I’m almost to the figure now, and he’s not moving. He’s not speaking.
He’s not breathing.
I hear no heartbeat.
I freeze. Standing my ground, I do nothing but stare.
The image blurs, shifts, and disappears.
Blinking, I gape at the empty space. I rub my eyes with my knuckles and look again. I look around. I’m on the Seat, totally alone.
And I must be losing my frickin’ mind. Now I’m seeing what I think is Eli? Shaking my head, I start down the Seat once more, and in a couple of seconds I’m at a full run. I cross the park, leaving the path and going straight across the grassy field, and pass a small body of water. A loch. Maybe one day I can return and enjoy all of this to its fullest.
I circle the palace, and the second my feet hit the grounds of the ruined abbey, a body hurls from the shadows and knocks square into me. I go flying sideways and land under its weight. “What the hell?” I mutter, and with two hands easily shove the body off me. I jump to my feet. “What are you doing?” I say to the kid pushing up off the ground where I threw him. From the shadows of the abbey, five more emerge. Six guys in all, and in this light I’d say they’re between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three. Youth. Probably punks.
I don’t have time for this.
“Where ya goin’, lass, in such a feckin’ hurry?” one says, and he steps closer to me. The others fall in behind him. One by one, they fan out. Circling me.
“What are you?” another says. “We watched you run from the Seat. You ain’t normal.”
“I’m very normal,” I say. “Now move. I’ve got somewhere to go.”
One bold one takes a few steps up and pushes me backward. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, miss.” He cocks his head, his face half in shadows. “What’s with the ink?” he reaches out and tries to touch my cheek.
I grab his arm and in a second have it twisted up and behind him. The others loom toward me, and I yank his arm higher. He curses and yells. “You’re feckin’ breakin’ my arm, bitch!”
I tug a few more times, and he yelps. “No,” I say, in his ear, calculating. “You’ve still got a little more give before the bone snaps.”
“Ge’ off me!” he yells, his accent heavy.
The others advance. And without hesitation.
I look at the one in the lead. Fall to your knees.
He does with a yell. “Feck!”
The next one’s already looking at me. Down on your side, grab your balls, and scream like a girl.
He does, but the screaming is so annoying and loud that I put a stop to it. Scream silently.
His mouth is wide open but nothing’s coming out. Perfect.
The rest, all wearing dingy clothes and T-shirts with jackets, fall in the same manner. Squirming on the ground in silence. I walk the one standing, my hand still jacking his arm up behind him, toward the ruined abbey wall. I look up and notice the darkened sky peeking through what once was a grand window but now is a gaping mouth in stone. I shove the kid against the wall, face into stone. “Do you seriously not have anything better to do than jump, or try to jump, women in the park? Really?” I shove him harder, and he grunts. His hair is cut close, or I’d grab a handful of it and yank him hard. “Stop being a useless piece of shit for society and go do something. Get a job. Whatever.” I lean close, my mouth to his ear. “But be careful who you fuck with.”
I give him one last push into the stone wall. He grunts again.
Now drop to your knees, be quiet, and don’t turn around for five minutes.
I let him go and he drops to his knees.
With a glance at the rest, I shake my head and take off back to Canongate, wondering the whole time not who that group of punk guys could’ve potentially raped or beaten if I weren’t there, but what exactly I saw on top of the Seat.
And why I thought it was Eli.
The streets are dark now, lamps burning and shining on the wet cobbles, and people are hustling about. The wind has picked up and it’s brisk against my cheeks. I barely make it to Old Tolbooth Wynd before I almost run smack into Noah. His face is glowering, almost illuminated, in the lamplight.
“Where’ve you been?” he asks.
“Lose the ’tude, Miles. Jesus. I went for a run,” I answer.
“Alone? Without telling anyone? Seriously?” he says angrily. “Goddamn, Riley. Use your head.”
I stare at him, bewildered. “I like the old Noah better. You know, the one who eggs me on at a vampire fight club?” I frown. “Where’s that guy?”
Noah’s eyes soften in the lamplight as his gaze locks onto mine. “He left the minute Dupré did.” Sun-streaked dreadlocks shift over his shoulder as he shakes his head. “Eli made me vow to watch over you if anything ever happened to him. And I take my vows seriously, Ri.”
We start walking up the wynd and toward the Crescent. I glance at Noah. “Well . . . thank you. I appreciate it. But I can—”
“Handle yourself. Yeah, I know.” He grins. “Eli said you’d say that. A while back, in Savannah. Before we left.”
I smile again. “Yeah, he would.” Inside, though, my heart is ripping just thinking of him. “Noah, up on the hill back there. I . . . thought I saw him.” I look at him. “Eli.”
Noah’s face hardens. “Who was it?”
I kind of laugh and shake my head. “That’s just it. It was . . . no one, I guess.” My gaze meets his. “He . . . blurred, faded, and disappeared. No one else was around except, well, that was later, by the abbey.”
Noah grabs my arm and we both jerk to a halt. “What happened at the abbey?”
I snatch my arm back. “Listen, vow or not, you can’t be Mr. Overprotective all the time. Good Lord.” I shake my head. “Humans. Kids. Punk kids. I took care of them.”
“How many?” he asks.
“God, Riley,” he mutters. We get to the gates, and the others are already waiting. “What’d you do to them?”
I shrug. “Nothing much.” I smile. “Promise.”
“So you’ve found your way home again,” Jake says. “We’re going to hunt in sections, teams of three. Miles, Gabriel, and Sydney. Darius, you’re with the lupines. Arcos, Riley, and myself. Keep to the shadows. It’s what they prefer. Royal Mile upward way, the castle gardens below, the clubs on Niddry Street, around the kirk yards. My group will take first Tron Kirk, St. Giles’, and Greyfriars, and the university. And any close or wynd in between. Darius, your group takes Niddry Street. Gabriel, castle gardens, Scotts Monument, Waverly.”
Noah gives me a furtive look. I hate not being beside you. Fucking hate it. Be careful, and don’t do anything stupid. Got it?
Yeah, I got it, Mr. Grumpypants. Keep your mind in the game. Sydney, above all else, needs her back watched. It’s why you’re with them tonight. I told Jake what a kick-ass fighter you are. And don’t worry. I’ll be safe. Pinky promise. I smile and nod, despite the scowl he gives me, and join my team.
Through the darkness, old Peter comes hurrying toward me across the Crescent’s drive. “Here ya go, miss,” he says in his heavy accent, making go sound like goo. Ya canna forget these now. Can ya?” He hands me my coat and sword.
I grin and take them. “Thanks, Peter.”
“Aye,” he answers, bobbing his gray, cap-covered head. “Be safe now, the lot of ya.”
I pull my arm through the leather strap, buckle it at the waist, and sheath the sword. Victorian helps me into my coat.
“I know you’re in pain over your man,” Victorian says close to my ear. “But even I agree with Miles. Get your head in the game, Riley.” He turns me around and looks me in the eye. “I couldn’t bear to see you harmed. In any way.” His gaze deepens. “I won’t bear it.”
I stare at him. “Okay, okay, Vic. Chill. I promise. I will be careful.”
He continues to study me, as if he doesn’t believe a word of it.
With good reason.
“Okay, let’s go,” Jake calls. We all disperse.
We immediately cross over to Cowgate and head toward George IV Bridge. There are a few cafés still open, a bakery, and a few chip shops. Several restaurants. Traffic on the streets has slowed, almost as much as foot traffic has on the sidewalks. We reach Candlemaker’s Row and head toward Greyfriars. We slip into the shadows, hug walls, and keep a critical eye—and nose—out for Jodís. I see and smell nothing unusual. We move in and out of alleyways, behind businesses, and into any small, shadowy place evil would lurk. Nothing. Finally, at Greyfriars, a guided ghost tour is just leaving the kirk yard as we pass. The guide, a big guy with a head full of dark hair and a black cloak, stares hard at us, but continues on with his group.
Inside the kirk yard, we separate and slip around the many stone crypts and headstones filling the ancient hallowed yard. The cemetery is neatly manicured, with paved pathways among green grass. Ahead I hear something. A heartbeat. Alone. I back into the shadows and wait. Soon a young woman appears on the path coming in through the front gates of Greyfriars. Why she’s alone, I have no idea. It’s well after nine p.m. She must’ve slipped away from the tour group. She’s dressed in a black peacoat, with her hair all tucked up beneath a cream-colored knitted cap. She has her hands stuffed into her pockets and is walking fast. So fast, she walks right past me without noticing. I follow.
Where are you? Victorian calls to me inside my head.
I don’t know. By a crypt. There’s someone in here. Human. She seems to know where she’s going. I answer.
And where’s that? Vic asks.
Then the smell hits me. Stronger than usual. That means there’s more than just one.
Jodís, Jake, Vic. Get over here. I can smell them. I’m near a wall of graves. So gray, some almost look black. And there’s a woman in here.