I wondered how it had gotten into the abbey. Had someone slipped inside in the heat of battle? Gone around the back way and broken in? Had the attack on the abbey been far cleverer than I’d thought?
Sidhe-seers were rushing everywhere, carrying buckets and fire extinguishers, but neither had any effect on the flames. Blankets seemed at first to smother it, then the blaze sprang back up, hotter and more voracious than before.
“Icefire,” one of the new sidhe-seers muttered grimly as she pushed past me. “It can only be made by an Unseelie prince.”
How did they know this stuff? Jada’s sidhe-seers were ten times more knowledgeable and well trained than ours. Thanks to Rowena, who’d only permitted a select few into select few libraries, the bitch. Obviously, in other countries, they were actually allowed to read the ancient texts and legends. I narrowed my eyes. “You think Cruce…?” I trailed off.
“Must’ve. Unless new princes have already replaced those slain. It can only be put out by an Unseelie prince,” she tossed over her shoulder. “You wouldn’t happen to know where we might find one of those, would you? One that’s not the current repository for the Sinsar Dubh? Oh, wait, you are, too,” she spat.
I ignored it. As a matter of fact, I did know where to find an Unseelie prince. In the dungeon of Chester’s.
And one of the Nine owed me a favor.
And there were sifters out there in battle, and the Nine could take one alive.
I turned and raced back out into the night.
When I returned from Chester’s with a pissed-off Lor and a seething Christian, the battle was over.
Not won—far from won. Just over.
The sidhe-seers had rapidly realized nothing they did affected the fire and returned to the front where they could at least prevent the burning abbey from being invaded. The Fae had retreated but I knew they’d be back. The abbey was ablaze in three wings, with the enchanted, blue-black fire shooting into the sky, and I had no doubt the Fae believed our fortress would be ash by dawn.
“Icefire,” I told Christian. “Only an Unseelie prince can put it out.”
He smiled bitterly, unfurling his wings. “Aye, lass, I’ve seen it before,” he said, his eyes strange and remote, and I knew he was remembering something from his time in the Silvers, or perhaps his time on the cliff with the Hag. Perhaps he’d explored his forbidden powers in a way I was afraid to. Tried to create something to warm himself, trapped in the Unseelie prison, who could say. All I knew was, he was here and knew what it was, and maybe parts of the abbey could be salvaged.
He sifted out abruptly.
Movement near the entrance caught my attention.
I turned to look and gasped.
Ryodan stood in the doorway, stumbling then catching himself on the jamb, so badly burned I couldn’t comprehend how he was even staying upright.
He was a mass of red, weeping blistered skin, blackened flesh, with charred bits of fabric falling off him as he stood.
Jada was motionless, tossed over a badly burned shoulder.
My heart nearly stopped.
“Is she okay? Tell me, is she okay?” I cried.
“Goddamn,” he croaked, swaying in the doorway. He coughed long and deep, an agonizingly wet sound, as if parts of his lungs were coming up. “Relative.” He coughed thickly again.
“What about Shazam? Did you get Shazam?” I said urgently. I couldn’t bear the thought of Jada suffering one more loss. Again I wondered who Shazam was, where he or she had come from, why Jada had never mentioned this person.
“Relative,” he croaked again, and I stared at him, realizing the invincible Ryodan was having a hard time functioning and something had stunned him so completely he was as close to utterly blank as I’d ever felt myself. The look in his eyes was wild. Hunted. Haunted.
Then Lor was gently taking Jada from his arms, cradling her against his chest, and I was relieved to see, except for her singed clothing and charred hair, she seemed virtually unburned. I moved in for a closer look at her face. It was wet, tear-stained. She looked so young, so fragile, her eyes closed, like a child. Without her eternal cool mask, I could see Dani in her features much more clearly. She appeared unconscious, limp, but barely touched by fire, and as Ryodan staggered and I saw the rest of his brutally burned body, I realized he must have used himself as her shield, no doubt whirling around her like a small protective tornado, burning himself, front, back, and sides, so she would remain unscathed while she searched for her friend.
“Where is Shazam?” I said again, swallowing a sudden lump in my throat. It was only the two of them. No one else had made it out.
Ryodan’s eyes were slits, his lids blistered, eyes glittering, seeping bloody liquid, and I held my breath, waiting for his answer. I wondered if he needed to change to heal. I wondered if he was dying and I should get him out of here fast, before he disappeared in front of everyone.
He sighed, another awful gurgling sound, and lifted a melted mess of a hand that was clutching a charred object from which white stuffing exploded.
“Ah, Christ, Mac,” he whispered, and blood gushed from his mouth.
He collapsed to his knees and I raced to his side to catch him, but he roared with agony when I touched him. I yanked my hands quickly away and took charred flesh with them.
As he fell to the ground and rolled over on his side, he convulsed with pain. “She went back in there for this, Mac.” He thrust it at me.
“I don’t understand,” I said wildly. “That doesn’t make any sense. What the fuck is that?” I knew what it was. I wanted him to tell me I was wrong.
“What the fuck do you think? A goddamned stuffed animal.”
Stare into the fog long enough, you start to see shapes everywhere.
Staring at nothing is dangerous. You gotta make something of it, dude! Fill it up. Color it every shade of the fecking rainbow, with big, laugh-out-loud stuff. Otherwise some ghost ship’ll come sailing right out of the fog with Death on the prow, bony finger pointing right at you. You look into the abyss, dude, the abyss always looks back.
What the bloody hell do you know about the abyss?
That we all got one. Bottomless, black, and chockfull o’ monsters. And if you don’t take control of it and fill it up with the good stuff, it takes control of you.
—From the journals of Dani “the Mega” O’Malley Conversations with Ryodan