I woke up just after sundown with a pounding head and the vague, nagging feeling that something was wrong. Cagney and Lacey had somehow managed to open the bedroom door while I was sleeping, and had migrated from the couch to the warmer and hence more desirable bed. They started to wail as soon as they realized I was awake, Siamese voices vibrating my head like buzz saws. I groaned, clapping my hands over my ears. “Can't you two be quiet?” They didn’t oblige me. Cats never listen. They're dependable that way; when Rome burned, the Emperor's cats still expected to be fed on time.
The fae have always lived with cats. They’re the only mortal animals that can stand to have us around, and that holds true for all of us, even half-breeds like me. Dogs bark and horses shy away, but cats can look at Kings, and a lot of the time, they do. Cats put up with us, and in exchange, we treat them with respect, and we feed them. We’re related in a way, and I don’t just mean through the Cait Sidhe. We both tend towards pointed ears, stealing cream, and getting burned alive when the wind changes. It was only natural that we’d form an alliance where both sides said "I don't need you" and both answered "you'll still stay."
"All right, you win. I'll feed you. Happy?" I pushed Cagney off my chest. She jumped off the bed, joining Lacey on the floor, where the two of them continued to yowl as they made it clear that no, they wouldn't be happy until the food was in the dish. I rolled out of bed, retrieving my robe from the floor. The cats twined around my ankles, doing their best to trip me, and I pushed them ineffectively out of the way with my bare feet, heading for the door.
I got the cats so I wouldn't be so lonely. I was starting to reconsider that idea. Maybe lonely was a good thing. Lonely certainly got more sleep. In my blackest moods, I tried to tell myself the increased sleep was the one good thing about losing my mortal family; living with Cliff and Gilly forced me to pretend to be diurnal, and left me with a coffee addiction that verges on the epic. I don't know how much caffeine it takes to kill a changeling, but I may someday find out.
The cats fell back once I reached the hallway, letting me walk unencumbered to the kitchen, where I filled their bowl with kibble. As they descended on their feast, I put a pot of coffee on to brew and made myself a quick nighttime breakfast of toast and scrambled eggs. Protein, carbohydrates, and best of all, cheap as hell. Combine "minimum wage" with the San Francisco housing market, and that sort of thing becomes an issue.
My food was still cooking when the cats finished theirs. Cagney wandered out into the living room, while Lacey sat down in the middle of the kitchen floor and started to wash her paws, purring loudly.
"Laugh it up, brat," I said, eyeing the level of the still-brewing coffee as I waited, none-too-patiently. "We'll see how much cat food you get after we've been kicked out for not paying the rent." None of my magic was strong enough to make the landlord believe I'd paid him. I'd be out on my ass if I gave him the slightest excuse. He'd be fitting a new happy couple into my previously rent-controlled apartment before I had a chance to find myself a cardboard box to live in. Evening wouldn't solve my housing situation twice.
The fog in my head cleared as I ate, and I almost felt like myself by the time I'd finished my second egg on toast and third cup of coffee. I tossed the dishes into the sink, rumpling my hair with one hand as I walked back towards the bedroom. The answering machine light was still flashing. I paused.
"It's probably Stacy, but it could be work," I mused. "If it's work, it probably means coming in on my night off. But it also means there might be money left after I pay the rent. Guys? Opinions?"
The cats didn't answer. Cats are good that way. Their lack of answer saved me from needing to explain my secret, lingering fantasy, the one that woke every time the answering machine flashed: the hope that Gillian might have found my phone number forgotten on her father’s desk somewhere and decided to reach out for the mother she hadn't seen in fourteen years. It was never going to happen, but it was a wonderful dream.
What the hell. I needed the money, and it wasn't like my creditors could threaten me with anything I hadn't heard before. If it was Stacy, I could just delete the message. I leaned back against the wall, sipping my coffee, and pressed the button marked "play."
The speakers crackled, intoning, "You have three new messages," in a bland mechanical voice that cut off with a strident beep. I winced and reached for the volume control, intending to turn it down. I was still reaching when the playback began, and I forgot about everything but the message.
"October, this is Evening. I believe I may have a problem. In fact, I'm nearly sure of it." Her tone was clipped, tight with some unacknowledged worry. She always sounded repressed, but this was new; I'd never heard her sound scared. It takes a lot to scare most purebloods. It takes a lot more to scare someone as naturally scary as Evening herself.
"Evening?" I straightened.
Evening wasn't just someone I called to fish me out of jail cells: she was Countess of one of San Francisco's smaller fiefdoms, and sometimes, she was even a friend. I say "sometimes" because she and I had very different ideas about what "social standing" meant. She thought it meant she got to order me around because she was pureblooded and I wasn't. I disagreed. So we hated each other about half the time, but we spent the other half helping each other survive. I found the man who killed her sister and I cleared her name when she was accused of being behind the destruction of the Queen's Court; she bailed me out when I got a little too enthusiastic following the Duchess of Dreamer's Glass. If there was a pureblood other than Sylvester that I'd trust with my life, it was her.
Damn her anyway, for making me care.
"If you're there, please, please answer your phone. It's truly essential that I speak to you immediately. Call me as soon as you can. And October..." She paused. "Never mind. Just hurry." She hung up the phone, but before she did, I could have sworn I heard her crying.
The second message started immediately, before I had a chance to move, or even breathe. It was Evening again, sounding even more harried than before.
"October? October, are you there? October, this is Evening." There was a long pause. I heard her take a wavering, unsteady breath. "Oh, root and branch...October, please pick up your phone. I need you to answer your phone right now." It was like she thought she could order me to be home. There was no telling how much time had passed between messages, but it had been enough for the worry to stop hiding and come out to the surface of her voice, obvious and raw. The only other time I'd heard that much emotion in her voice was when her sister died, and while Dawn's death had broken the shell of her calm, even that hadn't lasted long. This wasn't sorrow. This was sheer and simple terror.
"Please, please, October, pick up the phone, please, I'm running out of time..." The message cut off abruptly, but not abruptly enough to hide the sound of her crying.
"Oak and yarrow, Eve," I whispered, "what did you get yourself into?"
I thought I wanted an answer. And I was wrong, because the last message answered me more completely than I could have dreamed.
The speakers crackled, once, before her voice began to speak for the final time.
"October Daye, I wish to hire you." The fear was still there, but the command and power that was her nature shone clearly through it, brilliant and terrible. She was looking at the end of everything, and it was enough to remind her of who she really was. "By my word and at my command, you will investigate a murder, and you will force justice back into this kingdom. You will do this thing." There was a long pause. I was starting to think the message had ended when she continued, softly, "Find out who did it, Toby, please. Make sure they don't win. I need you to do this, for me, and for Goldengreen. If you were ever my friend, Toby, please..."
She'd never called me Toby before. We'd known each other for more than twenty years, and I'd never been anything but October to her. I knew then what had happened to her, even though I didn't want to. I knew as soon as she started speaking, and I still wouldn't let it be true. I couldn't let it be true. Not moving, not breathing, I listened in stunned silence as she brought down what little remained of my world.
There was another long pause before she whispered, "Toby, there isn't much time. Please, pick up. I can't leave, and you're the only one I trust enough to call, so dammit, please! Answer your goddamn phone!" I'd never heard her curse before. The night was full of firsts, and I wasn't even out of my bathrobe yet. "I know you're there! Dammit, I am not going to let your laziness get me killed! Toby, damn you..."
She took a breath then, before continuing in a firm cadence. By the time I realized what she was doing, it was too late; I'd heard the binding begin, and I would listen until the end.
"By my blood and my bones, I bind you. By the oak and the ash, the rowan and the thorn, I bind you. By the word of your fealty, by my mother's will, by your name, I bind you. For the favors I have done you in the past, you promised that I could ask anything of you; this is my anything. Find the answers, find the reasons and find the one who caused me this harm, October Daye, daughter of Amandine, or find only your own death. By all that I am and all that I was and all the mercies of our missing Lord and Ladies, I bind you..."
I felt the curse catch hold, sinking thorny talons into my skin as the bittersweet smell of dying roses flooded my nose and mouth. I dropped my coffee cup and staggered backwards retching, clapping a hand over my mouth as I tried not to throw up. Promises bind our kind as surely as iron chains or ropes of human hair, and Evening had bound me with the old forms, the ones anyone with a trace of fae blood can use. No one uses the old bindings anymore, not unless things are so bleak that even our missing King and his Hunt couldn't mend them. They’re too strong, and too deadly.
The fae never swear by anything we don't believe in. We don't ask for thanks and we don't offer them; no promises, no regrets, no chains. No lies. If Evening said failure would kill me, it would kill me. I just hoped she had a good reason, or I was going to have to kill her myself.
"Oh, Toby, I'm sorry," she said, and put the phone down, not quite in the cradle. The connection continued. I don't know whether that was an accident or not, but I don't think it was. She wanted me to hear. She knew that if I heard what came next, I wouldn't even try to break the binding she had thrown over me.
It doesn’t matter. I’m still never going to forgive her.
The story the message told next was one I'd never wanted to hear, not on the worst of all my bad days. A door, slamming open; the sound of footsteps. Evening shouting something I couldn't quite make out...and a gun going off. Her voice rose in a soaring scream, only to be silenced by another gunshot.
I jumped to my feet, bile rising in my throat as I shouted an involuntary "No!" at the phone. Evening screamed again. The gun fired a third time, and the message ended, the machine hissing on for several seconds before it stopped with a small, final "click."
Somehow, that was what made it all seem real. I stared at the machine for a moment, breath hitching in my throat, then turned and bolted for the bathroom. I was fast enough, barely; I got to the sink before I threw up.
Time never runs backwards when I need it to. Not for me, and not for anyone else.
I threw up three times before I could leave the bathroom. I splashed water on my face before heading for my room, numbly starting the answering machine's playback over again as I passed. There wasn't time to shower, and I wasn’t sure I could work the taps without scalding myself. Even getting dressed was almost more than I could manage. Evening's words were no kinder the second time, begging me to pick up the phone, to answer her, to do anything—anything at all—to save her. When did the last call come? Oak and ash, when did it come?
I was pulling on my coat, accompanied by Evening's recorded screams, when realization hit me: she got what she wanted. Sure, I'd turned my back on Faerie, I’d refused to let her have my license reinstated...but I was on the case now, and I'd stay on it until I had the answers I needed.
Evening was my worst friend and my best enemy, and she never really knew me, because even in the end, she didn't understand that I would've done it without the curse. All she had to do was tell me the stakes were as high as they'd apparently gotten. She was my friend. I would have done it.
The reality of the situation still hadn't fully sunk in as I reset the wards and walked down the concrete path to the garage. Evening couldn't be dead. She was the frigid, ruthlessly efficient Countess of Goldengreen, she was the woman who yelled until they let Sylvester knight me, she was pureblooded Daoine Sidhe, and she was going to live forever. That's what people like her do.
You never think of death in terms of yourself or your friends until it gets too close to ignore. When did the last call come? Was I already home? If I hadn't been such a selfish brat, if I'd listened to my messages, could I have saved her?
My car started easily despite the lingering December cold. That's part of why I like the original Volkswagen bugs: they break down constantly, the parts are impossible to find and the mileage sucks, but they always seem to start when you need them to. I pulled out of the garage without checking for traffic, and barely avoided a collision with a group of teenagers packed into Daddy's Lexus. We traded expletives across a narrow strip of asphalt before heading in opposite directions—them toward downtown and me toward the South City, where you can find some of the most expensive residential neighborhoods in San Francisco.
Most purebloods Evening's age live full-time in the Summerlands rather than dealing with the daily stresses of mortal living. Even Sylvester, the most "human" pureblood I've ever known, lived entirely on the other side of the hill. Evening was stubborn. She saw San Francisco built around her, watching it grow from a little dock town into a thriving city. Somewhere along the way, it became her home, and after that, she simply refused to leave.
I asked her about it once. "I prefer San Francisco," she said. "The lies are different here. When you've lived as long as I have, you start appreciating new approaches to dishonesty."
I don't remember how I found my way to her apartment. When I try to think about the drive, all I can think is that I must have had my eyes closed the whole time, because I was praying so damn hard. The fae aren't big on gods, but I prayed anyway—prayed that my ears had lied to me, that this was some sort of cruel wake-up call on Evening's part, or that maybe, just this once, the universe would see that it had made a mistake and would take it all back.
The neighborhoods had been getting more upscale as I drove, the buildings taking on an elegant, cookie-cutter uniformity. Evening's choice of residence was nothing unique among the purebloods that live on this side of the hills. Not only do they tend to have bank accounts going back centuries, but the electronic age has broadened the horizons of magical fraud to an astonishing degree. Faerie gold can be used for more than just party tricks; it works pretty well on the stock market, for example, where money's an illusion anyway. The only purebloods who live poor anymore are the ones whose magic is too weak or whose morals are too strong to let them lie on that sort of scale.
Evening never had those kinds of problems. Unfortunately for me, it doesn't work like that for changelings. Sustaining illusions that strong for the amount of time required would kill me, assuming I could cast them in the first place. So the purebloods live on veal and candied moonbeams, while I've become a connoisseur of macaroni and cheese.
Oh, well. Pasta's probably better for you anyway.
Police cars lined the street in front of Evening's building, lights spinning in an endless flashing dance of red-blue-red and shattering the illusion of wealthy, untouchable serenity that the neighborhood worked so hard to project. Those lights made it impossible to pretend that everything was perfect or that this was the mythic San Francisco the pop songs promised; this was too real for that. The people walking by looked nervously at the police cars, like they were afraid whatever crimes or tragedies their imaginations had conjured would rub off on them. Humanity has always had a flair for guilt by association. What was Evening guilty of—dying?
I found a parking place at the end of the block, where I wedged my car into the space between a news van and a battered Studebaker. My fender dinged the news van, and I felt a flare of satisfaction. They’d never pick out the dent in the colony already established on my car, and they deserved it. They shouldn't have been rushing after the sound of the sirens like vultures after road kill.
The way I retreat into trivial concerns when I'm scared amazes me. All I have to do is get to the point where I'm so panicked I can't see straight, and suddenly the expiration date on the milk is all that matters. I guess that's how my mind protects itself.
It took twenty minutes to walk the half-block to Evening's building. I stopped to read flyers tacked to telephone poles and watch cats sitting on windowsills, doing everything I could to make the trip just a little longer. I didn't want to get where I was going. Not that it mattered; all too soon, I was looking up at the elegant building that had been the home of the Countess Evening Winterrose for the last forty years. I didn't want to go in. It wasn’t real until I went inside: it wasn't a fact, just a possible plot twist, like a cat stuffed into a closed box. If I turned around and went home, I could wait until Evening called to gloat over how gullible I’d been. We’d laugh and laugh...if I didn't go inside. The police would turn off their sirens and go back downtown. I'd be able to forget her binding me; I'd forget the cloying taste of roses and the stench of burning rowan.
I'd forget that it was my fault.
I turned up the steps to the door.
A policeman was standing by the buzzer, a clipboard in his hands. I paused. He was clearly checking off people as they came and went—an entirely logical thing for him to be doing at the door of a private complex where someone had just been killed, but one that was more than a little bit inconvenient for me. Straightening my shoulders, I dug a crumpled receipt out of my pocket, holding it up as he turned towards me.
"The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts, all on a summer's day," I said, thinking "I am authorized to be here" in his direction. The smell of copper and cut grass swirled around me as his eyes glazed over. I lowered the receipt. "I trust everything is in order?"
"Yes, ma'am," he said, and smiled, waving me inside. "Third floor."
"Got it." Whoever he thought he saw was allowed to enter the crime scene; beyond that, I didn't care who he thought I was.
The hall was carpeted in a shade of gray that complemented the cream walls and the dark teak of the decorative end tables, tastefully elegant without being ostentatious. Of course it was tasteful—a month's rent could probably have fed me for a year. I revised my estimate upward by at least six months when the elevator doors opened to reveal five police officers and an honest-to-Oberon elevator operator.
The police filed out into the hall and I slipped past them, nodding to the operator as I said, "Third floor." He returned the nod, pressing the button, and the doors slid closed. The elevator started to move, so smoothly that I could barely feel it. I tensed. I hate it when I can't tell which way I’m actually going.
I hadn't visited Evening's building since 1987. From what I could see, it hadn't changed a bit—the place stank of elegance and the sort of timelessness that only money can buy. Stasis is one of the benefits of being very, very rich. Nothing ever changes unless you let it.
The operator glanced at me, nervously. I tried to smile at him like I meant it. Your first murder is always the hardest. Not that they ever get easy. We stopped on the third floor, and I stepped out, letting him retreat back to the ground floor.
There were police everywhere, bustling back and forth, murmuring in the barely audible whisper used only by cops and children. There are more similarities between the two than you might think, starting with whether or not you'd want them waiting for you in a dark alley with a gun. I've worked with the police, and I've even liked some of them, but that doesn't mean I have to like them as a breed. Power brings out the worst in almost everyone.
Most of the doors in the hall were closed, but Evening's was ajar, propped open just far enough to let the police slip in and out without revealing anything to anyone who might manage to get past security. I paused in front of the door, taking a deep breath. This was it: last chance to turn around and walk away.
Pushing the door the rest of the way open was almost impossible. After that, stepping inside was somehow anticlimactic. That didn't make it easier.
There was an officer just inside. I whipped out my receipt before he could finish turning, chanting, "The Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts, and took them clean away." The officer froze, expression taking on the same faintly baffled air as his colleague. A bolt of pain lanced through my forehead; I'd pushed too hard, and the headache was coming on. I did my best to ignore it, lowering the receipt and saying, "May I proceed?"
"Yes, proceed," he said, still looking stunned as I brushed past him.
The apartment was decorated in pinks, ranging from a deep shade bordering on red to a pale, near-white cream. Her blood probably fit right in until it started drying to an ugly shade of brown. I couldn't see the body, but I could see the blood, just a few drops of it staining the carpet near the door. It seemed like half the room was already tucked into neatly labeled plastic bags, and what hadn't been bagged looked small and gaudy in the artificial light. Murder strips everyone's illusions away, no matter how carefully they were created.
There were officers everywhere, milling like ants as they gathered evidence and studied blood splatters. I glanced at the bags as I moved across the room, checking to be sure they'd found no sign of Evening's true nature. I didn't need to worry. Evening was old, and she was careful, and they'd find nothing to show that she was anything more than a rich businesswoman named Evelyn Winters who somehow managed to get herself killed.
Almost against my will, I was moving towards the body, the weight of Evening's binding seeming tight and heavy in my chest. I flashed my increasingly crumpled receipt at every officer I passed. None of them tried to stop me from approaching the body—or what was passing for it, anyway. If the police were already this ensconced, the night-haunts would have long since been and gone. I'd have to be content with what they'd left behind.
Fae flesh doesn't decay. It makes sense; the fae don't age past the point of physical maturity, so why should they rot? But it means something has to be done about the bodies, and that's where the night-haunts come in. They come when we die, take our dead for their tables, and leave replicas behind. Their toys do everything the natural dead do. They bleed, stink, and decay with a perfection that says a lot about their makers. Really, there’s just one thing that differentiates the night-haunts' mannequins from our real dead: they're human. Their ears are round, their eyes are normal, their skins are white or brown or tan, but never blue or green. There's nothing about them that can give us away.
The night-haunts devour our true dead, and they leave pretty fictions in their place for the mortal world to mourn. I don't know when we made that bargain with them, but there's no breaking it now, and disgusting as it is, it has its purpose.
Knowing that what I was dealing with wasn't really Evening's body didn't make it any easier. The night-haunts only mimic what they see.
The replica was sprawled by the couch, open eyes staring at the ceiling. I fought the urge to turn and run, perversely glad that I'd already thrown up breakfast. Part of me was still able to marvel at the detail the night-haunts had worked into their creation. Every inch of her human disguise was flawlessly replicated, even down to the obvious violence of her death.
I knelt beside the body, letting the analytical part of my mind click on as I scanned the area around it. There were bloody footprints on the near-white carpet, but those were unavoidable; there was nowhere to step that wasn't covered in blood. A few of the officers had plastic bags tied over their shoes and if the killers were smart, they'd done something similar; none of the prints I could see had a distinctive enough tread to let me pick them out of a crowd. If the murder weapon was left behind, the police tagged and bagged it before I got there. Back when I was a P.I., I sometimes lamented not working directly with the cops—my job would have been a lot easier if I had access to hard evidence. Unfortunately, I hate the sight of blood and I can't work mornings, so a career with the force isn't really in my future.
I caught myself with a jolt, realizing where my thoughts were going. No. This was a one-time thing; it was about necessity, not about my future. I gave up that life. I wasn't going back.
There was one way to distract myself from thinking too hard about police procedure, or much of anything beyond why I never wanted to do this again. Steeling my nerves, I turned my attention to what was left of Evening.
Her bathrobe had been white when she put it on; now it was a dark brownish-red, except for a few spots on the sleeves. The body holds an amazing amount of blood. There were two obvious gunshot wounds, one in the shoulder and one in the stomach, but neither should have killed her. They would have hurt like hell, but she would have lived.
Everything considered, she probably died when they slashed her throat.
Her arms were straight at her sides, but her legs and hips were twisted—she was kicking right up until the end. Someone pinned her down while her throat was cut, then held on until she stopped struggling. That meant there were at least two killers, maybe more. I had to give her one thing: she hadn't been taken by surprise. The look on her face was pure anger, almost hiding the underlying foundations of fear. She died kicking, yes, but she also died pissed off.
The blood wasn't the worst part. Neither was the second mouth beneath her chin. That title went to her round-eared, blunt-featured face, framed by black hair shot with veins of gray and matted down with blood. The Evening Winterrose I knew had features that looked like the last, perfect work of a dying sculptor, ears that tapered to sharp points and eyes the impossible dark blue of midnight; she had hair that wavered between black and purple, with highlights of pink, orange and blue, like an aurora. She was wild and terrible and strange, one of the Daoine Sidhe, the fairest of the fae, and she was never, ever human. What the night-haunts left would never be anything else. Death wouldn't even let her keep her true face.
Something wasn't right about the body. I leaned in for a better look at her wounds, already knowing that they wouldn't tell me anything. Maybe there are forensics experts that can look at a knife-slash and tell you everything there is to know about whoever made it, but I’m not one of them. All I know is what I've learned through experience, and my experience was telling me that something was wrong.
There are two kinds of problem in my world: human and fae. Back when I was doing private investigation on a professional basis, most human problems could be solved with a camera and a well-placed microphone, and when a human problem looked like it was getting deadly, I gave it back to the humans. They can handle their own trash.
Fae problems are another matter, because my loyalty is to Sylvester, even now, and my actions reflect on him. I'm his knight, and that means that no matter how bad the fae problems get, I have to see them through. This was a fae problem. Whether I liked it or not, it needed a fae solution.
Some of the blood in the carpet was still wet enough that it was soaking through the knees of my jeans. I ran a finger across one of the deeper stains, forcing fresh blood to well up through the fiber.
My mother is Daoine Sidhe. That means I am, too, debased as I may be. There are ways of talking to the dead that are almost exclusively ours—or, if not talking to them, at least coming to a better understanding. Evening's blood could let me taste her death. The body was gone, but the blood would remember. Blood always remembers.
I raised my finger to my lips.
Blood magic is dangerous, because it skips the brain and goes straight for the gut. When you're talking about someone as weak as I am, you're lucky if nobody winds up trying to fly off the top of a ten-story building. Out of all Titania's descendants, only the Daoine Sidhe can measure another's death by the taste of their blood; everyone else with that capacity descends from Maeve and the darker paths of Faerie. Evening was my fifth time. It doesn’t get any better with practice.
The world twisted until I was looking at the apartment through a red-tinted fog. The police and the body were gone; this was what the world looked like through Evening's eyes just before the end. It was disorienting but not painful, like trying to walk after three beers. The knowledge that coming down from this would be worse than a hangover hovered on the edge of my awareness, but I pushed it away, forcing myself deeper into the red.
The room snapped into focus, clean, perfect, and unmarred by any signs of a struggle. A warm wave of satisfaction flowed over me. Everything was where it belonged.
Especially the key.
Pulling myself back from the veil of Evening's memories, I dragged my fingers across the bloody carpet again. Key? What key? Her blood was bitter and sweet at the same time, and my eyes unfocused, sending me crashing back into the moments before Evening's death.
The door slams open, but it doesn't matter; they're too late. I know that as I turn to face them, phone in my hand. It's too late. October knows, and she'll come to chase her answers to ground. They're too late, too late to take the key, and she'll find what's been left for her to find, she'll end this mockery at last...
A flash of memory that wasn't mine cut across the images the blood was feeding me:
I was handing a key to a small winged figure—a sprite? Where did the sprite come from?—and it took a gift of blood from my palm, running a hand along the shallow cut I had opened there, and then it flew away, leaping out of my window with the key in its arms. And then I made a final phone call, summoned October, who would never understand, who would end this at last, and the door slammed open, and I screamed, and then...
Then the pain came.
Riding the memories of the dead is unpleasant at the best of times. Whatever they felt, you feel, and there's always the risk you'll hold on too long. Following them into death is like riding a roller coaster into hell: if you're lucky you might come back, but you shouldn't bet on it. I ripped myself out of her memories after the shots were fired, after her throat was slit, and just before her heart stopped.
I staggered to my feet and out of the apartment, shoving my way past the police. I made it halfway down the hall before my knees buckled. I grabbed the rim of the nearest decorative pot as I fell, retching. No amount of gagging was going to get the foul taste out of my mind. You ride the blood and you pay the price, and part of that is remembering whatever you set out to remember. You get to keep it and treasure knowing what death feels like for however long you live.
I'd ridden deaths before, and come through shaken but stable. But Evening...oh, rowan and ash, what they did to Evening.
There are a lot of ways to kill the fae. Most of the things that kill humans will kill us—I've yet to meet anyone short of a Manticore that could survive being hit by a train or wouldn't be bothered by losing their head. Even so, there are ways of killing us that would make decapitation seem like a picnic, and the worst is death by iron. It kills the magic, then the mind, and finally the body. It's the great leveler, the one thing that can kill anyone. Death by iron is slow, painful, and all-too-often inevitable.
And the bastards killed her with it. It wasn't enough that they'd invaded her privacy and ended her life: they had to make a show of it. What could she possibly have done to deserve that?
A cop walked by, heading for the apartment, and muttered, "Rookie," as he passed. I'd obviously hit him before, and he was still seeing me as whatever he wanted to see; good. The last thing I needed was questions about why I was kneeling outside a murder scene covered in blood when my head was still spinning.
Even inside Evening's memory, I hadn't seen her killers. They'd somehow managed to keep themselves out of sight, or had erased themselves from the blood before they went. I didn't know if that was possible, but I couldn't discount it. These people were dangerous, and this was bigger than murder: someone used iron to end a life. Not just any life, either. The purebloods might have looked the other way if it had been a changeling, called it a "reprehensible affair" and left it alone...but Evening was one of them, born under the hills when mankind still thought fire was a neat new idea. The purebloods have their failings, but they look out for their own.
If I didn't move quickly, things were going to explode.