The kirk. I run toward it, not waiting to see who follows me. I hear Noah swear and say my name under his breath, and he’s probably right behind me. The girl . . . her pulse is fast. Her breaths are faster. The distinct sound of fingernails clawing at gravel cuts through my senses, and I hurry. Although a lamp illuminates the churchyard, it’s empty, and I make the black wrought-iron gate in an effortless leap. Crouching as I land, I scan the area. The kirk’s front is adorned by a circular glass window at the top and flanked by a pair of oblong windows with a crest in between. No lights are on. No one is here. Her heartbeat, so slow now it barely beats, is coming from around the back of the church. Then the beating stops altogether. Silence.
Through the darkness I run, haul ass, around the ancient stone structure and into the shadows. Abruptly, I halt. There in the gravel is a woman’s body. I fall to my knees, and even though I can’t hear her heart beating any longer, I still feel the pulse at her throat. Nothing. That’s when I notice the gaping hole in her chest, heart gone.
That’s also when I notice her lifeless eyes staring wide, frightened, up at me. Lips slightly parted. Lifting one of her hands, I notice her fingertips are scraped and bleeding. She might be twenty years old, if that.
And I’m too fucking late. Reaching over, I close her eyes.
“Let’s go, Ri,” Noah says beside me. “Nothing you can do.”
“Yeah, I know that,” I answer angrily. I rise and just walk off. Noah’s right behind me, and he leaps the gates a few seconds after me. Together we cross the street and head through the arches of Old Tolbooth Wynd.
“The only way to stop this is to stop them,” Noah says, and I know he’s right. “Stop the Fallen.”
Because apparently I can’t even detect when an innocent is having her heart ripped out of her body until it’s too frickin’ late.
My arm is grabbed and my body swung around, and Noah is standing there, holding me in a tight grasp. “Let it go, Ri. You have to. Let that girl go, and let Eli go. For now. You’ve got to focus.” His mercury gaze sears me. “I’ll be here for you. After. Okay?”
I stare at Noah’s beautiful features in the moonlight, and the slender dreads that have escaped the leather band holding them back. He looks nothing like Eli, yet he reminds me of him every time I look at him. Reminds me of what I have to do now. “Yeah, I know,” I answer. “I will.”
Noah play-slaps my cheek. “That’s my kick-ass girl. Now let’s go see what the relic says. Jake took it up to Sydney.”
Giving Noah a nod, we continue up the wynd near the Crescent gates, and Peter must have known we were coming because the gates are open. The ringing in my ears grows louder and louder again. Damn, I might have to get that checked out. The closer we move to the front door, the louder it grows in my head. At the doorway, I stumble to my knees and cup my ears.
“Ri, what’s wrong with you?” Noah asks. He’s kneeling down, his hand on my back.
“I don’t know,” I answer. “I think I have something wrong with my ears,” I push my palms tighter against my head. “This humming is nonstop.”
Noah helps me stand. “Well, come on. Let’s get you inside, human,” he says.
I concentrate once more on siphoning the sound out of my head. It takes more concentration than before, but I do it. It’s still in there, and it still hurts, but it’s dull. Dull enough for me not to be babied and carried to my room. “I’m okay,” I assure Noah. “Let’s find the others.”
Inside, we find the others gathered in the library.
Jake looks up when we enter. “I’m sorry, Riley. I could’ve told you what you’d find,” he says solemnly. “No matter how fast you are, if a Jodís gets there first, there’s virtually no hope for the innocent.”
“That’s pretty obvious,” I say. “I used top speed to get there and still didn’t make it.”
“The Fallen may have created the Jodís with the power of shifting,” Gabriel says, his deep voice and odd accent breaking the air.
“Shifting?” I ask.
“Aye, space. From here to there,” Gabriel says. “’Tis an ancient, magical way of transportation created by the Fae, back before Scotia was even Scotia. If ’tis a verse they can recall, they’ll use it.”
“Then why don’t they just shift the entire body?” asks Lucian. “Why take their heart? Why so brutal?”
Gabriel rubs his jaw. “I can only imagine they’re working with verra little in the form of common sense and intelligence with the Jodís,” he answers. “They’re conjured creatures, dunna forget. ’Tis easier for them to comprehend short commands. Like to bring just the part they need.”
“Okay, I’ve got it,” Sydney says from her corner desk. On it, lying atop a soft cloth, she has the aged cross Ginger found in the catacombs. Sydney stares through a large magnifying glass eyepiece. She lowers the piece and looks at us. “It reads—” Then she reads the inscription out loud and the language almost hurts to hear it. It’s completely incomprehensible. Dolphins might as well be talking. It’s that odd. I almost cover my ears.
“Basically it says, Wherein the hallowed ground of the remnants that battled the painted warriors from the north, in the center of such a mass grave of bloodshed, lies what you seek. No matter time, ’twill remain the same until the one who reads it releases it. Oh— ouch! Shit!” Sydney drops the relic onto the table and blows on her fingertips.
The moment the last word leaves Sydney’s mouth, the cross turns red like embers, and as it lies on the table, it literally bursts into flames. Suddenly, the vicious humming inside of my head weakens. I take in a deep breath. The pain is gone. The humming is still there, but so faint, I can barely hear it. Sydney jumps back, and Gabriel grabs her by the arm and pulls her away from the table.
We stare as the cross turns to cinders.
“I hope you have that memorized,” Noah says, then shakes his head. “Damn.”
“Yeah, I do,” Sydney answers. “And I wrote it down.” She looks at Gabriel. “Didn’t expect that.”
“Nor I,” he returns. He looks at Jake. “’Tis a puzzle that requires more searching. Edinburgh is an ancient city, and before the castle was built, battles raged and lives ended.” He looks at Darius. “We’ve got to find the spot where the Caledonians battled.”
“Who are the they?” I ask.
“The early Picts,” Darius answers. “Savage fighters, they tattooed their faces and bodies to terrorize their opponents and make themselves seem more brutal.” He half grins. “Gawan of Conwyk is such. As am I.”
“Then you should know precisely where to look.” Victorian, who sits quietly in a far corner, is listening. He glances at me, his eyes warm and somewhat sorrowful.
“I know where to start,” Darius claims. “Much has changed over the centuries. The landscape, the construction—while ancient in truth ’tis still changed from back then.” He glances at Jake. “’Twill take some time.”
Sirens from Canongate blast through the night, and I know the girl’s body has been found at the kirk. It sickens me. A family’s lives will forever be changed as they mourn the loss of their loved one. All because some selfish bastards want to remain on earth forever.
On the far wall, the flat screen is on a local news channel.
“Hey, turn that up,” I say, and Noah takes the remote and turns up the volume. Moving closer, I sit on the arm of the sofa next to him and watch.
“Edinburgh’s streets are in peril after the discovery of yet another body found earlier this evening,” the reporter says. “A young male, approximately age nineteen, was found on the banks of the Firth. His identification is being withheld until all family have been notified. This makes the fourth young person in two weeks. Meanwhile, near Niddry street, another person has been found completely reduced to ashes. Is there a curse on Edinburgh?”
“Five,” I say under my breath, thinking of the poor girl who was just slaughtered in the kirk yard. “Seriously? A curse? They have the balls to say that on TV, with family members watching?” I shake my head and pace. “Fucking idiot reporters.”
The reporter continues. “Is there a serial killer running amok in the streets of Old Town? The police are out in full swing to catch the person responsible for these heinous acts.”
I stare at the flat screen and fixate on the video coverage. A black body bag is being hauled up the banks of the Firth by officers. Inside lays the heartless body of an innocent. Another one.
Weariness sets in, and I can feel my narcoleptic sleep about to kick in.
“I’ll walk you to your room,” Noah says beside me. He grins. “I can see it on your face. You’re about to go out.”
“I’m okay,” I answer, and rise from the arm of the sofa. “I can make it alone.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “Thanks, though.” I cock my head. “You’re kinda sweet when you’re not being a prick, Miles.”
Noah shrugs. “What can I say?”
I shake my head and start across the library. As I pass Jake, I stop and look up at him. “I’ll only sleep a few hours. We gotta end this. Fast.”
His green gaze sweeps over me. “I know. Go rest.”
With a slight nod, I leave. No sooner do I hit the staircase than a presence is felt, and I immediately know who it is.
“What if you fall out while walking the stairs?” Victorian says. “You could hurt yourself.”
I stop, turn, and stare up into Vic’s brown gaze. “Nice try. I’ve fought and killed rogue vampires. You think a little tumble down a staircase will hurt me?”
With a shrug, Victorian places his hand to my lower back, and gives a little pressure to urge me to continue up the stairs. With him. He grins. “It’s the only thing I could think of.”