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Shadow silence, p.25
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       Shadow Silence, p.25

           Yasmine Galenorn
 
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  “Do you have a rope?” Deev asked. “We could use it like a belay line.”

  “Good thought!” Bryan pulled out his keys. “I’ll be back in a moment. Don’t anybody do anything stupid while I’m gone.” He jogged his way back to his SUV.

  I turned back to the house, realizing that there had been a reason I couldn’t tell Peggin about my dream. She had needed to move into the house in order to stir this to life. Whatever this was. But even as I recognized the way circumstance worked, it hit me in the gut that she had to go through everything she did in order to bring me here now, tonight.

  Without her moving in, without the fire, without even the Lady, we would never have been here, searching out secrets the Crow Man wanted me to find.

  “I think this is what all of this is been leading up to,” I said. “Sometimes the gods use us as pawns.”

  “Well, I jolly well would rather they use me as a queen instead.” Peggin’s voice was both sarcastic and wistful. “If I have to be somebody’s tool, maybe they could pay me for my time and effort.”

  “Hear you there.” I laughed. “Here comes Bryan now.”

  Bryan looked around for a sturdy beam he could tie the rope around, but it was hard to tell which beams would give way. “Can Kyler support weight?”

  Deev shook his head. “Unfortunately, even though he’s fairly strong, I made him of lightweight material and I doubt if he could keep balanced with anybody hanging off of him.”

  Aidan motioned to Bryan. “No worries. Give me the rope and I’ll tie it around my waist and act as the fulcrum. I’ve got strength enough to lift anybody out of there who might need it.” My grandfather wasn’t just talking big. He really was the strongest of the group. I wondered if Bryan would grow into his own strength, given he was also a shifter.

  Bryan handed the end of the rope to Aidan, who wrapped it around his waist and tied it off in some sort of slipknot. Most of the floor that had formed the basement’s ceiling had burned away. None of us really trusted testing the rest of it. So Aidan stayed at the side on the ground, bracing himself against a large beam that had fallen. It was near enough to the hole so that we could slide over the edge and go down that way. I moved forward, but Bryan held up his hand.

  “You are not going down there. You are going to let me go down there. Deev, you and Kyler watch the women and Aidan’s back. If there really is a race to find something down there, we don’t want be surprised if the Hounds show up.”

  I hadn’t even thought of the possibility of the Hounds showing up while we were here. Somehow I had translated the idea in my mind to: We come out here, we find what we’re looking for, and we leave. The thought that the Hounds might show up while we were in the process of our adventure set my stomach on edge.

  “I’ll keep watch over this way,” Ivy said.

  “Peggin, you stay with Deev. Don’t let her out of your sight.” I moved over to Aidan’s side, watching as Bryan took the end of the rope and tossed it over the edge. “I don’t know if I can climb down that rope or not.” Considering I couldn’t do a pull-up, somehow I didn’t think I was going to be available to suddenly become a champion rope climber within the space of five minutes.

  “As I said, you’re not going down there,” Bryan said. At my look, he let out a sigh. “Fine, if I need your help, we can tie the end of the rope around your waist and Aidan can lower you down.”

  Both irritated but relieved, I gave him a nod. “Just be careful. I don’t know what it is we’re looking for, but apparently it was important enough for the Hounds to hide it way back when this house was built.”

  With a nod, Bryan slowly began to lower himself into the dark hole as the snow continued to fall.

  * * *

  Five minutes passed, then ten. Every now and then Bryan would call up that everything was all right, to keep me calm. Meanwhile, I was keeping an eye on Deev and Peggin to make sure that she didn’t try to wander off. The last thing we needed was another dip in the lake to pull her out of the Lady’s grasp. Luck had been on our side the first time; I wasn’t counting on it a second.

  The night was far from silent. In addition to the soft skitter of snow on snow, sounds came from the trees behind us. Scuffling and the rustling of undergrowth, and occasionally what sounded like someone tripping or falling over or the cracking of a branch. I moderated my breath, trying to keep calm as I reached out in an attempt to connect with whatever was there. If it was a spirit or one of the Ankou, I should be able to sense it. But when I sent out feelers, I couldn’t grasp hold of anything.

  Another moment, and Bryan called out, “I think I found something. Kerris, have Aidan send you down.”

  But just as he spoke, the noise from the trees became louder. Kyler froze, pointing toward the woods, then began to lumber toward the trees.

  My internal alarms went off and I screamed, “Get down,” not knowing what was happening. But my instinct was to drop, and drop I did. A bullet whistled overhead as a loud crack broke the silence, and the glow of gunfire flared from one of the trees. The shot was aimed at me, and if I hadn’t dropped, the bullet would have hit me.

  “Kerris!” Peggin screamed, pulling away from Deev, who was shouting directions to Kyler.

  Ivy whirled, racing toward me, as Aidan began to furiously pull Bryan up from the hole. I belly-crawled toward a large piece of debris, hiding behind it. As Peggin ran toward me, I motioned for her to get down.

  “Down, get down now!”

  She dropped to the ground and, with a loud curse, made a beeline for me. “Damned slivers. I just drove something sharp into my hand.” She ducked behind the burned-out chunk of wood and crouched next to me. “What the hell is going on? Who would take potshots at us?”

  “It has to be the Hounds. The Crow Man warned me they were on the trail of the . . . well . . . whatever it is we’re looking for.”

  “Wonderful. Couldn’t he have told you about this earlier?”

  I peeked around the edge of our shield. Kyler was in the woods now. That thing could move plenty fast when the need arose. Pulling back—we didn’t know where the gunman had gone—I craned my neck to see how Aidan and Bryan were doing. Ivy had managed to get behind another piece of debris and now she waved to me to let me know she was okay.

  And then, I saw him—the ghost of Joseph Jacobs. He looked just like his picture, and I realized he had been the spirit who had first warned me that Peggin was headed toward the Lady. Beside him stood Eugenie. Cloaked in a pale yellow glow, their faces were masked with concern as they wandered through the debris toward me. I caught my breath.

  “Do you see them?”

  Peggin nodded. “Yes. What do they want?”

  Eugenie knelt beside us, staring at us with a curious look. Then, she slowly reached out and brushed Peggin’s hair. Of course, her touch didn’t even ruffle the strands but Peggin still gasped.

  “I can feel her—she’s sad. She’s so sad, but she’s also happy we can see her.” She looked up at the spirit in wonder. “Kerris, something is holding her here.”

  “I know, but it’s not another spirit.” I rose up on my knees, still keeping myself out of the line of fire. By now, we could hear a crashing through the woods and I figured it was Kyler, trampling through the undergrowth. I hoped to hell Deev had let him go alone and not tried to play hero.

  Eugenie and Joseph knelt beside me, their faces intent. They leaned in, staring at me in an uncanny way. I got neither the sense that they were lost, nor that they were Haunts. And then it hit me. They were here as protectors. They were guarding something . . . and had been all these years.

  “You’re here to protect what the Crow Man sent me to find, aren’t you?”

  A light flashed through Eugenie’s eyes and she leaned back, her hands resting on her knees.

  At that moment, we heard a loud shout. Deev. Another shot rang out and Peggin screamed and
jumped up. She pulled out her purse and opened it, yanking out her gun that she carried everywhere. Ever since she was mugged, she had made a point to learn how to shoot, and she could knock a fly off the ceiling. I had watched her target practice and was glad she was on my side.

  “I’m not hiding here while some freak shoots at my boyfriend,” she said, swinging around the barrier. I tried to stop her but before I could grab hold of her coat sleeve, she was gone.

  I heard more shouts—Bryan and Aidan—and then a single shot that sounded different than the others. A loud curse . . . then a cacophony of shouts and activity.

  “Stay here,” I said to Eugenie and Joseph, then swung around the shield.

  There, in the clearing between the tree line and where the house had stood, was a man laying facedown, with Kyler holding him down. Deev was limping, cursing under his breath.

  I raced over to the scene. “What’s going on? Is anybody hurt?”

  “Damn it, yes. Me,” Deev shouted. He groaned, then slowly folded to the ground, grabbing his leg. “He shot me in the leg.” He pointed to the man on the ground. I saw his gun farther away, on the ground. It wasn’t a handgun, but some sort of rifle with scope. He had been aiming for me, and it suddenly hit me that he had been meaning to kill me.

  “Who are you? Why were you shooting at us?” I edged up close enough to shine one of the flashlights on him. He was a burly man, wearing a bandanna. As he looked up, my heart dropped through a pit in my stomach.

  Clinton Brady was lying there, held down by Dr. Divine’s walking statue.

  * * *

  What the . . .” But before I could even question him, I realized that I couldn’t see Peggin. I screamed and headed toward the woods. “Bryan! Help me find her!”

  “Ivy, look after Deev. Call the medics. And Aidan, hold him down.” He frantically motioned to Clinton, then broke into a run. He caught up with me and I moved so he could go on ahead. “What if there are more of the Hounds in the woods? Go back, Kerris.”

  “No—Peggin’s in danger.”

  “I said go back.” He stopped, skidding to a halt and grabbing me by the shoulders, his eyes blazing. “I’ll find her. Trust me. But you have to go back. Now.”

  Wanting to disobey, wanting to argue with him, I suddenly realized that he was right. If I died, the Hounds would have an easier time taking over the town. With a whimper, worried sick about Peggin, I pulled back.

  The next moment, Bryan shifted and a giant wolf stood there, his brilliant white fur glowing in the night. He loped off into the woods and I realized he was following Peggin’s scent. I turned, running back to Deev’s side. Kneeling down, I saw that he’d been shot in the calf, but Ivy had managed to make a tourniquet.

  “I’ve called the cops and the medics. Go see if Aidan needs help.”

  I nodded, moving over to Aidan’s side, but he had taken the rope Bryan had been using and had trussed up Clinton tighter than a hog on butchering day.

  Aidan had hold of his gun, and was examining it. “Sniper’s rifle. Expensive, by the looks of it. He meant business.” He turned a cold eye on Clinton. “You do realize that shooting at my granddaughter isn’t the brightest move you could make.”

  I knelt down beside Clinton. “Why? Why the hell did you do it? You’re on our side. You’re part of the Crescent Moon Society.” But something about the way he looked away when I spoke stopped me. I glanced over at Aidan. “He’s not one of us.”

  Aidan gave him a long look, then shook his head. “No, I think you’re right.”

  At that moment, Bryan shouted from the trees. I jumped up to see him struggling with Peggin, who had her gun in hand, pointed at him.

  “Peggin! No! Don’t shoot.” I was on my feet, flying in their direction with Aidan behind me.

  Peggin looked at me and I could see the confusion in her eyes. She was crying. “Don’t make me. Let me go. She’s calling me and I have to go to her. Don’t try to stop me, please—she’ll make me shoot him.”

  “Don’t let her win, Peggin. Don’t listen. Drown out her voice.” I tried to think of anything that might break through the siren song that was luring Peggin in. I could hear the Lady now, faintly, but for my best friend, her voice was like a marching band.

  Come to me . . . they will try to stop you . . . you must not let them . . .

  I whirled around, frantic. “Aidan, help me. What can I do?”

  “We have to make so much noise it will distract her. Meanwhile, Bryan, take a step back. The Lady’s so strong that she will force Peggin to shoot you if you get too close.”

  Bryan gave him a faint nod and, hands held in the air, stepped back. “Peggin, I’m backing away, see?”

  We were still in the glow of Aidan’s flashlight but then, Kyler suddenly turned, and before Peggin could respond, the creature flared to life, brighter than the spotlight on a runway. Peggin shouted, dropping her gun as she tried to shield her eyes from the sudden brilliance.

  As her gun hit the ground, Bryan leaped forward and knocked her to the ground, holding her down. I raced in and grabbed up her gun, cautiously pointing it toward the forest. Peggin screamed, struggling, and I heard the Lady shout—angry curses aimed toward us.

  “We need to sedate her as long as she’s this close to the lake.” I had no clue how we were going to do so without knocking her out, but my answer pulled into the driveway with a wail of sirens. The ambulance appeared, followed by Sophia and Frank in a police car.

  As the paramedics raced toward Deev, I went to meet them. “You need to sedate our friend over there. The Lady’s calling her and if we don’t do something, she’ll either hurt herself trying to get down to the lake, or she’ll hurt us trying.”

  One thing about the doctors and medical personnel around Whisper Hollow, they knew full well what lived in the forests and the shadows of our town. One of the EMTs immediately fished through his medical kit and pulled out a syringe. I led him over and, between Bryan and myself, held Peggin down long enough for the tech to inject her with the sedative. Within seconds, she closed her eyes, and I heard the Lady give a garbled snarl and then—the song vanished.

  “What’s going on?” Sophia looked at Kyler. “Dr. Divine?”

  “Yeah, one of his creations. And that thing kept Clinton there from shooting me. And it helped keep Peggin from shooting Bryan.”

  “Peggin shooting Bryan?” Sophia let out a long sigh. “I don’t think I want to know what’s going on, but let’s all head down to the station. Hey, Jorge?”

  One of the EMTs glanced up at her from where he was attending Deev’s injuries. “Yeah?”

  “How is he?”

  Dr. Divine groaned as they lifted him onto the stretcher. “He is all right. How’s my girlfriend?”

  “Hush.” Jorge turned back to Sophia. “He’s been shot, but the bullet missed anything terribly vital, though I think he’s going to be on crutches for a few days. We’re ready to load him in.”

  “Good, get the both of them into the ambulance and out of here before I leave. The Lady’s on the prowl and hungry. Don’t take chances, get a move on.”

  Frank had handcuffed Clinton and shoved him into the back of the police car. “He’s in.”

  “Let’s all get out of here, then. And I’m going to want an explanation of why you were out here tonight instead of waiting till tomorrow. I told you I didn’t want you prowling around here without an official escort.” She frowned at me, and I felt like a scolded teenager.

  “We’ll meet you over at the station.” Bryan pushed me toward the car and motioned to Aidan and Ivy. “Let’s get out of here.” He glanced at Clinton. “Can he hear us from in the car?”

  Looking puzzled, Sophia shook her head. “No, why?”

  “Because I have what he came to prevent us from finding, though I’m not sure what it actually is. Frank, Clinton belongs to the Hounds, I think. So
watch whatever you say in front of him.”

  “Shit.” Frank let out a long sigh. “How did we not know this and how long has it been going on?”

  “I have no answer for you on either question, but let’s go. There may be more of them here, and the Lady is on the prowl.” Bryan shooed us into the SUV and we eased out of the driveway, following Frank and Sophia, and the ambulance.

  “We must perform the ritual on Peggin, there’s no doubt about that,” Ivy said from the backseat. “Kerris, I have to tell you this. The ritual itself could kill her. But we have no other choice. Even if we sent her away from Whisper Hollow, the Lady could still reach out, find her somehow, and bring her back.”

  Saying nothing, I flipped on the radio and “Bitter Sweet Symphony” came on. As the haunting tune filled the car, it drowned out the sirens as they cleared the path through the dark night.

  CHAPTER 17

  The police station was directly across from the fire station and the library, and one long block over from the hospital where they had taken Peggin and Deev. I wanted to be over there, keep an eye on them, but we had to sort out the mess with Clinton, and since neither Deev nor Peggin were in a life-threatening condition, I wasn’t all that worried that Diago would prey on them—the spirit mostly hunted down those who had reached a crisis point.

  Sophia motioned the four of us into her office, then had a quiet talk with Frank. Along with another burly officer, Frank marshaled Clinton off to a holding cell. After he was out of sight, Sophia closed the door to her office and turned to us.

  “What the hell is going on? Clinton Brady, shooting at you? And Peggin shooting at Bryan? You’d better start from the beginning, and don’t leave anything out.” She settled in behind her desk. “On second thought, wait a minute. I need a cup of coffee. What about you?”

  I nodded. “I’d love it. The stronger the better.” Aidan also accepted the offer, while Bryan and Ivy shook their heads. After the receptionist, a young woman named Mandy who was looking to join the police academy in the near future, brought us our coffee, we were ready.

 
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