Black Fallen (Dark Ink Chronicles #4)

4,390
05.03.2019

“He’s lookin’ for something,” Jake says. Then gives a slight grin. “Besides you, of course.”

“Who is he?” Ginger asks, and she comes to stand by Sydney. She’s wearing head-to-toe black training gear.

“Mayhap another of us,” Jake answers, meaning vampire. “He obviously either saw Riley or senses her presence.”

“Then he may sense our presence, as well,” Victorian adds. “Riley’s not safe.”

I glance at Victorian, and his expression is dead serious.

“Riley can handle herself,” Jake says, and looks at me. “Am I right?”

“Yes, you are,” I say without hesitating.

Jake nods. “Good. Now, what exactly did he say to you?”

I shift my weight. “He wants me to meet him at the Marimae House at seven p.m.” I have to think. “Since I lost a day to sleeping, I guess that’ll be tomorrow at seven p.m.”

“And what else did he say?” Noah prods.

“Well, he did say to come alone.” I look at Noah. “And that he couldn’t wait to see me.”

“Fucking creeper,” Noah mumbles. “You’re not going alone, Ri. Forget it. We don’t know what he is.” He gives Jake a challenging look.

“You’re absolutely right, Miles,” Jake answers. “She won’t be going alone.” He turns and glances at Sydney and Ginger. “The other girls are going to join her.”

Lucian gives a low growl. I think I’m the only one, besides Ginger, who hears it. Ginger places a hand on her mate’s arm and looks at Jake. “I’m in.”

“Me, too,” Sydney says. “I can’t stay cooped up in here one more day.”

“’Tis a formal event,” Gabriel says. “We’ll have your attire ordered.”

Jake glances at first Sydney, then Ginger. “A four, a four.” Then he looks at me. “And an eight. In black.” He grins at me.

Prick, I say to Jake in my head.

Tsk, tsk. I’m your boss. Sexual harassment. Ever hear of it? he responds back.

I simply smile. I’m flipping you the bird. Here. In my mind.

Jake laughs out loud.

It suddenly reminds me of Eli. The thought that there’s a chance, no matter how slight, that Eli is . . . somewhere, and not dead, gives me strength. Courage. And lightens me. I feel energized.

“Right,” Jake says, and turns to everyone. “Since the Jodís move during the night and the Fallen are, as far as we know, down again to recover, we should spend the daylight hours training. So partner up.”

“And tonight?” asks Ginger.

Jake gives a slight grin. “Tonight we hunt.”

“Hunt Jodís?” asks Victorian. He slides a glance my way.

“Hunt . . . everything,” Jake corrects. “Unless Syd finds another clue.”

For the rest of the day, we train. Swords. Hand-to-hand. Dirks. You name it. All the while, though, my thoughts remain on Eli. I see his face every time I blink. In my head, I even hear his voice. How can someone like Eligius Dupré come into my life, change it so drastically, then . . . leave? It doesn’t seem real. I still expect him to walk around the corner any minute. Sometimes I glance up. Hoping. I even hear his voice in my head.

It doesn’t happen.

“Shit!” I yelp, and jump back. My thoughts rush to the present, and my vision focuses on what’s in front of me. Lifting my hand to my shoulder, I cover the trickle of blood caused by Jake’s sword with my palm. I stare hard at him.

“Pay attention,” he warns. “Your mind has to be in this, Riley. It could mean your life.” He inclines his head to the rest of the group. “Or one of ours.”

I wipe the sweat from my brow. “Yeah,” I answer, frowning. “Gotcha.” By now the sun has started to drop, and I need a little alone time. Maybe a short run before darkness totally falls. My pride is a little stung, having been chastised with the tip of a sword in front of the whole WUP team. I need to blow off a little steam.

Again. Seems I have a lot of that built up lately. But that’s the way I handle things. I don’t sit around and cry or mope. I run. Or kick the shit out of something. Usually my training bag at home. Since I don’t have one of those here, I’ll just run.

Replacing my sword in the rack, I slip out of the dojo as the others are sparring. Peter is in the kitchen doing . . . something. I hear plates and silverware clanking together. The Crescent’s hall is shadowy and dark, the lights extinguished downstairs all except the one lamp in the foyer. I ease out the front door and into the cool, briny Edinburgh evening. The sun is not fully extinguished yet, so the sky is a myriad of purples and pinks. No sword to weigh me down, I’ve only one dirk tucked into the inner belt of my black training pants. Wearing a long-sleeved black tee to cover up the dragons, I take off, leaping over the Crescent’s black wrought-iron gates and onto Old Tolbooth Wynd. I’ll be back before it’s time to head out into the city.

At Canongate, I turn left and jog toward the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Behind the old palace is Holyrood Park, and from what Gabriel says, it’s something like six hundred acres. The Salisbury Crags slope up to one of Edinburgh’s landmarks, Arthur’s Seat. Gabriel says it’s a little over eight hundred feet high. That’s a pretty sick steam blower, if you ask me.

So, that’s where I’ll head. Out of the city, and a place where, especially at this time of evening, I can wide-open run. No one to notice but the wildlife.

Jogging down Canongate, I pass the kirk where I found that poor girl the other night. Slain by a creature concocted from dark, ancient magic. I glance over and see a middle-aged couple and a younger boy, maybe fourteen, standing near the very place I found her. I slow to a walk. The woman has a small collection of wildflowers bunched in her hands, and she bends over, lays it on the ground, and turns to the man beside her and sobs. The boy looks . . . helpless, hands shoved in his pockets, and he glances around. His gaze catches mine. Yeah, kid. I know the feeling. I’m sorry as hell you have to go through it.

The boy blinks and stares at me for several seconds, then leans into his father.

I continue on.

The streets are damp from the afternoon’s rain shower, and the dark gray cobbles take on a slick shine in the haze of evening. There’s still enough light to see, so I take it easy at first, keeping my pace to a leisurely, humanlike jog. The blast of a horn cuts through the air, followed by another. I dodge a store clerk locking up his business for the day. FISHMONGER, says the painted sign on the window. The man looks at me. “Aye, lass. Are ya headed up to the Seat, then?” he asks.

I stop. “Yes, I am,” I answer. “Why?”

“Och, a Yank. Here on holiday?” he continues. He’s short, with a bulbous red nose. The man obviously likes his whiskey.

I smile. “Right again.”

His eyes, crinkled at the corners, graze over the inked wings at mine. “Right. Well you might want to bear right just up the way and take the Radical Road. ’Tis a rough track that’ll take ya straight up to the Seat.”

I give a nod. “Thanks.”

“Aye,” he responds, and turns to finish locking up the door.

With a wave, I jog onward. At the end of the block I bear right, and sure enough, around the palace, which is pretty impressive, is a rough road. Radical Road. I take it and, after seeing no one around, open up.

Even at top speed I can’t help but notice how wild yet gorgeous the landscape is. The grass is still green, even in October, and stretches out toward the sharp hill that juts up—Arthur’s Seat—and the beauty of it takes me by surprise. I have to remember that just because there is evil invading Edinburgh doesn’t mean the city itself is evil. It’s . . . stunning. And I wish more than anything Eli could be here to see it with me. One day, again. Soon.

Before I know it, the sun is dropping fast, but I don’t care. I can still see out, and I’m determined to make it to the top of the Seat. A sweet aroma—different from the city’s brine—hits my nose. Clover? Whatever it is, I like it. It soothes me. Pushes me harder. Soon I’m at the foot of the Seat and I start the climb. It’s not straight up, so I run at an angle, and at one point I’m bent over, using hands and feet to gain the top. Sharp rock, spongy stuff that I can’t identify, and clumps of faded brownish-purple bushes that I think are heather are all over. They’re not soft to the touch. Neither are the thistles. I ignore all of that, though, and scrap my way over and up. As a full-fledged human it would’ve taken me, I don’t know, probably an hour or two to climb. Now? Let’s just say I left the Crescent about fifteen minutes ago and I’m nearly to the top. I notice how fast the sun drops out of site, and the purple-and-pink-streaked sky has become gray and dark. It’s not pitch out yet, but it’s getting there. I’d better hurry or I’ll miss the view.

In less than three minutes I’m at the top. The city’s lights are on now and the castle is illuminated, a guiding light in its gray center. Tall, dark spires that look like jagged shadows jut skyward. I can hear tires splash through puddles. Doors scraping the wood floor as they close. Grease sizzling as battered fish and whatever else is being fried. Conversations merge, and I have to block them all out because trying to decipher the different dialects and accents makes my head hurt. I breathe in, long, deep. That clover smell is potent up here, almost like someone’s just cut the grass and run over a giant pile of, well, clover. And some other things I’m not familiar with. Makes you think nothing could ever be as wrong as they are down in the city.

But they damn sure are.

Since going down has to be even easier than going up, I know I’ll get back to the Crescent in minutes. Just as I start down, I jolt to a stop. A dead halt.

A lone figure stands twenty feet away. His face is cast in shadows, and I see nothing but his silhouette. My heart leaps.

“Eli?” I say out loud. Jesus Christ, it looks just like him. At least I feel it does. His height, body shape, broad shoulders. Even the way he stands. I move slowly toward him. He’s saying nothing, yet I feel . . . something. A familiar presence about him. “Eli, is that you?” I know it sounds absurd that I even think it. I saw what happened to him at Waverly Station. There’s no denying what happened. Yet . . . I still have doubt. Eli! If it’s you, you’d better goddamn answer me!