Shadow silence, p.18
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       Shadow Silence, p.18

           Yasmine Galenorn
 
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  “Are we late?” I asked. I usually was, and I’d started to think it was a subconscious reaction to Starlight—a little late every time just to needle her.

  “For once, no.” Michael nodded to the door on the right. “Go on in.”

  We entered the room to find a long table with chairs on all sides. Starlight was there, as was Frank. Ellia and Ivy were there, though I didn’t see Oriel anywhere. Trevor, from the Vintage Bookstore, was there. Tonya Pajari—a fortune-teller—was already there, but she spoke up, saying Nathan, her husband and an ex-military man, was home sick with the flu and wouldn’t be able to make it. Clinton Brady, the owner of the Fogwhistle Pub, across from the Foggy Downs subdivision where Peggin’s house was, was sitting in a corner chair, nursing a beer. Nadia from the steakhouse hadn’t arrived, and neither had Prague, from the Herb & Essence.

  I settled into a chair, with Bryan on one side and Peggin on my other. I motioned to Ellia and she came around the table. Everybody else was chatting as we waited for the rest to arrive.

  “I have some things I need to ask the Society tonight. Can you put me on the agenda?”

  She frowned. “Ask Starlight. It’s time you two dealt with your discomfort and started acting your ages.” And with that, she abruptly returned to her seat.

  I groaned. But Ellia was right, and beyond that—Ellia made it clear she wasn’t going to act as a go-between any longer. Pushing back my chair, I reluctantly sauntered up to Starlight, who was busy poring over a page that looked jammed full of notes. I pulled out the chair next to her and, unasked, sat down.

  “Hey, Starlight.” I tried to keep my voice pleasant.

  She jerked her head up, looking either annoyed or startled. I wasn’t sure which. “What do you need, Kerris?”

  “I need some time on the agenda. We’ve had several serious incidents today, one of them involving the Lady. We also have information on the Ankou, if Ellia hasn’t told you yet.”

  She glanced over the sheet of paper. “Well, we have a full agenda tonight, but I’ll fit you in. And yes, Ellia made certain to pencil in time for you. Why don’t you just segue both issues together, for good measure?” She sounded surprisingly accommodating. As she glanced up, she must have seen my confusion. “Is something wrong?”

  I shook my head. “I just didn’t think . . .” I paused. There was no good way to say I thought she’d try to blow me off because she didn’t like me. “Never mind. By the way, I met Veronica. I have information from her about the Ankou in the forest, as well.”

  “Good. It’s important to keep relations with her on as even a keel as possible.” She paused, then met my gaze, the harried irritation falling away. “I’ve never met her—she refuses to meet with anyone except the spirit shaman and her triad. Tell me . . . what’s she like?”

  A tremor filled her voice, almost reverent, and I realized that Starlight Williams was in awe of both the spirits of Whisper Hollow . . . and, by default, me. As we stared at each other, I could see that—behind the professional rich bitch—there was an insecure, wonder-filled woman inside her. I knew that Starlight had her own magic, but I didn’t know exactly what it was. I figured it was time to find out.

  “Veronica’s frightening, to be honest. She’s like . . . Morticia Addams meets Countess Báthory, I kind of think.” That brought something else to mind. “Do you know why Jonah—the undertaker—was in the graveyard? I thought maybe he was checking out a spot, but I haven’t heard that anybody died the past few days.”

  Starlight looked surprised. “No, actually. There haven’t been any deaths that I know of. Not since . . . who was it that the Lady took a week or so ago?”

  “Hudson Jacks. I did the ceremony to hand him over to Penelope, so he shouldn’t be a problem. I was just wondering. Jonah is . . .” I paused, not knowing Starlight’s relationship with the undertaker. But she just laughed.

  “Jonah is a freak. Trust me, I wish his uncle was still alive. He was a good man, and he loved his job—as much as you can love a job like that. He respected his clients, both the families and the dead. I don’t think I feel comfortable around Jonah.” Starlight let out a little shudder.

  I nodded. “I was thinking the same thing. Do you think we need to watch him?”

  “Watch him? For what?” But even though she blew off the question, I could tell that I’d struck a chord, which was all I had hoped to do. Something about Jonah didn’t track right with me, and I didn’t want to be the only one thinking about the matter.

  At that moment, Oriel and Prague entered the room, followed by Gareth and Nadia.

  “We’re all here now, as far as those who can make it tonight, so let’s get this show on the road,” Starlight said, pounding her mini-gavel for order. “We have a full agenda and I don’t want to be here past midnight if we can help it. Zachary has a test coming up and we want him well rested.”

  Nobody said a word. Everybody in town knew that Starlight’s son Zachary was trouble on legs. So far, he’d managed to get out of all his screw-ups with just a slap on the wrist, given who his mother was. One of these days, though, he was going to pull the wrong stunt on the wrong person.

  “Take your seats, please. Come to order. Nadia, will you please read the minutes from our last meeting?” Without further ado, we were into minutes and agendas, and I settled back, ignoring most of the chatter, until it was my turn to talk.

  Fifteen minutes later, Starlight’s gavel sounded again and she said, “Tonight, Kerris has several matters to present to the group. Kerris, please tell us what you have to say.”

  I cleared my throat, took a sip of water, and stood. I found that people paid more attention to me when I was standing up. I launched into seeing the forest Fae, and what it had told me, then—with Ivy’s help—related our trip out to Timber Peak. I then went on to tell them as much as I could about my meeting with Veronica and what she had told me about the witch bottles.

  “But we have another problem, that goes beyond the Ankou. Today, the Lady tried to take Peggin.”

  That stopped the whispers. Everybody turned to stare at Peggin, who grimaced. She usually didn’t mind being the center of attention, but this wasn’t exactly the same thing as being at a party. As I launched into what we had found out about the house, and the fact that the beams belonged to the Maria Susanna, and that Joseph Jacobs, the builder of the ship, had been a member of the Crescent Moon Society, the room grew very still. I finished, laying everything on the table.

  “I’m wondering if we have any records of who might have been in that boat with Jacobs? And whether there had been any attempts made on his life before that. If he had discovered the Hounds were running a still, and threatened to call the police . . . well . . . that might be enough right there for them to go after him.”

  Clinton Brady slowly cleared his throat. “Joseph Jacobs was my great-great-uncle. My mother used to talk about how he disappeared, and how his ship had been taken by the Lady. Nobody ever mentioned the ship being found, or the wood being used. This is the first I’ve heard of it, and now you’ve got me wanting to know more. He’s been missing for almost one hundred years. I’d like to be able to bring him home and put him to rest, if it’s possible.”

  As he fell silent, the room burst into conversation. I turned to Ellia, and motioned for her to follow me. “We have to get the mark off Peggin. Has Oriel found a solution?”

  She frowned. “I’m not sure, but we’ll ask her in a few minutes. Meanwhile, I think it’s fate that Peggin moved into that house. There’s more to this business with the ship than meets the eye. I can feel it in my bones.”

  And indeed, as she spoke, I could almost hear the Crow Man laughing from a distance. Yes, he was definitely involved. And that meant, so was I.

  CHAPTER 12

  As the volume of the room grew louder, I moved off to the side. I really didn’t want to deal with people at this point, or their q
uestions. Starlight seemed to notice me sequestering myself in the corner, because she took her gavel and called for order.

  “Please take your seats again. Save your questions for Kerris for later.” She turned to Oriel. “Given that the forest Fae indicated that the Matriarchs were to take care of the witch bottles, are you and Ellia and Ivy prepared to go in search of them? And do you think you have the wherewithal to destroy them when you find them?”

  Oriel nodded. “The hardest problem will be in finding them. You can bet that Magda didn’t just set them out in plain sight or leave a treasure map leading to them. If Ivy can call up one of the forest Fae when we’re out there, they may be able to help us. We’ll do our best. Even if we can’t find all of them, we should be able to break cycle of so many Shadow People coming in. My guess is that it takes all fifteen bottles laid out in a particular design in order to summon the Ankou. Even if it takes several trips, we’ll find them.”

  “I have a question, if you don’t mind.” Tonya raised her hand. Both she and her husband were from Finnish stock. Tonya had the gift of sight and Nathan had been a military man and was extremely precise with weaponry and tracking. I didn’t know much else about them.

  “Tonya, you have the floor.” Starlight waved her gavel at Tonya.

  “What happens once we break the bottles and disrupt the spell? Won’t Magda just start in building it up again? All she’ll have to do is create new witch bottles.”

  I rubbed my forehead. I hadn’t thought that far ahead and now I realized that it might be wise to start taking the long view of things. Tonya’s point was well made, and I wished that I had thought of it myself.

  Ellia answered for the group. “Oh, she can recast the spell with no problem. However, making the witch bottles needed for that spell is a long and tedious process. Unless she has several spares made, it will take or at least another five or six months to prepare new ones.”

  Tonya bit her lip, looking skeptical. “Do you really think she’s that unprepared? Look at who we are dealing with. I may not be from Russia, but Baba Volkov is extraordinarily demanding of her followers. For a priestess as powerful and prominent as Magda is, I think that Baba Volkov would flay her alive if she wasn’t prepared with a plan B. So you know she’s going to be up to something as soon as we break the spell.”

  Ellia let out a soft sigh. It had to be difficult hearing people talk about your mother like that, especially after what Magda did to both her daughters. Though, given the torture she put them through, I suspected there wasn’t much love lost.

  “You should listen to Tonya,” Ellia said. “I cannot begin to impress upon you how powerful my mother can be. If you think the Hounds are ruthless, you have no idea how cruel and vicious Magda is. There is no forgiveness in her. No mercy. She tolerates no mistakes, and she will do her best to crush Whisper Hollow, considering she feels that the town slighted her.”

  Starlight gazed at Ellia for a moment, then glanced over at Tonya. She seemed to be thinking of how to respond. Oriel and Ivy said nothing. They might be the Matriarchs, but Starlight was the leader of the Crescent Moon Society and they paid her her due.

  After a moment, Starlight cleared her throat. “We will keep everything you’ve said in mind. There isn’t much we can do about potential attacks except to keep aware and alert for them. We must focus on now, on the present. Before I heard the news tonight, I was planning to bring up an issue. Now I see that everything seems to be related. We’ve been getting more reports from Whisper Hollow citizens about being attacked by the Ankou. In the past three days, Sonja has received four new reports. This seems to back up the statements the forest Fae made about Magda sending the Shadow People against the town. We have to control this situation before we entertain how to prevent future attacks. Therefore I move to include in the minutes the notation that Ellia, Ivy, and Oriel will be attending to the witch bottles tomorrow.”

  She waited for Trevor—who was the secretary of the Crescent Moon Society—to jot down the notes. After he nodded, she continued.

  “Now, we should turn our attention to the Lady of the Lake, and what happened to Peggin, our newest member. Since there are so few survivors of the Lady’s attacks, do you mind if we photograph the mark on your wrist for our records? I don’t mean to seem insensitive but—”

  Peggin shrugged and shook her head. “If it could help in the future, go ahead.”

  As Trevor pulled out his phone and began to take pictures of Peggin’s wrists, Clinton Brady spoke up. “What can you tell us about the Lady? She had you in her grasp. As Starlight said, there are very few who survive her attacks. Everything we can possibly learn about her will help us in the future.” Clinton’s expression was sober. He had seen too many people vanish into the lake across from his pub. The Fogwhistle Pub looked directly across to the pier and more than once, he had rushed across the street, too late to save the Lady’s quarry.

  Peggin closed her eyes. I could tell she was struggling with the memory of her fear. Hell, I wouldn’t want to remember if I were her, either. But, like a trouper, she came through.

  “Honestly, it all happened so fast and I was in a trance so it’s rather difficult to pinpoint anything. But . . . her song. I heard her singing. She had the most beautiful voice, until she actually got hold of me and dragged me under. Then it was dark and garbled and sounded like someone drowning. Kerris wasn’t kidding when she called it siren song, because when I heard the Lady calling to me, the only thing I could think of was that I needed to go to her. I could swear that I remember her promising to make things better for me.”

  “How far away were you when you heard her sing?”

  “Good question,” I said. The distance might give us a clue as to how close one had to be in order to be in danger.

  Peggin thought for a moment before answering. “Well, I was in the house when I thought I heard something. So I stepped out on the porch and that’s when I heard the song.” She turned to the others. “I leased a house at the Foggy Downs subdivision. The one Kerris was telling you about with the beams.”

  At the round of sudden gasps, Peggin winced.

  “I wouldn’t have done so except that I have to move within less than a month. My landlady wants her house back and I really don’t want to live in an apartment. So I found a house that seemed perfect. It’s rent-to-own, and I could afford the option fee and the rent. When I went to look at it, there was something about the house that made me want to buy it. It’s a dump, but I thought . . . I still think . . . it could be beautiful if I fixed it up. I don’t know whether the ghosts who live in that house were influencing me, or the Lady herself. The house is at the end of a cul-de-sac, nearest the woods that lead down to the pier.”

  Gareth leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees as he fumbled with a piece of gum, unwrapping it and sticking it in his mouth. “That whole area is rife with spirits, and I think a number of them there are landlocked . . . trapped by the Lady. Not every family allows the rites that Lila . . . Kerris now . . . can offer in order to protect the spirits of the lost ones. I don’t like going down there, and I’m probably one of the most head blind of this group. The entire Fogwhistle area gives me the creeps.”

  “I agree, and why my great-grandfather chose that area to rebuild the pub in, I have no clue.” Clinton’s grandfather had ordered the pub dismantled, brick by brick. It was originally built in Ireland, and was over four hundred years old. It had been rebuilt in exactly the same fashion as it was in the old country, and had its own history and spirits.

  I cleared my throat. “I’m going to make a wild guess that the Lady’s song can be heard up to two or three hundred yards away. Which gives her a wide berth. I’m not certain about the other parts of the Lake Crescent shoreline—she’s found everywhere around the lake—but I do think that Fogwhistle Pier is her home base. And now that I think of it . . . doesn’t it make sense that she’s some sort of siren?
Maybe a water spirit who has been empowered by all the souls that she’s taken or those who’ve been lost in the lake through accident?”

  Clinton spoke up. “Back in Ireland, they have the kelpie. It sounds like the Lady might actually be something along those lines.”

  “I don’t know if we’ll ever know, but at least we know now that she can lure people in with her song. And if they can hear her through the walls of a house, why can’t they hear her through the metal of a car? Which would explain why some people go off the road when there’s no reason for them to. They just drive into her song. Like my grandmother and Duvall.” I didn’t like thinking about this. For one thing, it hit close to home—too close. For another, the concept of how powerful the Lady was . . . it was downright overpowering.

  “If she can summon the driver of a car, she could summon the driver of a busload of people. Should we reroute buses to go another way?” Starlight’s forehead wrinkled.

  Cripes. Even I hadn’t thought about the possibility of the Lady summoning an entire bus of people down into the dark water. Immediately, I wanted to agree with Starlight’s idea, but Frank had a counterargument.

  “I think that yes, she probably can do that and I hope to hell she never does. But what reasoning are we going to give the state Department of Transportation for rerouting buses, but not large trucks? We can’t possibly tell them that we have a spirit here who is dragging people down into the depths and killing them. We’d be laughed out of their offices.” He rubbed his forehead. “I can tell you right now that that’s not going to fly. No. We either have to push this through under the guise of necessary roadwork—which we might be able to get away with, but then we’re going to disrupt all truck traffic. And what about outside of the city limits? We can’t make this happen for the entire circumference of the lake. It’s just not a viable plan and, by inventing road repair work, we’ll cost the city funds we don’t have to spare.”

 
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