A Kiss of Shadows

Chapter 14

I HAD TO TURN MY BACK ON THE HAG, TO HAVE ANY CHANCE OF REACHING the gun. I gave her my back; my hand was under the pillow, and claws slashed my bare back. I screamed, still reaching for the gun. Clawed hands wrapped around my arms and flung me to the floor. I hit the floor hard,

unarmed, and Nerys was on me before I could catch my breath.

I kicked at her, and she slashed my legs through the slacks. I kept trying to kick at her and get to my feet, but she never gave me the chance. She attacked, slashing the air, my slacks, the flesh underneath, until I crawled to the wall, and there was nowhere else to run.

She was shrieking at me. "He's ours! Ours! Ours!" Each word was punctuated with a slash. I had my arms in front of my body, but she was going to strip the flesh from my arms, and it wouldn't stop her.

I'd expected the glow to be gone in a wash of terror and pain, but I was still a shining thing. Blood spilled out of my arms in a wash of glittering crimson as if my very blood glowed. I felt power like a warm fist rising up inside my body, spreading out, but not like any magic I'd ever felt before. The power flared through me, and my body shone so brightly that the hag hesitated.

Then she yelled, "I'll eat your skin off, girl, and you won't glow anymore." She slashed my arms until I cried out, and I saw that black-taloned hand coming at my face, my eyes.

I pushed my hand into her bony chest between her breasts, and power spilled up my arm, out my hand. I felt it smash into the hag. She stopped trying to slash me, and just knelt frozen above me. The power flowing through me hurt, it felt like every fiber of my body was being burned all at once. I screamed and tried to stop it, but the pain grew, grew until I looked at Nerys through vision gone grey and spotted. I was close to passing out from the pain, and if I did that, Nerys would kill me.

My body felt like it was being pulled apart with red-hot knives. I finally found voice to scream again, and Nerys joined me. She pulled away from me, crawling to lean against the side of the bed. She watched me with wide eyes, a look of disbelief on her twisted face. Her skin began to... flow-it was the only word I had for it. Her skin began to flow like thick water, spilling over her hand like a glove.

Nerys was screaming, "No, no!"

Her body began to fold upon itself, the bones sliding out of place, the muscles sliding to the surface like logs rising in water. Blood spilled onto the carpet, then thicker, darker fluids burst in an acrid wash from her. I watched her heart move to the surface of her body and draw the rest of her internal organs with it like a string offish. She screamed for a very long time, and even when she was reduced to a large round ball of flesh, you could still hear her screams, muffled, distant, but alive. Nerys was immortal-being turned inside out didn't stop that.

My pain was fading now like an amputated limb that still hurt. I'd seen my father do similar things. It had been one of his hands of power, the one that earned him the title Prince of Flesh.

I started crawling for the door, watching that pulsing, moving thing that I had made. When I cleared the end of the bed I could see Black Agnes straddling Sholto. She'd taken that shining piece of him inside the dull black of her body. He was struggling, but she held his arms down, pinning his body as she rode him. There are things among the fey physically stronger than the sidhe. The hags are one of them.

I went for the splintered door and heard Agnes's voice chase me down the hall. "Nerys, kill that white bitch." The last thing I heard was a plaintive, "Nerys?"

I was in the elevators before the next round of screaming started. If Black Agnes had wanted me dead before, what I'd done to her sister wouldn't make her change her mind. It seemed to take a long time to ride down to the lobby. I was shaking, cold. I raised my arms in front of my face. Both arms were bloodied, hurting with that sharp pain that only slash cuts give, but my left arm was the worst. I could see bone in the cut on the side of my left forearm. Blood flowed from it to run in a steady, red stream from my elbow to the elevator floor. My slacks were soaked nearly purple with blood.

I was hurt enough for shock, but I didn't think that was it. It was the magic. I'd done what could only be a hand of power. I'd done something my father could have done. It was his most terrible power. One that even he used with regret, because they don't die. Nerys wouldn't die. She would be trapped in a prison of her own flesh and fluids forever. Blind, unable to feed or breathe, but never dying. Never dying.

A scream built at the back of my throat, and I knew that if it came out that I would just keep screaming until Agnes found me and pulled out my eyes. I'd left my shirt, my jacket, and the gun in the room. I didn't even have anything to bind my wounds with. I did rearrange my bra so that my breasts were covered.

The elevator doors opened, and a couple almost got in, then saw me. Shock, fear showed on their faces, and they let the doors slide shut. I'd forgotten my glamour. I couldn't go through the lobby looking like this.

Personal glamour is my very best spell, yet I struggled, struggled as never before, to throw a veil of it over me. The best I could do was make people not see me as hurt, and not notice I was wearing nothing above the waist but a bra. I couldn't seem to concentrate on changing my appearance. I needed to use glamour to hide myself from the sluagh, and I couldn't see myself in my head. I couldn't visualize it, and without that, I couldn't do glamour.

The doors opened to the lobby, and I walked out. No one screamed or pointed, so the glamour was working. I was all right. I was going to be all right. Then I saw Segna the Gold sitting on the plush oval couch in the center of the lobby. She watched me with narrowed yellow eyes.

I turned on my heel and went for the back entrance, and found Gethin of the Hawaiian shirt and the baseball cap a few yards away, in front of the other doors. I searched that bright, busy lobby, all the smiling people, the line for checking in and checking out, and knew that they could kill me here on this flowered carpet and no one would know until my body hit the ground and my murderers had fled.

The ladies' room was visible from where I stood. I didn't question it, just walked calmly to it. When the door shushed behind me, I turned and wrote the symbols for protection and strength on the door. I had enough blood coming out of my body that I could have written a letter. I pressed my hands to the door and I called power. I might have feared doing it so soon after what I'd accidentally done in the room, but I had no choice . I poured my power into that door, those runes, and I knew that no one of the blood would be able to pass. I knew it, because I willed it so, and I was sidhe, and I had warded the door with my own blood. No one uses blood-it's too powerful to waste on small things, not to mention unsanitary-but a little overkill wasn't a bad thing tonight. I needed time to think.

I walked through the small lounge area with its sofa and line of mirrors, to the real bathroom beyond. What I saw in the far wall made me realize I didn't need time to think: I was leaving. There was a window set high in the wall. All I had to do was get to it.

I grabbed a handful of paper towels to shove against the worst of the arm wounds while I looked for something to stand on. Once outside I was going to have to find medical help. But I had to survive first, or the only medical help I'd be getting was from the medical examiner.

Gethin's voice-or I assumed it was him, as it wasn't the hag-said, "Little sidhe, little sidhe, let me come in."

I didn't give the next line. If he wanted to quote children's stories he was welcome to it. I was getting out of here. I finally dragged one of the curve-backed chairs from the lounge to the stall closest to the window. I had to jump to grab the metal top bar above the stall, which knocked the chair over. I hung there by my arms for a second, then started using my feet to climb up the wall and get the rest of my body close to my hands. The wounds that had been slowing down, bled faster. I slipped twice in my own blood before I could perch on top of the stall and look at the small window. It was a very small window, and it was one of those moments when I was glad I was small.

I was balanced between the bathroom stall and the window sill when something slammed into the window. I had a glimpse of tentacles and a razored mouth snapping at the glass, as I fell to the floor. I had to climb back to the window-not to escape through it, but to ward it. They couldn't get in, but now I couldn't get out.

I was trapped, losing more blood than my body could handle, and out of ideas. If I couldn't do anything else, I could at least try to slow the bleeding on my arms. I got a pile of paper towels and went to the sink. What I really needed was a cloth or strong thread to hold the towels in place. I was using the mirror to see how deep the wound on my left arm was when I noticed something in the mirror. Down, down in the depths of the reflection, something small and dark was moving.

I turned, paper towels pressed to the wound, to search the room. The stalls were pale pink and plain, the walls pale pink. Even the few pipes that peeked out of the walls and ceiling had been painted pale pink to match. There was nothing dark in the room except my slacks and bra, and that wasn't what I was seeing.

I turned back to the mirror and it was still there. It was like a dark shadowy figure walking down some crystal hall, coming closer, growing minutely larger. I didn't instantly think it was the sidhe that had tried to kill me at Alistair Norton's, because a lot of sidhe can do mirror magic. For all I knew it was the sluagh coming through the mirror to spill over me. I couldn't ward the mirror-it wasn't a door or a window, not as I understood it. To come through the mirror meant they had better magic than I did, and I couldn't stop them.

The door opened, and my heart almost stopped beating, but it was just two women. Two ordinary, human women, who couldn't have been the least bit sensitive or they would never have been willing to come through the door. They came in laughing, gave me some strange looks, but went into adjoining stalls still laughing and talking. They saw me dressed and not bleeding, because it was the image I'd projected. Good to know something was working.

I didn't know what to do. Then I noticed something new in the mirror. There was a tiny spider crawling over it. No, not over it-inside it. The spider was inside the mirror, crawling on the other side of the glass. It was just like the spiders that had helped save me at Norton's house. It was the fey who had saved me. He, or she, had saved me once. If I ever needed saving again, this was it.

I tore off a piece of paper towel and wrote in blood: HELP ME. I waited until the blood had dried a little then I crumbled the paper into a hard, tight ball. The toilet flushed behind me. I was running out of time.

I passed my fingertips just above the surface of the mirror, careful not to touch it. I didn't want to touch the mirror directly until I had a sense of exactly what spell it was. I could feel the trembling line of power where the magic pulled like a string against the solidness of it. The magic was like a weak spot, a metaphysical crack. Whether the practitioner had found a weakness in the mirror and exploited it, or made the weakness, I didn't know. I pressed my fingers against the cool glass and thought of the heat that had forged the mirror. I spread my fingers apart and the glass fell to pieces like cotton candy on a summer day. A hole opened in the mirror, and a line of white, dazzling light spilled out of it like a distant flash of diamonds.

I threw the ball of paper into that melted hole. I smoothed the mirror back into place like molding clay. I spread it even with my bare hand. The door opened behind me. I was out of time. There was a lump in the glass, not perfect. I leaned into the mirror, pretending to check my nonexistent lipstick, blocking the view.

The first woman had opened a tiny purse and was really fixing her lipstick.

But I wasn't looking at my lips. I was watching that shadowy figure low in the mirror. I could see tiny shadow arms moving, unwrapping my message. I heard a male voice ring like a bell in the room. "Done."

The woman froze in front of the mirror. "Did you hear that?" she asked.

"What?" I asked.

"Julie, did you hear that?"

The other woman still in the stall said, "Hear what?" The toilet flushed, and Julie joined her friend at the sink.

To my horror the shadowy figure started growing larger. He was going to come out of the mirror. He was going to walk out of the freaking mirror. I didn't have enough glamour left in me to cover this. Dammit.

I tried to think of some way to distract the women, when I realized exactly what to do. I crossed the room to the light switch and flipped it off. As the darkness slammed around us like a black wall, I felt the pressure in the room change. I knew someone was crawling through the mirror as if pulling aside a thick crystalline curtain. I swallowed to clear my ears and wondered what to do with the two yelling women.

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