Shadows Before the Sun 1
“I’m serious, Charlie. I think I’m becoming telepathic.”
“Telepathetic is more like it,” I muttered.
Rex’s tone went flat. “Funny.”
I slowed my vehicle to a stop at the light, and then took a sip of coffee, meeting Rex’s dark, sleep-deprived scowl over the rim of the cup. He was unshaven and needed a haircut. And, yeah, he might be the biggest goofball I’d ever met, but now that he knew who he was and where he came from, he’d become edgier and fiercer than before when he was simply a Revenant occupying the body of my ex-husband, Will.
“What?” He stared at me with one eyebrow cocked.
“Nothing.” I looked out my side window for a second and then back at him. “Your eyes are different.”
“Noticed that, did you?”
“Hard not to,” I admitted.
Will Garrity’s gorgeous gray-blue eyes that had always put me in mind of stormy skies were now changed—once I’d pulled his soul from his body, releasing him to find peace as he’d asked, it had allowed Rex’s jinn spirit to lay claim, to knit itself into Will’s physical form in a way that was beyond possession, in a way that was permanent and complete.
As a result, small jinn signatures began to manifest, changing things on the inside and the outside. The gray-blue color of Will’s eyes was still there, but now it was shaded in the violet indicative of the jinn race, turning them into a strange but beautiful lavender shade.
“I look like a fucking girl,” Rex grumbled as I accelerated through the intersection.
Somebody shoot me.
From the time Rex had gotten into the passenger seat, I’d had to listen to him detail every ache and pain, his every claim and suspicion about what he thought was taking place inside of him. “You don’t look like a girl,” I said. “Your eyes are . . . pretty.” Which I knew would set him off, but I had a certain payback quota to fill when it came to Rex.
His finger punched the air. “Exactly! Pretty. Not masculine. Not dark and mysterious. Fucking pretty.”
“Oh please. Women love guys with beautiful eyes. Trust me. I think you’re good.”
He thought about it for a moment, calculating. “How good, exactly?”
I laughed and saw he was grinning. Will had a smile so warm it could melt snow and in Rex’s possession . . . well, the female population of Atlanta was in for a treat if Rex decided to start prowling.
“You shouldn’t fish for compliments, you know,” I said, parking along the curb and then cutting the engine. “It kind of breaks the whole thing you got going on with the scruff and the leather jacket.”
Rex might look good on the outside, but inside he was a contradiction convention. Arrogant, yet unsure. Extremely intelligent, yet would veg out in front of Nick Jr. like a four year old. A warrior at heart who walked around the kitchen in a cherry print apron reciting Shakespeare sonnets.
He had a devil-may-care attitude that came from thousands of years as a spirit, one who couldn’t be killed, one who had seen it all and done it all within host after host of willing bodies. Until he fell in with the Madigan clan. Until he met my daughter and felt the stirrings of the one thing he hadn’t done in life: be a father. Part of a family.
We got out and proceeded down the sidewalk, which ran alongside the tall fence surrounding the Grove. I ducked my shoulders against the light mist of rain and silently cursed the weather. The off-world darkness I’d summoned months ago still churned above Atlanta like a living shroud, but the rain was even worse. It carried some of the darkness to the ground, creating a thin off-world fog and causing my Charbydon genes to go haywire from all the raw arcane energy in the air.
Ahead, ITF cruisers blocked the 10th Street entrance to the Grove and two officers stood nearby talking. I’d been one of them once, proudly wearing the Integration Task Force uniform and dealing with the influx of beings from the dimensions of Elysia and Charbydon. Eventually, I’d moved on to detective, where I dealt with crime in the off-world communities in and around Atlanta, usually in Underground, the biggest off-world neighborhood in the city.
But those days, like everything else, seemed like a lifetime away, when I’d been human, when I had an identity I was sure of. I supposed in a way, Rex and I were both having our own identity crisis. We were just approaching it differently.
Rex bumped me with his shoulder then lifted his chin a notch so I could get a good, clean look at him. “So besides the eyes, do I seem different to you? Like on a sensory level?”
Yeah, totally different approaches.
It wasn’t even nine o’clock and Rex was already getting under my skin. “For the hundredth time, no.”
“Well, I feel different.”
“No shit, Rex,” I finally said, exasperated. “You’ve been floating around for thousands of years as a Revenant, occupying one body after another. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Now you have a body all your own and it’s bound to feel different for a while. Look, you’ll get used to it.” I took another sip from my paper cup. “You kind of have to, since you’re stuck with it.”
He rolled his eyes. “Gee, thanks. Promise me you won’t accept any speaking engagements, or start counseling, or writing self-help books. Really. Stick to killing things because your motivational skills suck ass.”
I shrugged. “We each have our talents.” And I was perfectly fine at giving pep talks when the situation called for them, and this one didn’t. I wasn’t about to feed Rex’s imagination. “But I’ve always thought about writing a book one day . . . maybe something like How to Deal with Overemotional, Highly Delusional Revenants or maybe I’ll just shorten it to Revenants for Dummies.”
Rex gave a humorless laugh. “No, yours would be Don’t Let Life Get You Down, Let Charlie Do It Instead.”
I shot him an eye roll, unclipped the badge from my belt, and flashed my credentials at one of the two uniformed officers standing before the open gate. Somewhere beyond that gate in the home of the Kinfolk, the city’s largest population of nymphs, was a dead body.
As we stepped around the officers and into the Grove, unease slid down my back. Gone were the concrete paths, the benches, the water fountains, and the public restrooms that existed here years ago when this was Piedmont Park. In their place was an ancient forest, thick and dark—spurred into old growth by the nymphs’ magic. The forest of the Grove was dark even on the sunniest day, but now, beneath a cover of living darkness, it took
on a sinister feel. And when the nymphs said stay on the path, don’t stray from the path, one tended to listen.
Torches lined the path that cut through the forest from the gate all the way to the shores of Clara Meer Lake and the nymphs’ colossal wooden temple. The only things that kept me from feeling like I’d just stepped back in time by a few thousand years were the skyscrapers and city lights surrounding the park.
“This is . . . rural,” Rex said as we kept to the path.
“The nymphs’ private playground.” The only beings born with the power to shift into an animal form—without the use of spells and crafting—the park gave the nymphs ample room to run and play and hunt. “They built their own Stonehenge on the hill there,” I said, gesturing to Oak Hill.
Rex stared at it for a few steps. “Looks creepy as hell.”
“It’s even creepier when it’s being used.”
The stones sat silent for now, ghostly monoliths that could pulse with power so strong and deep it had once made me momentarily deaf and extremely nauseous.
“You know I’m changing, Charlie, or I wouldn’t be here to help with the investigation,” Rex said at length.
“I know, Rex. But you’re just regaining some of your old jinn traits. You’re not developing powers beyond what a jinn is naturally capable of. And telepathy
is not a jinn trait. I brought you with me because of what a jinn can naturally do.”
“I can only tell you if I sense a jinn presence at the crime scene, so I’m not sure how much that’s going to help.”
“It’ll help a lot. It’ll rule them out. The only eyewitness says he saw a large gray-skinned being near the lake.” And since the jinn had skin that ran the spectrum of medium gray to dark gray, and were built like linebackers, they were the first to come to mind, unfortunately. There was also the darkling fae, but they were thin, sinewy beings and definitely didn’t fit into the “large” category.
But a jinn? That spelled all sorts of trouble. Nymphs were from Elysia. Jinn were from Charbydon. They weren’t known for being friendly since the beings of “heaven” and “hell” had continually warred for eons. Here in Atlanta, the ITF and local representatives from all the races made sure peace was maintained and treaty laws adhered to—a sort of neutral ground for all beings. But none of that stopped years of bias and hate. And when it came to the boss of the local jinn tribe, Grigori Tennin, and the nymphs’ Druid King . . . well, those two made fire and water look like friends.
So, yeah, a jinn here in nymph territory? Not good. A jinn murdering a nymph within said territory? Monumentally bad. Not to mention the highly disturbing suspicion that if a jinn was really here, he or she might’ve been in the Grove for a very specific purpose.
And the subject of that “purpose” was already whispering a welcome in my mind. The soft, feminine tone flowed through my mind, relaxing some of the tension in my shoulders.
Ahkneri’s words were usually too distant to understand, and they were brushed with a sadness that made me ache. I had a strange connection with the divine being hidden beneath the lake—weird dreams, the ability to sometimes sense her emotions, understand her language. The First Ones were supposed to be a myth and to most people they were. But to some, like Grigori Tennin and the Sons of Dawn cult, she was their ticket to starting a three-world war. He’d stop at nothing to find her.
The First Ones were the ancestors to humans, Elysian Adonai, and the Charbydon nobles. Their existence would prove to the worlds that the nobles were related to the Adonai, and that they were indeed cast out of Elysia in the forgotten past. If the nobles were to learn the truth, they’d launch an all-out war against the Adonai to take back their true homeland. It would leave the jinn in charge of Charbydon, free from noble oppression, and Earth in the middle of a war we’d no doubt get sucked into.
For the sake of all three worlds, Ahkneri had to stay hidden.
If Rex said there was no jinn signature anywhere near the body, one crisis averted. If not, I didn’t even want to think about it, especially since I was supposed
to be leaving for Elysia and the siren city of Fiallan tomorrow.
As we drew closer to the colossal wooden structure rising up through the trees, the temperature dropped slightly and the air became cooler and scented with lake water. Rex whistled in appreciation, his steps slowing as he ogled the nymphs’ temple with its huge wooden columns the size of California redwoods. I kept moving, going through the structure, the main courtyard, and to the dock that stretched out over the lake.
Liz and her crew were already on the shoreline near the dock. “The chief fill you in?” she asked as I approached.
“A little while ago. I hear we have a body in the lake and one highly uncooperative Druid King.”
The ITF’s lead medical examiner and gifted necromancer snorted at that. “Highly uncooperative is being nice.” She glared at the figure at the end of the dock through horn-rimmed eyeglasses.
“Careful,” I said, smiling. “You keep shooting eye missiles at him like that you’re going to melt your lenses.”
Liz frowned, and then shoved her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “He irks me.”
“I noticed. If it makes you feel any better, he does that to everyone. Here, hold this.” I handed her my coffee cup, which she took but didn’t know what the hell to do with, and said, “Wish me luck.”
My boots echoed on the wooden planks as I approached
the Kinfolk’s spiritual leader, enforcer, protector, and all-around badass. And those titles were more than accurate to describe Pendaran.
He stood at the end of the dock, alone, hands tucked into his pants pockets, a white T-shirt stretching over his broad back, and his black hair just touching the collar. His focus was on the scene in the lake as two search-and-rescue officers in a dinghy pulled a corpse to shore. Liz hurried closer to the waterline.
A soundless flash of green in the undulating gray mass above us illuminated the dark water and its corpse for a split second. I felt for the nymphs. The Grove was a sanctuary, a home with defined borders patrolled day and night. One of their own had been killed within those borders. And as far as I knew, that had never happened before.
I walked into a thick wave of rage, strong enough to knock the unprepared back a few steps. But I expected Pen’s wrath. I stopped next to him at the end of the dock, watching the scene unfold for a moment, letting him get used to my presence. “I’m sorry for your loss, Pen. The chief said you have an eyewitness?”
At first he didn’t reply. He continued to stare at the scene, his profile hard as granite. The winding Celtic-style tattoo, which I knew to encompass the entire left side of his body—toes to hand to temple—was stark against the exposed skin; pale not from fear, but from blinding rage.
I went to repeat the question, but he turned.
And didn’t even spare me a glance because his gaze zeroed in on Rex like predator to prey.
It dawned on me then what a huge mistake I’d made. Of course Pen would know, would sense that despite the human figure walking down the dock, it was a jinn coming toward us.
I stepped in front of the Druid King. Probably not the wisest of moves, but I didn’t really have a choice. My hand eased back my jacket to rest on the grip of my right sidearm. “Stop, Pen,” I warned. “Don’t do it.”
His nostrils flared. A shimmer of abalone color filtered over Pen’s irises, the same color I knew was on the underside of his enormous black wings. If Pen turned dragon and went after what he saw as a jinn coming toward him, we were screwed.
The Druid had nearly declared war on Grigori Tennin and the jinn when Daya, one of his Kinfolk, had died, caught up as she was in Tennin’s plan to reveal Ahkneri to the world. Now Pen believed a jinn had invaded his territory and killed another one of his kin. And to add insult to injury, a jinn was coming down the dock.
Pen’s features had turned from harsh to downright homicidal.
My vision went cloudy. Heart pounding, I did everything I could to prevent my own power from rising in response. “He’s with me. He’s here to tell us
if your eyewitness really saw a jinn. Rex was a Revenant, Pen. He hasn’t been a jinn for thousands of years. He doesn’t act like them or even think like them. He watches cartoons, for Chrissakes . . .”
But Pen wasn’t listening, and Rex had stopped still, like a mouse caught in the gaze of a cobra.
“He lives in my house,” I went on. “He’s in the body of my ex-husband and my kid loves him. I swear to God if you go after him,” I promised with a conviction that came from the depths of my soul, “I’ll do whatever it takes to stop you.”
No one moved for the longest time, which was good because I needed everything I had to keep a lid on my power as Pen struggled to regain control, his dragon and his grief warring with his own good sense.
He looked down at my hand pressed flatly and firmly against his chest. I hadn’t even realized he’d moved forward or that I had touched him. My other hand was still wrapped around the grip of my gun. A raven eyebrow arched. The alpha, the ruler, in him would never move back, so I dropped both hands and took one step back.
“Keep him away from me,” he snarled in a deep voice brimming with power.
Crisis averted. I let out a shaky breath. “Okay. No problem. I can do that.” I walked back to Rex on shaky legs. “Go to the courtyard and wait for me there.”
A muscle in Rex’s jaw flexed. He leaned forward. “What an ungrateful piece of work. Why should I help him when all he wants to do is tear me apart?”
“Keep your voice down. One of his kin just died. God, Rex. He thinks a jinn is responsible. You do the math. Just go wait and I’ll come get you when I’m done, okay?”
He tossed an evil look at Pen’s back and marched away, muttering about staying in bed and demented, homicidal nymphs.