“And just what does she want me to do about it?” I didn’t like where things seemed to be going. I wasn’t certain I could survive it.
“She merely wishes you to continue searching as you have been and from time to time we will check on your progress. Should you learn anything—however small—about any of our hallowed relics, especially the Sinsar Dubh, you will alert me immediately.”
I sighed with relief. I’d been afraid it was planning to stay around while I searched. Thank God, it wasn’t. “How am I supposed to do that?”
Again, it offered me the Cuff of Cruce. “With this. I will show you how to use it.”
I shook my head. “I’m not taking it.”
“Don’t be a fool. Your world is suffering, too.”
“I have only your word for any of this,” I said. “For all I know, you’re lying about everything and that cuff might just kill me the instant I put it on.”
“By the time you find proof that satisfies you, sidhe-seer,” it said coldly, “it may well be too late for your race.”
“That’s not my problem,” I retorted. “I never wanted to be a sidhe-seer and I’m not even admitting that I am one now.” In college, I’d known a few people with superhero aspirations, who’d wanted to make a difference: join the Peace Corps, or become doctors and cut people open so they could fix them and sew them back up again, but personally, I’d never had any desire to save the world. Decorate it? Yes. Save it? No. Until a short time ago, I’d been a small-town girl with small-town dreams and perfectly content with my lot in life. Then someone had crapped on my world and forced me out of my happy little hole. I’d come to Dublin with a single purpose at heart: to avenge my sister’s death. Then and only then could I return to Ashford with some kind of closure for Mom and Dad. Then maybe we could heal, and try to be a family again. That was the only world I cared about saving—mine.
“You will change your mind,” it said.
The Fae was gone.
I stared blankly for several moments at the space it had been occupying, before snapping out of it. Despite the recent horrors I’d witnessed, I wasn’t in the least inured, and watching something vanish right before my eyes had been profoundly disturbing.
I glanced around to make sure it hadn’t popped back in behind me to sneak up on me or anything like that, but I was alone on the street. I was startled to realize the temperature in my immediate vicinity had dropped so significantly that I could see my breath in the air. A thin perimeter of fog encased me some twenty feet away, where iced air met heat again. I would soon learn it was characteristic of royalty; their pleasure or displeasure often reshaped the environment in small ways around them.
I did another quick scan. Yes, the street was empty, all the doors were closed, and there wasn’t a soul around.
As fiercely ashamed of myself as I was aroused, I slipped a hand down my jeans.
I came the moment I touched myself.
It was a quarter past eight by the time I made it back to the bookstore. I knew Barrons was there as soon as I turned the corner. His big black-and-chrome hog was parked outside the brilliantly spotlighted front, playing kissing cousins with Fiona’s sedate sedan.
I rolled my eyes. My day continued to cruise downhill. I’d been hoping that Fiona had left on time, before Barrons had arrived, and before she could rat me out.
No such luck.
I detoured around back, deciding I would sneak in from the rear, pretend to have been upstairs all day—with my iPod on in case anyone claimed to have knocked—and see if I could pull it off. You never knew what you could get away with until you tried. Maybe nobody had bothered checking on me.
When I rounded the rear of the building, my gaze automatically shot to the end of the alley, past the store, to the dark perimeter of the abandoned neighborhood beyond the rear floodlights. I paused, searching for shadows that shouldn’t be there. A humorless smile curved my lips; the strangest things were becoming instinctive.
I spotted four clusters of darkness that were wrong. Three clung to the shadowy eaves of a building two doors down on the right; the fourth was on my left and behaving far more boldly. It was creeping back and forth along the stone foundation of the shop directly adjacent to Barrons, shooting and retracting dark tendrils of itself, testing the edges of the pool of light flooding the rear entrances.
All four of them pulsed hungrily at my approach.
Stay to the light, Barrons had told me, and you will be safe. The Shades can only get you in full darkness. They are unable to tolerate even the smallest amount of light. You must never, Ms. Lane, ever enter the abandoned neighborhood at night.