“What’s a Null?” I said.
Barrons ignored my question. “Describe this Unseelie for Fiona again, Ms. Lane, in as much detail as you can. She may be able to identify it.” To Fiona, he said, “After the two of you have finished here, show Ms. Lane to a room. Tomorrow, purchase shears and buy an assortment of hair colors for her to choose from.”
“A room?” Fiona exclaimed.
“Shears? Hair colors?” I exclaimed. My hands flew to my hair. I’d address the room part in a minute. I had my priorities.
“Can’t bear to shed your pretty feathers, Ms. Lane? What did you expect? It knows you saw it. It won’t stop looking for you until you’re dead—or it is. And believe me, they don’t die easily, if at all. The only question is whether it will alert the Hunters, or come for you by itself. If you’re lucky, it’s one of a kind like the Gray Man. The lower castes prefer to hunt alone.”
“You mean, maybe it won’t tell any of the other Unseelie?” I felt a small surge of hope. One Unseelie might just be survivable, but the thought of being hunted by a multitude of monsters was enough to make me give up without even trying. I could too easily envision a horde of hideous creatures chasing me through the Dublin night. I’d keel over and die of a heart attack before they ever caught me.
“They have as many factions among themselves as humans do,” he said. “The Fae, particularly the Unseelie, trust each other about as much as you might trust sharing a cage with a hungry lion.”
Or a Jericho Barrons, I was thinking a quarter hour later, when Fiona showed me to a room. That’s exactly what it felt like—preparing to spend the night at Barrons Books and Baubles—like I was taking up residence in the lion’s den. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. That was me. But I’d thought twice about pitching a fit, because if my choices were staying at the inn by myself or staying here, I’d rather stay here, if only to minimize my odds of dying alone and unnoticed for several days like my sister had.
The bookstore extended farther back from the street than I’d realized. The rear half wasn’t part of the store at all, but living quarters. Fiona briskly unlocked one door, led me down a short corridor, then unlocked a second door and we entered Barrons’ private residence. I got a fleeting impression of understated wealth as she whisked me through an anteroom, down a hallway, and directly to a stairwell.
“Do you see them too?” I asked, as we climbed flight after flight, to the top floor.
“All myths contain a grain of truth, Ms. Lane. I’ve handled books and artifacts that will never find their way into a museum or library, things no archaeologist or historian could ever make sense of. There are many realities pocketed away in the one we call our own. Most go blindly about their lives and never see beyond the ends of their noses. Some of us do.”
Which told me nothing about her, really, but she hadn’t exactly been giving off warm and friendly vibes in my direction, so I didn’t press. After Barrons left, I’d described the thing again. She’d taken notes with brusque efficiency, rarely looking at me directly. She’d gotten the same tight-lipped look my mom got when she vigorously disapproved of something. I was pretty sure the something was me, but couldn’t imagine why.
We stopped at a door at the end of the hall. “Here.” Fiona thrust a key into my hand, then turned back for the stairwell. “Oh, and Ms. Lane,” she said over her shoulder, “I’d lock myself in if I were you.”
It was advice I hadn’t needed. I wedged a chair beneath the door handle, too. I would have barricaded it with the dresser as well, but it was too heavy for me to move.
The rear bedroom windows looked down four stories onto an alley behind the bookstore. The alley vanished into darkness on the left and semidarkness on the right, after bisecting narrow cobbled walkways that ran along each side of the building. Across the alley was a one-story structure that looked like a warehouse or a huge garage with glass-block windows that were painted black, making it impossible to discern anything within. Floodlights washed the area directly between the buildings white, illuminating a walkway from door to door. Dublin sprawled beneath me, a sea of roofs, melting into the night sky. To my left, so few lights pierced the darkness that it appeared that section of the city was dead. I was relieved to see there was no fire escape on the rear of the building. I didn’t think any of the Unseelie I’d seen could scale the sheer brick face. I refused to dwell on the winged Hunters.
I double-checked all the locks and closed the drapes.