"I thought the 'veil' was the word for the thing that separates our world from the world of the dead, the spirit world," Daniel was saying.
Seamus' brow furrowed. "Well, now it may be, come to that. I can't remember all that my uncle told me, since it's been a few years. I've started to wish he'd told me when I was a good bit younger than I was. But I believe there's a veil between here and the faerie realm as well." He pondered. "Our world and the faerie world are a bit farther apart where there are a good number of people; the veil is thicker there. It's thinnest out in nature. That's probably a good bit of the reason why the big dragons haven't made it to the cities yet. But if anything's gotten through, then you can be sure more things will get through."
"Where did you come here from?" Kelly asked.
"A farm near Kansas City," he answered. "After my uncle disappeared, I figured I'd stick a little closer to the life he'd told me about. That's why I stayed outside of a city -- when you're in a big city, you can't even tell the veil is there. You can't get a feel for its weave unless you get out and away. Old-growth forest is best, o' course, but there's not much of that to be had in the middle of prairie country. And he told me they needed someone in this part of the world."
"Was your uncle part of some kind of group, then?"
"Aye," Seamus said. "They called themselves the Guardians. And I think they helped to keep the veil intact. To keep the worlds separate."
Daniel tapped absently at the sketch. "And that's how you knew about her? Through your uncle's connections with her?"
"No," Seamus said. "She was in my dream."
Daniel blinked. "Dream? Then how did you know --?"
"Trust me," Seamus said firmly. "I knew." His finger slowly traced a line through the soil. "I knew. She had something to say, some way to help me, and I had some way to help her too. I can't believe I missed her by one goddamned day."
He pressed his hands together in front of his face, brooding.
Finally Kelly broke the silence. "What are you going to do now?"
Seamus looked up. "I'm going to ask you if you can take me to her."
Leaves crunched dully under their feet as they made their way through the streets. The sky had begun to cloud over, and the air had taken on that peculiar late-autumn flavor that cast colors in sharper contrast. Daniel studied the outline of a barren tree against the grays and slate-blues of the sky, and occasionally used the sword as a walking stick in the soft earth as they walked. Kelly stepped lightly through the grass, avoiding the large piles of leaves, crunching through the smaller patches, and glancing at Daniel every few minutes, only to look away again.
Seamus had drawn into himself, saying nothing since they had set out. He led Goewyn through the streets, the dull clop-clop of her hooves echoing oddly in the close, cool air.
"So tell me," Kelly finally said to Daniel, after they had walked about half of the three miles they had to go. "Where did you learn that thing about iron?"
He looked at her, his eyes lingering a moment longer than they might have. "Oh," he said, returning his attention to the sky, "I've always been interested in folklore. Greek mythology, Welsh folklore, urban legends, whatever. Partly, it's interesting because it's really more about people than it is about the world around them. And partly, I'm curious about the world the same way everyone else is." He pondered for a moment. "Sometimes I kind of feel like there's some awareness in the world, that it's not just there, but that it's a living, breathing whole."
"Kind of like Buddhism?" she asked.
"Well, more like Taoism, but yeah, that's kind of the idea. Pantheism. The whole idea that there are spirits in everything, that not just humans have souls, but animals and trees too. Mountains, all that." He grinned. "Sorry, I didn't mean to get into a discourse in comparative theology."
"No, go on," she said, glancing at him again.
"Well, anyway, I've read a fair number of folk tales, especially Welsh and British and German. I've done some roleplaying, too, and some of the cooler bits involved faeries. A quest to go ask a boon of a faerie lord, that sort of thing. They're kind of fascinating, really. The way faeries look at the world. It's like, if you asked a faerie, 'Why is the sky blue?' they'd look at you like you were crazy, like that wasn't even a question."
"Huh," she said. "So what kind of answer would you give to that question?"
He laughed. "Probably the same answer I gave in one of my college classes. It was one of those 'look for the symbolism in these paintings' nonsense things, and the teacher asked something like why did the painter put an apple in the fruit bowl. I just said 'if it hadn't been an apple, it just would've been something else, and you'd still be asking the same question.'"
She laughed and shook her head. "Were you always a smartass like that?"
"In that class, yeah," he said. "It got to the point that whenever she was putting a painting on the overhead, she'd look over at me and say, 'Sorry, Daniel.'" He grinned.
She stopped. "Are you serious?" she said.
"Yeah, I --" Daniel stopped too. "Hey, Seamus. Are you all right?"
Seamus had dropped about a hundred feet behind, and was sitting on the curb, holding his head in his hands. He looked up as Daniel and Kelly hurried back toward him. "I'm a'right," he said gruffly. "Sorry, it's just this nasty migraine I been getting every now an' then. Ever since... ever since the trouble started."
Kelly frowned. "Was that the same time the dreams started?" she asked.
"No," he said. "They started a couple of days before. I wish I'd paid more attention then." He lowered his head back into his hands.
"Are you going to be all right?" Daniel said. "I think there's some Excedrin back in the apartment. Or there's a drugstore back half a mile or so."
Seamus shook his head. "I've tried. No help." He rose to his feet. "It's getting a little better. Let's keep moving. How far do we have left to go?"
Daniel jogged to the nearest street sign. "A little under a mile," he reported.
Seamus set his jaw. "Right. Let's go."
"I'm worried about him," Daniel muttered to Kelly as they knelt in front of the girl's body. Seamus was hanging back about a hundred yards, leaning heavily against Goewyn, who was nuzzling him gently.
"I don't know," Kelly said doubtfully. "I'm not convinced he didn't just have a stroke or something."
Daniel gently felt through the girl's jacket pockets. "God, this feels weird," he said. "I've got prickles all down my neck." He pulled a pair of gloves out of the jacket's outer pockets, then began to feel around for inner pockets.
"Try it from this side," snorted Kelly, who was checking the girl's front jeans pockets. "Hey, found something." With some difficulty, she pulled out a keychain attached to a Velcro pouch. She peeled the pouch open, and looked up. "Disco. Got it."
"Anything that lists an address?" asked Daniel, moving around to see.
"Don't know yet," Kelly said. "Couple of credit cards. Her name is Amanda Gray. Hmm... here it is, driver's license. Yes, it's got an address." She suppressed a shiver.
"The veil!" came a cry from the near distance.
"What?" Daniel called, looking back.
Seamus and Goewyn were gone.
The prickling on the back of Daniel's neck suddenly grew more distinct. He snatched the sword from the ground. Instinct made him break into a run. "Where's Seamus?" he called to Kelly.
A few more words were carried across the wind. All Daniel could catch was "...weakened the veil without her..." Then a breeze rose and rattled the fallen leaves, obscuring the rest.
Kelly followed Daniel, not knowing why she was running. "What's going on?" she called. "What do you mean, where's Seamus? Isn't he right where --" She looked at the open grassy area where they'd left Seamus and Goewyn. "What the hell?"
Daniel reached the spot and stopped, turning slowly, looking in all directions. "I don't like this," he said, taking a firmer grip on the sword. "I don't know what the hell is going on, but I don't like this at all."
"Daniel, what's wrong?" Kelly called.
"Oh, my God," Daniel said. He pointed to the west, where the clouds were stained shades of yellow, red, and orange. "Kelly, tell me I'm not imagining that sunset."
She looked. "What? No, you're not -- what the fuck? It was midmorning when we got here!"
He spun around at the sound of distant hoofbeats. "Goewyn!" he cried as the horse rounded a corner and began closing the distance at a dead gallop, her sides in a lather. "Come on!"
Goewyn stumbled to a stop in front of them. "Come on!" Daniel called, putting his foot into the stirrup and awkwardly hoisting himself up into the saddle, then offering Kelly his hand.
"Daniel, what the hell is going on?" she said, but she took his hand and let him pull her into the saddle.
Goewyn turned and pelted back in the direction from which she had come. "Hold on tight!" called Daniel. "I have a feeling this is going to be a rough ride!"
"Where are we going?" shouted Kelly over the pounding hoofbeats jolting her spine with every step.
"Beats me," said Daniel, clinging to the saddle. "I'm not even holding the reins."
Goewyn carried them around a corner and half a mile away, then heaved to a stop in front of a tall building, taller than the one Amanda had fallen from.
"Kelly, you wait out here," Daniel called as he tumbled from the saddle and ran toward the front doors of the building.
"Wait for what?" she called after him. "Daniel, what the hell is going on?"
Daniel pulled hard on the glass lobby doors, but they were deadbolted shut. He tried the next set of double doors, with the same result.
Kelly's voice was suddenly very distant, and a little bit scared. "Daniel?" she called.
Daniel spun around. She was looking up toward the top of the building.
He darted back out in front of the building, just in time to see a shape detach itself from a ledge near the top of the building -- probably thirty stories up.
Daniel felt oddly aware of time's passage as he watched, helpless.
Then, with a blur of motion, a dark gray shape slammed into the body in midair. The figures were still so high that it took a split second for the sound to reach them -- a crunch, a brief cry from Seamus, then a tearing noise -- and by then, the raptor was already wheeling away into the distance, with a ghostly shimmer hovering around its wings.
And a split second later, they were hit by a tidal wave of blinding sound and ear-splitting numbness. It was heavy with the scent of primeval forests, the stink of death, the musical ringing of distant laughter, the rainbow kissing the trees as thousands of spirits cried out for release.
Kelly stood frozen in shock. The horse whinnied and reared, rolling its eyes frantically.
From the far, far distance came a hoarse roar, that quickly built in strength and echoed through the sky. It was joined a split-second later by another from a different direction, then another.
Daniel swayed once, then dropped heavily to one knee.
He was not even aware of Seamus' body hitting the ground a dozen feet away.
|< Chapter 11||Chapter 13 >|