I crept toward the light, slipping from stack to forklift to crate, working my way stealthily along, drawn by an instinct I could neither understand nor refuse. The nearer I got, the colder it grew. By the time I reached the third-to-last row of racking between me and whatever was ahead, I was shivering and watching my breath puff tiny ice crystals into the air.
By the second-to-last row of racking, the metal of the forklift I crouched behind was painfully icy to the touch.
By the last row, I was so nauseated I had to sit down and stay put awhile. All that remained between me and whatever was ahead were stacks and stacks of pallets in a disorganized row that looked as if they’d been shoved back to clear a large area of floor space. Beyond those stacks, I could see the top parts of what looked like massive stones. The dense light that pressed into the gloom where I crouched wasn’t natural. It was a heavy, somehow dark light, and not one of the objects it was shining on threw a shadow.
I have no idea how long it took me to get my queasy stomach under control. It might have been five minutes, it might have been half an hour, but eventually I was able to stand up again and forge on. It occurred to me that perhaps I shouldn’t forge on; I should just “run like hell” as Barrons had once counseled me and not look back, but there was that whole “pull” part of the push-pull thing going on. I had to see what was up there. I had to know. I’d come too far to turn back now.
I peered around the corner of a stack of pallets—and jerked back violently.
I eased myself to the floor on legs that were shaky again, a hand pressed to my pounding heart, wishing fervently that I’d never gotten out of bed this morning.
After a few deep, careful breaths, I leaned forward and looked again. I think I was hoping I’d just imagined it.
Though I’d seen pictures in guidebooks and on postcards, I would have expected to find this kind of thing in the middle of a farmer’s pasture, not in the rear of an industrial warehouse in the heart of a commercial district, midcity. I’d also gotten the impression they were more moderately sized. This one was huge. I tried to imagine how it had gotten here, then remembered I wasn’t dealing with human methods of locomotion. With the Fae, anything was possible.
Looming behind about a hundred Rhino-boys and other assorted Unseelie—who threw no shadows in the oppressive, strange light spilling from it—was a dolmen. Two towering stones stood upright about twenty-five feet apart, and a single long slab of rock lay across the top, making a doorway of the ancient megaliths.
All around the doorway, symbols and runes were chiseled into the concrete floor. Some glowed crimson, others pulsed that eerie blue-black of the stone we’d stolen from Mallucé. A red-robed figure stood facing the dolmen, a deep cowl concealing its face.
An arctic wind so cold it made my lungs hurt blasted through the stones, chilling more than my flesh; the dark wind bit into my soul with sharp, icy teeth, and I suddenly knew if I had to withstand it for very long I would slowly begin to forget every hope and dream that had ever warmed my heart.
But it wasn’t the soul-searing wind or the Rhino-boys or even the red-robed figure the Fae watchdogs were addressing as “my Lord Master” that had me cowering in shadows.
It was that the immense stone doorway was open. And through it was pouring a horde of Unseelie.
I won’t bore you with the details of the monsters that came through the doorway that day. Barrons and I would discuss them later and try to identify their castes, and you’ll meet most of them soon enough, anyway.
Suffice to say, there were hundreds of them, tall and short, winged and hoofed, obese and gaunt, all of them pretty much horrific, and as they stepped through, they grouped off, ten or so to each Rhino-boy. From the bits I gathered, the Unseelie watchdogs had been assigned the task of acclimating their new charges to the world.
I cringed behind the stack of pallets, watching, too terrified to move. Finally, the last one came through. With more chanting and the sharp rapping of a gold-and-black scepter upon some of the glowing symbols, the red-robed Lord Master closed the doorway. The symbols went dark and the bitter wind ceased. The light in the warehouse brightened, became lighter somehow, and the Unseelie began casting shadows again. Feeling returned to my chilled face and fingers, and dreams to my heart.
“You have your instructions,” the Lord Master said, and I wondered how such an evil thing could have such a beautiful voice.
Genuflecting as if to a god, the Rhino-boys began herding their newly arrived brethren toward the aisle. A group of about thirty assorted monsters remained behind with the Lord Master.