(The fifth book in the Fever series)
A novel by Karen Marie Moning
For the irrepressible M.
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
I feel it deep within
It’s just beneath the skin
I must confess that I feel like a monster
YOU WISH TO KNOW ME?
POSIT YOURSELF AS THE PINPOINT CENTER OF ONE OF YOUR KALEIDOSCOPES, AND GRASP TIME AS THE COLORFUL FRAGMENTS ERUPTING FROM YOU IN A MULTITUDE OF DIMENSIONS THAT CONSTANTLY EXPAND OUTWARD IN AN EVER-WIDENING, EVER-SHIFTING, INFINITE ARRAY. SEE THAT YOU CAN CHOOSE AND EXPAND FROM ANY OF THOSE UNCOUNTABLE DIMENSIONS AND THAT, WITH EACH CHOICE, THOSE DIMENSIONS WIDEN AND SHIFT AGAIN. INFINITY COMPOUNDED EXPONENTIALLY. UNDERSTAND THAT THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS REALITY: THE FALSE GOD YOUR RACE WORSHIPS WITH SUCH BLIND DEVOTION. REALITY IMPLIES A SINGLE POSSIBLE.
YOU ACCUSE ME OF ILLUSION. YOU—WITH YOUR ABSURD CONSTRUCT OF LINEAR TIME. YOU FASHION FOR YOURSELF A PRISON OF WATCHES, CLOCKS, AND CALENDARS. YOU RATTLE BARS FORGED OF HOURS AND DAYS, BUT YOU’VE PADLOCKED THE DOOR WITH PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE.
PUNY MINDS NEED PUNY CAVES.
YOU CANNOT GAZE UPON TIME’S TRUE FACE ANY MORE THAN YOU CAN BEHOLD MINE.
TO APPREHEND YOURSELF AS THE CENTER, TO SIMULTANEOUSLY PERCEIVE ALL COMBINATIONS OF ALL POSSIBLES, SHOULD YOU CHOOSE TO MOVE IN ANY DIRECTION—“DIRECTION” BEING A VERY LIMITED METHOD OF ATTEMPTING TO CONVEY A CONCEPT FOR WHICH YOUR RACE HAS NO WORD—THAT IS WHAT IT IS TO BE ME.
—CONVERSATIONS WITH THE SINSAR DUBH
Hope strengthens. Fear kills.
Someone really smart told me that once.
Every time I think I’m getting wiser, more in control of my actions, I go slamming into a situation that makes me excruciatingly aware that all I’ve succeeded in doing is swapping one set of delusions for a more elaborate, attractive set of delusions—that’s me, the Queen of Self-Deception.
I hate myself right now. More than I’d ever have thought possible.
I squat on the cliff’s edge, screaming, cursing the day I was born, wishing my biological mother had drowned me at birth. Life is too hard, too much to handle. Nobody told me there’d be days like these. How could nobody tell me there’d be days like these? How could they let me grow up like that—happy and pink and stupid?
The pain I feel is worse than anything the Sinsar Dubh has ever done to me. At least when the Book is crushing me, I know it’s not my own fault.
Mea culpa. Beginning to end, all the way, I own this one, and there will never be any hiding from that fact.
I thought I’d lost everything.
How ignorant I was. He warned me. I had so much more to lose!
I want to die.
It’s the only way to stop the pain.
Months ago, on a hellishly long night, in a grotto beneath the Burren, I wanted to die, too, but it wasn’t the same. Malluce was going to torture me to death, and dying was the only chance I had of denying him that twisted pleasure. My death had been inevitable. I saw little point in drawing it out.
I’d been wrong. I’d given up hope and nearly died because of it.
I would have died—if not for Jericho Barrons.
He’s the one who taught me those words.
That simple adage is master of every situation, every choice. Each morning we wake up, we get to choose between hope and fear and apply one of those emotions to everything we do. Do we greet the things that come our way with joy? Or suspicion?
Hope strengthens …
Not once did I permit myself to feel any hope about the person lying facedown in a pool of blood. Not once did I use it to strengthen our bond. I let the onus of our relationship rest on broader shoulders. Fear. Suspicion. Mistrust drove my every action.
And now it’s too late to take any of it back.
I stop screaming and begin to laugh. I hear the madness in it.
I don’t care.
My spear sticks up, a cruel javelin, mocking me. I remember stealing it.
For a moment, I’m back in the dark, rain-slicked Dublin streets, descending into the sewer systems with Barrons, breaking into Rocky O’Bannion’s private cache of religious artifacts. Barrons is wearing jeans and a black T-shirt. Muscles ripple in his body as he casts aside the sewer lid with the ease of a man tossing a Frisbee in the park.
He’s disturbingly sexual, to men and women alike, in a way that sets your teeth on edge. With Barrons, you aren’t sure if you’re going to get fucked or turned inside out and left a new, unrecognizable person, adrift with no moorings, on a sea with no bottom and no rules.
I was never immune to him. There were merely degrees of denial.
My respite is too brief. The memory vanishes and I am again confronted with the reality that threatens to shatter my hold on sanity.
Fear kills …
I can’t say it. I can’t think it. I can’t begin to absorb it.
I hug my knees and rock.
Jericho Barrons is dead.
He lies on his stomach, motionless. He hasn’t moved or breathed in the small eternity that I’ve been screaming. I can’t sense him in his skin. On all other occasions, I’ve been able to feel him in my vicinity: electric, larger than life, vastness crammed into a tiny container. Genie in a bottle. That’s Barrons: deadly power, stopper corking it. Barely.
I rock back and forth.
The million-dollar question: What are you, Barrons? His answer, on those rare occasions he gave one, was always the same.
The one that will never let you die.
I believed him. Damn him.
“Well, you screwed up, Barrons. I’m alone and I’m in serious trouble, so get up!”
He doesn’t move. There’s too much blood. I reach out with my sidhe-seer senses. I sense nothing on the cliff’s edge but me.
No wonder he told me never to call the number on my cell that he had programmed as IYD—If You’re Dying—unless I really was. After a time I begin to laugh again. He’s not the one who screwed up. I am. Was I played or did I orchestrate this fiasco all by myself?
I thought Barrons was invincible.
I keep waiting for him to move. Roll over. Sit up. Magically heal. Cut me one of those hard looks and say, Get a grip, Ms. Lane. I’m the Unseelie King. I can’t die.
That was one of my biggest fears, whenever I was indulging in any of a thousand about him: that he was the one who’d created the Sinsar Dubh to begin with, dumping all his evil into it, and he wanted it back for some reason but couldn’t trap it himself. At one point or another, I’d considered everything: Fae, half Fae, werewolf, vampire, ancient cursed being from the dawn of time, perhaps the very thing he and Christian had tried to summon on Halloween at Castle Keltar—key part there being immortal, as in unkillable.
“Get up, Barrons!” I scream. “Move, damn you!”
I’m afraid to touch him. Afraid if I do, his body will be cooling noticeably. I’ll feel the fragility of his flesh, the mortality of Barrons. “Fragility,” “mortality,” and “Barrons” all packed together in the same thought feels about as blasphemous as stalking through the Vatican hammering upside-down crosses on the walls.
I squat ten paces from his body.
I stay back, because if I get close I’ll have to roll him over and look in his eyes, and what if they’re empty like Alina’s were?
Then I’ll know he’s gone, like I knew she was gone, too far beyond my reach to ever hear my voice again, to hear me say, I’m sorry, Alina, I wish I’d called more often; I wish I’d heard the truth beneath our vapid sister talk; I wish I’d come to Dublin and fought beside you, or raged at you, because you were acting from fear, too, Alina, not hope at all, or you would have trusted me to help you. Or maybe just apologize, Barrons, for being too young to have my priorities refined, like you, because I haven’t suffered whatever the hell it is you suffered, and then shove you up against a wall and kiss you until you can’t breathe, do what I wanted to do the first day I saw you there in your bloody damned bookstore. Disturb you like you disturbed me, make you see me, make you want me—pink me!—shatter your self-control, bring you crashing to your knees in front of me, even though I told myself I’d never want a man like you, that you were too old, too carnal, more animal than man, with one foot in the swamp and no desire to come all the way out, when the truth was that I was terrified by what you made me feel. It wasn’t what guys make girls feel, dreams of a future with babies and picket fences, but frantic, hard, raw loss of self, like you can’t live without that man inside you, around you, with you all the time, and it only matters what he thinks of you, the rest of the world can go to hell, and even then I knew you could change me! Who wants to be around someone that can change them? Too much power to let another person have! It was easier to fight you than admit that I had undiscovered places inside me that hungered for things that weren’t accepted in any kind of world I knew, and the worst of it is that you woke me up from my Barbie-girl world and now I’m here and I’m wide awake, you bastard, I couldn’t be more awake, and you left me—