Dimly, he decided that was a strange thing to take note of. Then again, everything felt funhouse weird. From the moment that that other fighter’s presence had registered, it was as if he had split into two entities, one that had done the stabbing and was now standing upright in his boots next to the burn mark in the snow . . . and another that was observing himself from across the alley, an impartial, detached entity.
Like a reflection in a mirror, identical but not the real thing.
For some reason, he thought of Rochelle. Which was strange as it had been a long time since he had done that.
Keeping a curse to himself, he reached across and yanked out the lesser’s knife. As the blade released from his flesh, he should have felt something. Right?
A blaze of pain. A sting. A flare of . . .
There was nothing except maybe a warm rush under his leather jacket. His blood. Running into his athletic shirt.
Zypher triggered the communicator mounted on the lapel of his leather jacket. “I need a medic. STAT.”
Boone shook his head. “It’s nothing. I’m ready to keep fighting—”
“Not gonna happen on my watch.”
* * *
415 Summit Lane
Caldwell’s Millionaires’ Row
Tohrment, son of Hharm, entered an elegant parlor that was trashed like it had hosted a bar fight. Antique furniture and silk sofas were tipped over, shoved out of place, torn up. Porcelain plates were shattered. Lamps were on the Oriental, shades ruined, bulbs broken, bodies cracked.
He was careful where he put his shitkickers. No reason to add to the ruin.
The scent of fresh vampire blood was thick in the air. And that wasn’t all.
He stopped in front of a large oil painting of a bouquet of flowers. Dutch. Eighteenth century. The still life, with its hard-focus depiction of dew on petals, careful detailing of the mammoth vase, and color ful, head-cocked parrot off to one side, was a prime example of the famous style.
But you could not see much of the artist’s expertise. There was a black splatter across the canvas, all that old paint and timeless talent covered with a substance that was viscous and glossy—but did not smell like sweaty August trash.
So it was not lesser-based. But they already knew that.
Shadows. And not Shadows as in Trez and iAm, but shadows with a lowercase s: Entities that had appeared in Caldwell from out of nowhere, did not appear to be tied to the Omega and the Lessening Society, and which, in this instance, had attacked a gathering of glymera types.
With deadly consequences.
The Brotherhood had tried to save the guests. But they had only mostly succeeded.
Stepping over an armchair that was riddled with bullet holes, he went to the body of a male, aged approximately three hundred years. The tuxedo jacket the deceased had on was open, the two halves falling off to the side to reveal a narrow satin waistcoat, a pleated tuxedo shirt with pearl buttons, and a bow tie that was still knotted with watchmaker-worthy precision at the front of the throat.
Blood stained the brilliant white of that shirt in a bull’s-eye pattern that was no longer getting any larger in diameter. Which was what happened when the heart stopped beating and circulation ceased. No more leaking.
It was there that logic and standard operating procedures ended. In spite of the wound and its crimson signature, none of the clothes were ripped or torn: Unlike that chair, there were no bullet holes through that jacket, the waistcoat, the shirt. No tears or piercing holes from a stabbing, either.
“Makes no fucking sense,” Tohr muttered.
If he were to unfasten the waistcoat, unbutton those pearls, and open that shirt up? He would see the damage that had somehow spared the clothes and wrought the flesh beneath. The brothers had no idea how it worked. This new enemy who attacked with ruthless efficiency was a mystery, possessing powers that had never been seen before, an origin that couldn’t be determined, and an agenda that seemed related to the Omega’s but could not be verified as such.
As Tohr sank down on his haunches, both of his knees popped.
The face of the corpse was pale gray and getting waxier by the minute. Typical of the aristocracy, the bone structure was symmetrical and refined, the features not extraordinary but certainly attractive, if only because there was nothing wrong with any one part of the whole: The nose was in proportion. The jaw was fairly firm above the slit in the throat. The arch of the brows seemed purposely engineered for hauteur.
The lips were pursed as if the male did not approve of the manner of his death.
And who could blame him on that one.
That strange chest wound was not, in fact, what had killed him.
The bullet hole in the center of the forehead was out of place on so many levels, the tidy little round penetration sporting a scorched outer rim—which was what happened with a point-blank trigger pull. Vishous had been the shooter—and it had happened after the shadows’ deadly attack, after John Matthew and Murhder had blown up two of this new enemy, resulting in the Jackson Pollock overlay of that old painting and a bunch of other expensive antiques.
With all the chaos that had erupted, it had been impossible to track the details, but Tohr would be deconstructing the entire series of events as well as the crime scene over the next couple of hours.
Including the part where V’d had to cap this corpse in the frontal lobe to prevent it from reanimating and going on an attack of its own.
A side effect, they had all learned, of a mortal shadow attack.
Tohr glanced around the room again and remembered the aristocrats scattering as the shadows had entered the parlor from somewhere inside the mansion. The Brotherhood, having been tipped off that the party was going on, had broken in through windows and attempted to save the guests.
They’d been on the property to sniff out treason. But, like a lot of nights in the war and most of the dealings with the glymera, the door prize had been an unexpected one.
And not in a good way.
“He staying put?”
Tohr glanced over his shoulder at the dry mutter. Vishous was as he always was: dressed in black leather, draped in weapons, and sporting an expression like someone stupid had just done something ridiculous.
V’s laconic puss made resting bitch face seem like something that belonged on an inspirational poster.
“Let’s be respectful, okay?” Tohr said.
“Whatever, that guy’s a traitor.” V stroked his goatee. “I’m not sorry he’s dead, and I’m glad he’s staying that way. These fucking shadows and their TKO corpses.”
At least they could agree on that. The only way to keep a shadow victim from waking up and attacking everything around them was to put a bullet spiked with water from the Scribe Virgin’s fountain in their forehead’s two-car garage.
The whole thing had so many violations of nature, it was hard to keep count.
Tohr got to his feet and looked over at the bar that had been set up off to one side. The linen-covered table was sporting a lineup of crystal glasses, rows of top-shelf liquor, ice melting in a sterling-silver bucket, and a colony of sliceable lemons and limes. Given its stage-left position, the layout had been spared the worst of the destruction, only a couple of wine stems knocked off, one bottle of chardonnay on its side, and two lemons peeking out from under the hem of the tablecloth as if they had taken cover down there.
It was highly unusual for a member of the glymera in a house as grand as this one to have a self-service spread like that, but given what had happened? There was so much more to worry about than social propriety. Twenty-four guests had arrived for the gathering, and all of the males were former members of the Council, the invitation proffered by an expelled lieutenant of the Band of Bastards who had aspirations to Wrath’s throne.
So, yes, V was right as usual. Everyone at the party was a traitor, and the evening had not been social in nature—which was a violation of law. Further, the Brotherhood would never have known about this, would not have been on-site to save the others, could not have stepped in in a nick of time . . . if it hadn’t been for one of their own. Thanks to one brave soul, they had been able to respond instantly when the shadows had streamed in.
“How’s our injury count?” Tohr asked.
There was a shhht sound as a Bic lighter was fired up and then the scent of Turkish tobacco wafted over.
“We’ve got a female in surgery,” V reported. “We thought we’d gotten away with only an ankle sprain, but then she collapsed. Internal bleeding. Guess she was a victim of the shadows, too.”
“Who is she?”
“This guy’s shellan, as it turns out.”
“Any chance they were targeted on purpose?”
“Hard to say at this point. But everything seemed random when it was going down.”
“And no one’s seen hide nor hair of Throe.”
“Nope. The host with the most is still missing.”
Tohr shook his head. “How did the shadows know the gathering was happening?”
“Maybe they were invited.” As Tohr shot a glare over, V shrugged. “Don’t you think it’s a little too coincidental that all these aristocrats were standing around when the attack went down? Just like it’s a little too coincidental that of the civilian deaths out in field from these entities, all were connected to the glymera?”
The urge to argue was nearly irresistible. Except the impulse came from being hungry and tired rather than any fault in Vishous’s logic. The brother was right. The shadows seemed to be targeting the aristocrats, but it was hard to say for sure because no one knew who was behind the new threat or what their goal was.
“I need to go talk to the family,” Tohr said as he went back to staring at the corpse. “Do we think the female is going to survive?”
“Hard to know, but her vital signs were poor when she went into surgery.” V exhaled over his shoulder, releasing a blue stream of smoke. “I’ll come with you.”
“Not your style, is it.”
“The son of this worthless male is worth the aggro.”
Tohr shook his head at the dead body. “At least we can all agree on that.”