, and in the deadly game of us or them, I wasn’t willing to sacrifice myself or my friends.
We quietly climbed out of the car and I craned my neck, listening. My father did the same. Lannan and Kaylin stood guard, poised for trouble.
A gust of wind howled past and I projected myself onto the slipstream. A whisper rushed by. I listened, focusing to catch the faint words. It wasn’t Ulean. What did you find? Does anything live within the house?
And then an answer: No flesh. No life. Nothing of importance. Only trinkets. She will not want them.
The Shadow Hunters. And they were probably searching for the cats, looking for food. No worries there, though. We’d managed to save all of the felines from the flames and falling timbers, and they were tucked away, safe and sound, back at the warehouse with Luna.
I turned to the others. “We go in. Take them down. Wrath, can you change into your owl form? They won’t be expecting you. ”
My father nodded, stepping away from us. He shimmered and then, in a blur, lifted his arms. They became feathered wings, an almost six-foot span. His body transformed, shrinking, and then there he stood—a great horned owl, majestic and beautiful, a study in grace and danger.
I sucked in a deep breath, my blood stirring as it recognized his. Beside me, Kaylin let out a little sound. Lannan stiffened, watching my father with almost too much interest. His obsidian eyes glittered, taking in every nuance of the metamorphosis.
When Wrath was ready, he launched himself off the ground and took to the air, circling us as I jerked my head at the others. Crouching, I moved forward slowly and cautiously. Wrath disappeared around the house, his wings silently propelling him through the night.
Are you ready? We’re about to go in.
Ulean’s hushed reply echoed through me. I will slip ahead and disrupt your scent. They will not know you are coming.
And so we moved. I took the lead, with Kaylin behind me and Lannan silent as the night behind him. For some reason, Lannan’s stealth surprised me, though I don’t know why—vampires made no sound when they chose not to. Perhaps it was because he was so flamboyant. Perhaps because he always had to have the last word. Whatever the case, we proceeded in unison, stooping through the shadows, keeping to the sides of the ruined Veil House.
My fan was looped around my wrist. With it I could summon up gale force winds against our enemies, even a tornado, but Lainule had warned me to use it with caution. Magical objects had a way of possessing their owners if they weren’t careful. In my other hand, I held a silver dagger my father had given me. Kaylin was armed with shurikens, and Lannan carried no weapons. He was a weapon.
We circled the house, the scent of sodden ash and charcoal filling my nose. I caught my breath, once again struck by the loss we’d endured. But worse yet was the loss of my aunt Heather. She had been the heart and soul of the Veil House. Thinking about her, living under Myst’s rule as a vampire, made me cringe. I forced my attention back to what we were doing. One thing at a time. As for Heather…she was long lost to us. There was nothing we could do but attempt to release her spirit, and that meant finding her—and staking her.
As we rounded the corner, there they were. The Shadow Hunters. Vampiric Fae. They lurched up as we rushed in, and one of them let out a low hiss. The cerulean cast to their skin glowed in the light of the falling snow, but instead of the pure black of vampires’ eyes, the black voids glittered with a swirl of white stars.
I rushed forward, trying to reach them before they transformed. As I moved toward one, Wrath came winging down with a shriek and grappled the other by the shoulder.