I recounted what I’d seen. As before, he asked me many questions, demanding the tiniest details. He was more pleased with my observances this time. Even I felt they were keen, but then, when you see Death for the first time, it makes a heck of an impression.
“Not Death,” he told me. “The Gray Man.”
“The Gray Man?”
“I didn’t know he was here,” he murmured. “I had no idea things had gone so far.” He rubbed his jaw, looking displeased with the turn of events.
I squinted. “What’s that on your hand, Barrons? Blood?”
He started, glanced at me, then at his hand. “Ah yes,” he said, as if remembering, “I was out for a walk. There was a badly injured dog in the street. I returned it to its owner’s shop to die.”
“Oh.” Would wonders never cease. He seemed more the type to put it out of its misery where it lay, perhaps with a sharp twist of the neck or a well-placed kick, not take into account the human factor. I would later discover that my gut instinct was right; there’d been no dog that night. The blood on his hand was human. “So what is this Gray Man?”
“What you thought it was. It selects the loveliest humans it can find and steals their beauty bit by bit until nothing is left.”
He shrugged. “Why not? It is an Unseelie. They require neither rhyme nor reason. They are the Dark Ones. The old tales say the Gray Man is so ugly that even his own race mocks him. He steals the beauty of others out of corrosive envy and hatred. Like most of the Dark Fae, he destroys because he can.”
“What happens to the women when he’s done with them?”
“I suspect most kill themselves. Beautiful women rarely possess sufficient depth of character to survive without their pretty feathers. Strip them down and they crumble.” The look he gave me was judge, jury, and executioner.
I made no effort to keep the sarcasm from my voice. “Flattered as I am that you count me among the beautiful people, Barrons, allow me to point out that I’m still alive. I encountered the Gray Man and I’m still here, just as pretty as always, dickhead.”
He raised a brow. “Now, there’s a visual for you.”
I was chagrined. I never called people “dickheads.” Oh well. It had been a rough day. Sorry, Mom. “What’s wrong with me? And that’s not an invitation for you to begin tallying your many perceived flaws in my character.”
He smiled faintly. “I told you the other night. You are a sidhe-seer, Ms. Lane. You see the Fae. Though you are capable of seeing both Light and Dark, it seems thus far you’ve encountered only the unpleasant half of their race. Let us hope that continues, at least for a time, until I have trained you. The Seelie, or Light Fae, are as disconcertingly beautiful as their darker brethren are distressingly foul.”
I shook my head. “This is impossible.”
“You came to me, Ms. Lane, because you know it’s not. You can rummage about in your repertoire of pretty self-delusions looking for a way to deny what you saw tonight, or you can look for a way to survive it. Remember what I said about walking victims? You watched one get preyed on tonight. What do you want to be, Ms. Lane? Survivor or victim? Frankly, I’m not certain even I can make you into the former, given the raw material I’m forced to work with, but it appears I’m the only person willing to try.”
“Oh, you just suck.”
He shrugged. “I call it like I see it. Get used to it. Stick around long enough and you might learn to appreciate it.” He stood up and began walking toward the back of the store.
“Where are you going?”
“Bathroom. Wash my hands. Scared to be alone, Ms. Lane?”
“No,” I lied.
He was gone long enough that I began peering into the corners of the room, making sure all the shadows were cast by objects and obeying known laws of physics.
“Okay,” I said when he returned, “let’s pretend I’m buying into your little story for a few minutes. Where have these monsters been all my life? Walking around all over the place and I just never noticed them before?”
He tossed me a wad of clothing. It hit me squarely in the chest. “Get out of those wet clothes. I’m no nursemaid. You get sick, you’re on your own.”
Though I was grateful for the clothing, he was in serious need of a lesson or two in manners. “Your concern is touching, Barrons.” I practically ran to the bathroom to change. I was cold and shivering and the thought of being sick in Dublin in my cramped room by myself without Mom’s homemade chicken noodle soup and TLC was more than I could bear.