Black Fallen (Dark Ink Chronicles #4)

5,475
05.03.2019

I feel not only Noah’s eyes on me as I leave, but Victorian’s, as well. Worrywarts. Neither will ever get used to the idea that I can handle myself. Eli worries, too, but he’s learned to keep most of it to himself. Besides, I’m with a vicious vampire. When provoked, he’s as rabid as a sick badger on crack.

“Flattery will get you nowhere,” Eli says outside.

I give him a smile. “You know what will?” I say.

Eli cocks his head and grins. “What?”

I sink my elbow in his ribs. “That!”

I take off.

Eli takes off after me. Swearing. In French.

“Shall I open the gates, lass?” Peter calls from behind me.

“No, thanks!” I reply, and take one leap to clear the tall, wrought-iron monsters. Landing in a crouch in the shadows, Eli drops right beside me. He glances at me and grins, and we both turn left at a normal run. A mortal run. A few people are still on the streets—late-night revelers, college kids.

We make it almost to Parliament, where it’s darker, and turn left onto Carlton. Not much activity, so we pick up the pace. I look over at him. “To the top of the monument,” I clarify. “The pointy part.”

Eli simply grins.

Its two thirty a.m., and even the black cabs have thinned out. Much of Edinburgh is quiet, including Vittoria’s, which means no ice cream tonight. For the most part, though, this street is safe. Staying close to the stone buildings, the shadows, we free run. Bounding off walls, garden gates, and tree trunks, we move swiftly, silently, at speeds a mortal can’t possibly conceive. I can barely conceive it. I’m pretty positive that even if we do pass a mortal, their eyes couldn’t follow our movements. Not enough to actually see what they think they saw.

Eli has trouble keeping up with me, and I fight not to laugh out loud. My body feels good, healthy, strong, and I stretch the strides a bit more. My skin and the Lycra feel one and the same. Wind must be moving through my lungs, because I am a mortal, after all, yet I’m not winded. Not one bit. It’s as though I’m standing still, unmoving. Or flying.

We hit Waterloo Place and really open up. In the heart of the city there are plenty of shadowy places to hide, and we take advantage of them. I’m ahead of Eli now, and I’m determined to reach the top of that damn monument before he does.

Waverly Station comes into view and I head toward it. Pass it. Hit Princes Street and slow down long enough to find shadows again, then turn up the speed. The monument is, like, right there—tall, spindly, and stabbing the sky—and after a few leaps onto the aged stone spires, I’m climbing. Hand over hand. Faster. Jagged stone scrapes my palms as I ascend, closer to the top of the spire.

I grab the point and brace myself against the wind whipping me. At this height, I can see the whole city. Exhilaration fills me, and I want to shout but I don’t. Instead I look down, readying myself to have my ankle yanked by Eli.

Eli isn’t here.

My eyes scan the spire and farther down the monument. The street below me is empty. I don’t see him anywhere. Shit! Eligius Dupré, where the hell are you?

For a second, no answer. My heart skips, and I descend the monument. From twenty feet I drop to the ground and stay in the shadows of the aged arched stone, waiting. Adrenaline fills me—a condition that has begun since my heart now beats so slowly. A frantic feeling is slipping inside of me, and I call again.

Eli, goddamn it! You better answer me. Swear to God, this isn’t funny!

No answer. My eyes scan Princes Street and back toward Waverly Station. The more I see nothing and the more Eli doesn’t answer me inside my head, the more frantic I become. It’s not like him to be silent. Especially when it comes to me. And especially when he knows we’re facing unknown shit in Edinburgh. I begin to move through the streets. Closer to the train station.

It’s not quite three a.m., and Waverly’s insides are dark and closed up. The station itself is huge, and I’ve already watched a security car go by twice. I’m in the shadows, and no way do they see me. Something is drawing me here, and I can’t identify it other than gut feeling.

And it’s not a good one.

Eli, if you’re fucking with me, I will not forgive you. Swear to God I mean it.

No way. No freaking way is he screwing with me. Something’s up and I know it. My insides feel icy with fear. This is completely out of Eli’s character.

I stop a second, lean my back against the stone wall, and think. Concentrate. Get your head together, Poe.

Listen.

Inhale.

I smell it first. It’s coming from inside the station. And that’s where I’ll be in five seconds.

Slipping into a place as big as Waverly Station in the heart of Edinburgh isn’t easy. Looking over, I see the reddish stone main building of Waverly rising skyward, complete with its clock tower. I make my way closer. I get to the closed and locked outer gate of one of the station’s car entrances, leap over that gate easily enough, and jog down the paved ramp and through the underground tunnel. It’s dark, with only a few lamps casting a little light ahead of me. The main entrance is locked. Too bad metal doesn’t work the same way a soul’s mind does, or I’d force it open. Instead I place my palms against the steel, press my weight against my arms, and push. Hard.

Hard enough to bend the steel hinges. I push until it gives—a large-enough gap for me to squeeze through. Inside the station, it’s dimly lit and vacant. Store merchants are closed down, roll cages in place, lights off. The big arrival/departure board is black. The stench is nauseating. The silence is nearly deafening. At least until I tune in.

A voice—in a language I’m completely unfamiliar with—vibrates in my ears. Rather, in my mind. It barely sounds human. So what the hell is it? There are no human words, not in this station anyway. I fine-tune my hearing by concentrating on my immediate surroundings, so the sounds from a mile away, up the street, in people’s homes, the pubs, the police department, don’t filter in. I turn my head. It’s coming from . . . closer to the tracks. Hugging the wall, I ease silently on the rubber soles of my shoes, through the shadows. As I near a sign that says PLATFORM 11, I slip over the bar, and move closer. The incoming track is empty; a vacant train waits on the other track, lights off. When I look left, toward the exit, the tracks disappear into the darkness.

That’s when I see them. At the end of the platform, where concrete meets tunnel wall and eventually, blackness.

They’re with Eli. But it’s not what I expect.

My heart drops.

There’re seven of them. Punks. As far as I can tell, just mortal older teenagers. Maybe even a gang. Why the hell aren’t they saying anything? And what’s that stench?

They speak.

“You’ll leave here wi’ us, freak,” says one to Eli. The guy’s tall with short-clipped dark hair and multiple piercings, and dressed in dark jeans frayed at the bottoms and a dark wool coat. “Dunna know how you got here, but you ain’t stayin’.” He shoves Eli square in the chest. Eli stumbles backward. “Ya ken, freak?”

Ken? What is that? Edinburgh slang? I don’t understand most of it, but the meaning is there and universal. He wants to kick Eli’s ass. And Eli must be dragging every ounce of strength he has not to drop fang and rip the kid’s head off. Eli, move away from them. Do it now. I wait after the suggestion, but Eli doesn’t budge. Why isn’t it working on him?

The kid says something to the others, who’ve remained silent, over his shoulder. Again a language that I can’t understand. I can’t even mimic it. It’s that odd.

There’s a body on the ground at Eli’s feet, unmoving. I tune in past their voices and listen. The faint whisper of ragged breath slowly escapes that body. The thready thump of a pulse. A slight groan. Beaten, maybe? Hopefully, that’s all. Had Eli tried to help the kid on the ground?

I remain in the shadows, observing, but that’s not what I want to be doing. I want to charge them, fight, and shake Eli until he snaps out of his wordless daze. Eli, why don’t you answer me? What in Hell is happening?

Eli ignores me. He doesn’t look at me. Doesn’t answer me. Doesn’t even flinch at my silent call. That scares the hell out of me.

The stench is overwhelming, yet I can’t determine where it’s coming from. I don’t sense that the boys are Jodís; something about them is all wrong for that. But they’re something.

I’ve had enough. My body hums with adrenaline, fear, and fury. Power collects in my muscles, my joints, bones, and just before I lunge out of the shadows, I hear it. Overhead. The sound of a hundred wings beating. The wind picks up on the platform and pushes me against the wall. I fight it, push back. My eyes find Eli and I call out. Again he doesn’t move, just stands there, looking dead at the kid in front of him. Doesn’t even acknowledge me or the beating wings and wind. Then it happens. So fast, I can’t process it until it’s over. My body freezes. I can’t move.

Eli remains motionless.

I concentrate on the punks. Move away. All of you. To the far wall, across the station.

Every one of the guys back up. Swearing and looking around, they continue to back up.

Eli still doesn’t move.

In the next second, three men emerge from above. Sweep down. They surround the pack of kids, push them forward. Again that noise, that speech that makes no sense, fills my head, and it’s coming from the three. Shadows flicker and keep in sync with the deafening sound of beating wings overhead. I can barely see Eli now, only in quick flashes of light. But I see enough. Hear enough.

In the distance, the screech of metal against metal. Train wheels on tracks. My eyes dart to the tunnel and I see a light advancing.

Eli, run! Turn around and run. Toward me. Eli’s legs, move!

Nothing happens. Eli stands there as though in a weird trance.

Then two of the three men move so fast my vision can’t keep up. In patches of flashing light and shadow, like I’m in some freaky disco club, one by one the boys are flung across the platform to the opposite wall. Their screams fill the tunnel, echo and sink into my insides. The crack of human skulls hitting concrete walls sickens me; their bones fracture loud enough for me to hear them splinter beneath their clothing. Blood is everywhere. The walls. The floor. They’re all dead. Dead humans.