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Shadow silence, p.20
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       Shadow Silence, p.20

           Yasmine Galenorn
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  There was only one thing to do. There was a series of three runes—the Void Runes—that I had learned from my grandmother’s Shadow Journal, and now I held out my hands, trying to steady myself. I didn’t have a wand or my dagger with me, but I focused all my energy through my fingers as I drew the runes in the air.

  The first, the opening line, was a lightning bolt across a vertical line that was almost an L shape. The second rune, to catch and shoot the energy into the abyss, was an arrow through a crescent moon. And the third rune, to suck the energy and hold it tight, was the rune of a cauldron with a skull on it.

  They were complicated but I had practiced until I could draw them in my sleep. They were etched in my memory and in my muscle memory as well.

  There were no words to go with these runes, but I didn’t need any. As I drew the third one in the air, I aimed it at the Ankou, focusing solely on the dark silhouette. The magical arrow sprang forth. I couldn’t see it, but I could feel it racing toward the Shadow Man, and it struck him in the back of his neck. An explosion of light filled the interior backseat as he let out a long shriek and vanished. Bryan suddenly fell back as the door opened and a huge cloud of black smoke poured out, caught up by the breeze to blow away to the east.

  Peggin was lying across the seat, coughing and holding her throat. Bryan pulled her out, helping her to sit up against the side of the ditch. I hurried around the car, steadying myself by leaning on the side of it. At that point I realized the engine was still running, the headlights shining up toward the side of the road.

  “Is she okay? Peggin, are you okay?”

  She was coughing, her knees pulled up to her chest as she leaned her head against them. She nodded, looking up as I joined her and Bryan.

  “Crap. Just . . . crap. That’s the last thing I needed.” Her voice was scratchy and she sounded like she was going to cry. But as she lifted her face to look at me, I saw she was more angry than anything else. “I am done being everybody’s punch monkey. I want this over with.”

  “I know. I know, sweetie. I’m sorry.” I glanced over at the car. “Bryan, can you call Niles and have them come out here with the tow truck? We aren’t going to get the car out of the ditch on our own, I’ll tell you that.”

  “I’m on it.” He walked off to the side, pulling out his phone. I settled myself on the snowy ground beside Peggin. The flakes were getting thicker now, falling around us with a gentle hush. I thought about getting back in the car to get warm, but I wasn’t entirely sure that the Ankou was fully gone. Then I remembered that I had a blanket in the backseat.

  “Hold on, I’ll be right back.” I ducked into the driver’s seat to turn off the car so I wouldn’t drain the battery. Then I opened the back, slipping and sliding my way around the rapidly freezing ground. I had gotten inspired by Oriel’s survival kit and had put a few bottles of water, some crackers and cookies, and a couple of blankets in the back of my SUV. I grabbed the blankets and stumbled around back to Peggin’s side. I handed her one as I wrapped the other around myself. We huddled under the dark silvery sky.

  Bryan returned. “Niles will be here shortly.” He glanced up at the falling snow and, in the hush with the car turned off, the soft sound of it hitting the ground was actually soothing. “This would be pretty if we hadn’t just encountered one of the Ankou.”

  I nodded, huddling next to Peggin for more warmth. She was in a dress so she was colder than I was.

  “It’s pretty, all right. But I’d rather see it from the park instead of the bottom of a ditch.”

  “Why do you think that thing attacked us?” Peggin asked.

  “I think it was probably just random. You heard what Starlight said—she’s getting reports from around town of random attacks. It’s dark, we were out late on the road, apparently these things don’t just enter your house.” I let out a strangled laugh. “We were carjacked by a spirit.”

  Neither Bryan nor Peggin seem to think that was very funny. So much for my stand-up career.

  Five minutes later, Niles came rolling down the road in his truck. Bryan had gone up to the side of the road to wave him down. Another fifteen minutes and my SUV was back on the pavement, with a few dents that did not make me happy. But it started right up.

  “You should bring it in for an overhaul so I can ascertain whether you did any damage to the undercarriage.”

  I gave him a tired nod. “Yeah, I’ll get into the garage at some point here. Thanks, and can you bill me? I really don’t feel like standing around here any longer than necessary. By the way, if you see Starlight? Tell her that an Ankou attacked us on the way home in the car.”

  Niles blinked. “I’ll just follow you until you reach your house,” was the only thing he said.

  Another five minutes and we were home. I eased into the driveway, turning off the ignition and staring at my house. Even though I had warded it heavily against the Shadow People, I still left lights on when I was gone. It just gave me added protection and peace of mind. As Niles rumbled past, waving, I turned to Bryan and Peggin.

  “Well, that was an experience I don’t want to repeat. Let’s get inside and go to bed. I’m exhausted. Bryan, can you stay over tonight, given all that’s happened the past couple days?”

  “Of course,” he said softly.

  We trundled inside, and after feeding the cats their dinner, headed for our beds. We were all too tired to talk about what had happened. And quite frankly, the middle of the night is never the best time to talk about spirits, ghosts, and the Ankou. As I settled into restless dreams, I wondered if the rest of my life was going to be like this.

  * * *

  Next morning, Peggin and I showered together so that I could keep an eye on her. By the time we had dried our hair and gotten dressed, Bryan had made breakfast. I had tried to talk him into going out to Timber Peak with the Matriarchs and me, but he reminded me he was busy all morning, and then he would be meeting Clinton in the afternoon.

  I dressed for the woods, wearing old jeans and a thick sweater. It had snowed all night and we actually had about five inches on the ground, which was—for around here—a tidy snowfall. It was beautiful, but it meant that the going would be more treacherous on the mountain roads.

  I turned to Peggin. “So what are you going to do today? Please promise me you won’t go back to the house.”

  She gave me a look that said you’ve got to be kidding, and shook her head. “Not a chance. In fact, I was planning on spending the day up at the Crescent Moon Day Spa. I won’t take the steam bath, or sit in the therapy pool, but I can use a haircut and a facial and a massage. A luxury, given my current situation, but I think I owe myself a little bit of pampering.”

  “Of course you do. I’d love to join you except that the Matriarchs are insisting I go with them. So think of me tramping through the snowy cold woods, hunting down witch bottles, while you’re sitting there having somebody massage your back.” I stuck my tongue out at her, laughing.

  Bryan had made waffles and bacon, and we worked our way through the plates of maple-y goodness. He was in a hurry though, so he just wrapped a couple of pieces of bacon in a waffle, grabbed his jacket, and headed for the door.

  “I’ll keep my phone with me. I’m going to be on Skype mostly today, given the international nature of the calls. If anything happens and you need help, you call me or text me. Promise? Both of you?”

  I nodded. “Do I get a kiss?”

  He slapped his forehead and groaned. “I’m a dolt sometimes.” He hurried back over to my side, leaned down, and planted a long kiss on my lips. “Love you.” He whispered the words softly, but they felt as solid as the ground beneath my feet.

  “Love you, too.” It felt wonderful to be able to say those three words and mean them, and know they were returned just as passionately. “Go on now, get to work.”

  As he left the house, heading through the yard to the fence tha
t was half down, Peggin and I finished our breakfasts.

  “D-D called me last night after I got home. He said that he had a feeling something was wrong and he wanted to check up on me. I told him what happened and he offered to scrap his commission and come over and stay with me. I told him to keep working. He’s an artist and he can’t stop every time there’s a little problem. It took a little convincing, but I promised that I’d drop over to his place today and spend an hour or so before he has to get back to work.”

  I reached out and took her hand, squeezing her fingers. “You know what’s wonderful?” Then I shook my head. “Never mind, you’ll think I’m being all girly.”

  “Nothing wrong with being girly. We’re female, after all.” She grinned. “Tell me. I want to hear.”

  Sheepishly, I gave her a little shrug. “It’s just that . . . we’re best friends and we’re in love at the same time, with great guys. Did you ever think that would happen?”

  She stared at me for a moment. “I think it’s true. You’re right. I think I’m in love.” She looked like she had just made a major discovery.

  I blinked. “Of course you are, it’s as plain as the chunky heels on your retro pumps, my dear. It’s obvious to me that you and Deev really care about each other.”

  “What if he doesn’t love me though? What if he just likes hanging out with me?” Her voice rose and I recognized that panicked feeling of doubt. It was written all over her face.

  “I don’t think you have to worry about that. I really don’t. Just enjoy it, and let it unfold. Don’t block your emotions, because if you do, you’ll make him wonder about your feelings.” I couldn’t resist. “Deev talked to me when we were getting your things out of your house. I think he’s serious. I mean that.”

  Peggin let out a deep breath. “I hope you’re right, because I think I am, too. I promise—I won’t block my feelings. Hell, I’ve got enough fear coming at me from other directions now. I aim to accept whatever he can offer at this point, as long as it’s offered from his heart.”

  Bryan had fixed our espresso, and so we cleared the table and then sat there for a little while with our coffee, enjoying what downtime we could. I glanced at the clock and groaned.

  “I’ve got to get over there now. Promise, though. Anything happens, you text or call Bryan and me, though I don’t know how cell reception is out there in the woods.”

  She gave me a vigorous nod and shooed me out. “I’ll feed the cats and take care of their litter box and take care of a few things around the house for you. It’s the least I can offer for your hospitality.”

  I was about to say don’t worry about it, then I realized that it would give her something to do and make her feel useful. And one thing I knew about Peggin—she needed to feel like she was pulling her weight. I shrugged into my jacket, grabbed my purse and a backpack filled with some of my magical things, and headed out to my SUV, grateful that I wouldn’t have to drive it up those mountain roads in a snowstorm. The dents were all too obvious in the morning light, and as I brushed the snow off the windshield I realized that somehow it had gotten cracked, as well. Groaning and wondering how much this little incident had cost me, I slid into the driver’s seat, buckled my seat belt, and headed over to Ivy’s.

  * * *

  This time when I arrived at Ivy’s, all three of the older women were dressed for scouting through the woods. I was surprised to see Gareth there, as well. I glanced at him, then glanced over at Ellia with a questioning look. She motioned me off to the side.

  “We decided it wouldn’t hurt to have a little muscle with us, and Gareth isn’t afraid to do whatever he needs to.” She gave me a little smile that told me she was rather pleased about the brawn. Of course, Ellia could do a lot of damage on her own. All she had to do was take off her gloves and touch someone, and they would go spinning into a madness from which they couldn’t return. A little touch—a little time spent in hell. A longer touch—lost forever in the turmoil of their own mind. A secret part of me hoped that someday she would have the chance to use that curse on her own mother, who had long ago stuck her daughter into a limbo of never being able to touch another human with her bare hands. I had never asked Ellia if she had ever had a lover, or boyfriend—or girlfriend for that matter. It somehow seemed a hurtful question and although I was curious, I wasn’t about to rub salt in a very deep wound.

  I waved to Gareth and settled down in a chair until everybody was ready.

  “So, last night we found out that the Ankou can attack you in your car.” My statement put an end to the bustle. All three of the women and Gareth turned to stare at me.

  “What did you say?” Ivy settled in by my side.

  “Last night, on the way home from the Fogwhistle Pub, we were attacked by one of the Ankou. It appeared in the backseat and attacked Peggin. I don’t think it was connected to the Lady though. I think it was a random attack, to be honest. I used the Void Runes to dispel it, but we ended up in the ditch and had to call Niles to pull us out.”

  “Well, hell. This is just peachy. We can’t get up on that mountain fast enough. Aidan wanted to come, so I told him we would stop on the way and pick him up.” Oriel flashed me a grin. My grandfather was staying at her boardinghouse and had settled in quite nicely.

  Ivy blushed. “I hope you don’t mind that I suggested he come with us. I just figured that the more hands on deck, the sooner we find those bottles.”

  I choked back a laugh. “Oh, give it up, Grandma. You know you got the hots for my grandpa.”

  Ivy and Ellia burst into laughter. For one thing, I never called Ivy and Aidan grandma and grandpa. When your shapeshifter grandparents don’t look that much older than you, it’s kind of hard to refer to them by those terms. And for another thing, every time Ivy mentioned Aidan’s name she blushed. I wondered if they had slept together already, but decided that asking would be going too far.

  Her hands on her hips, Ivy turned to me. “Young woman, how dare you speak to me like that.”

  I just snorted. “So when are we getting on the road?”

  “I think we’re ready. We just have to stop by the boardinghouse, pick up Aidan, and then head on out.” Oriel shooed us out to her monster SUV. Before we got in, I showed them the dents from where my own SUV had gone sliding off the road the night before.

  Ivy put her hand on one of the dents and closed her eyes. “I can feel the residue. And you’re right, I don’t feel any residue of the Lady. Just of the Shadow Man. The sooner we get this done with, the better. If they are attacking random people on the road, pretty soon it won’t be safe to live in Whisper Hollow.”

  “As beautiful as it is, Whisper Hollow has never been a safe place to live. But you’re right, it’s just going to get worse the longer Magda is allowed to rail against the town.” I climbed into the back of the SUV, leaving the spare seat for Aidan so he could sit next to Ivy. She flashed me an annoyed grin, but said nothing.

  Aidan was waiting on the corner. Oriel’s boardinghouse was a beautiful three-story powder blue and white Victorian, kept thoroughly up-to-date and in perfect condition. It exuded coziness and safety, and as I stared at it, I wanted nothing more than to move in.

  My grandfather tossed his backpack in the back with me, then climbed in next to Ivy. A lion shapeshifter, Aidan was a burly man, muscled, and looking around forty-five. But the expression in his eyes read far older. His hair was golden brown, and he looked like he could body-slam any wrestler to the ground. Ivy caught her breath and inclined her head as a sign of respect. When most shapeshifters first met my grandfather, the men went down on one knee and the women curtsied, for Aidan wasn’t just a lion shapeshifter. He was Lord Corcoran, the head of the entire Corcoran pride. In other words: Aidan was a king.

  I leaned over the backseat from the cargo bay and threw my arms around his neck, giving him a big kiss on the cheek. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen you. W
hat have you been doing with yourself? I hear you’ve been spending some time with my grandma.” For some reason it delighted me to be able to tease the pair of them. Maybe because I’d had so few family members I could ever joke around with. Actually, when I thought about it, I had never had any family members I could joke around with, except for Grandma Lila. Now the only blood family that I knew of, that were alive, were Ivy and Aidan.

  “You are an insolent little kitten, Kerris. You treat your grandmother and me with some respect.” But the light in his eyes told me he was laughing on the inside. He returned my kiss and patted my cheek. “How is your guardian? Is he treating you right?”

  I nodded. “Bryan told me he loves me.” As I said the words, they came out more shyly than I had expected them to. But it felt good to be able to tell my friends.

  Ivy clapped and smiled as Aidan simply nodded. “Well, you tell me if anything goes amiss. He’s a good man, and I want to make certain he stays that way.”

  I turned around to stare out of the back window as we began the trip up to Timber Peak. The snow was coming down thicker and it looked like we were actually settling in for a bit of a storm. Feeling warm and cozy, and actually quite happy, I leaned against the backseat and spread out my legs, falling into a light slumber as we rumbled along.

  * * *

  I woke up somewhere between the mountain road and Lupine Valley Campground. I stretched, yawning. Ivy peeked over her shoulder at me.

  “Did you know you snore?” At my horrified look, she laughed. “Not loudly, but you sounded very sniffly back there. Maybe it’s the dust.”

  “Bryan’s never complained.” I really didn’t want to think about snoring at the moment. I glanced out the window over her shoulder. “We’re almost there, aren’t we? How was the trip up here? I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”

  “No worries,” Ellia said from the front seat next to Oriel. “We’d rather have you well rested than tired.”

  Gareth cleared his throat. He was sitting to the left of Aidan. “There were a couple dicey moments when we almost spun off the road, but Oriel’s one hell of a driver. If I were pulling a bank heist, I’d pick her as my getaway driver any day.”

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