Valiant. Part 17

Ruth came most of the way in, her foot still in the glamoured opening, as though she thought it might close at any moment without a wedge. "We just left you in the park and you were sleeping."

Luis let his head fall back. "Yeah, well, the last time I saw Ruth, I was with Lolli and Dave in the park. We'd picked out a place to sleep near the weather castle. Lolli was leaned up against me, dozing off when Dave just got up and walked off. I knew he was upset. s.h.i.+t, I was freaking out, too. I thought maybe he wanted to be alone.

"But then he didn't come back and I didn't know what to think. I went out looking. I saw him walking back through the Ramble. He wasn't alone, either. At first I thought it was some guy-I don't know, hitting on him-but then I saw the guy had feathers instead of hair. I started toward them and that's when tiny fingers covered my mouth and my good eye, grabbed hold of my arms and my legs. I could hear them snickering as they lifted me up into the air and my brother saying, 'Don't worry. It's just for a little while.' I didn't know what to think. I sure didn't think I'd wind up here."

"Did you see Mabry?" Val asked. "Did she say anything to you?"

"Not much. She was distracted by something that was going down. Someone visited her and she was p.i.s.sed about it."

"There's something we have to tell you," Val said.

Luis went quiet, his mouth pressed into a thin line. "What?" he asked, and his voice was so quiet that it made Val's heart ache.

"It was Dave that we thought was missing. He's gone. Someone's pretending to be you."

"So you came here looking for Dave?"

"We came here looking for evidence. I think Mabry's behind all the faerie deaths."

Luis scowled. "Wait, so where's my brother? Is he in trouble?"

Val shook her head. "I don't think so. Whatever's pretending to be you seems to be spending all its time s.c.r.e.w.i.n.g Lolli. I don't think that's exactly on the supernatural agenda, but it's definitely on Dave's."

Luis winced, but he said nothing.

"We should hurry," Ruth said, patting Val's head, her fingers threading through the stubble. "Just because this b.i.t.c.h can't tie you up with your own hair doesn't mean we should hang around."

"Right." Val leaned over Luis, looking at the braids that bound him to the floor. She tried to snap them or pull them loose, but they were as hard as if they were made of steel.

"Mabry cut them with scissors," Luis said. "She f.u.c.king scalped me, too."

"Do you think scissors would cut the braids?" Ruth asked.

Val nodded. "She has to have a way to cut through her own spells. Where do you think they would be?"

"I don't know," Luis said. "They might not even look like scissors."

Val stood up and walked out into the parlor, stopping at the fountain where the flour had dissolved, then walked over to the display cabinet.

"Do you see anything?" Val called.

Ruth pulled out a drawer and dumped the contents onto the floor. "Nothing."

Val looked in the cabinet, noticing the ballerina again, noticing the loops her arms made and the b.l.o.o.d.y color of the toe shoes. Reaching in, Val picked her up, sticking her fingers through the arm gaps and pus.h.i.+ng. The figurine's legs closed and opened, just like scissors.

"Get the harp," Val said. "I'll get Luis."

It wasn't quite dawn when they picked their way back through the Ramble, up through the branching trails to where they'd left Lolli and what had appeared to be Luis. The chords of the harp jangled as they moved, but Ruth m.u.f.fled it by hugging it tighter to her chest. As Val, Ruth, and Luis approached, they saw that the other Luis was awake.

Lolli's voice was high and trembling. "It's so cold and you're burning up with fever."

The disguised Luis looked at them. His eyes were blackened around the edges and his mouth was dark. His skin was pale as paper and had a sheen of sweat over it that made it appear like plastic. With trembling fingers, he brought a cigarette to his lips. The smoke didn't leave his body.

"Dave," the real Luis said. His voice was even, calm, just like Val's had been after she'd seen her mother with Tom. It was a voice so full of emotion that it sounded like no emotion at all.

Lolli looked at Luis, and then at his twin. "Wha-what's happening?"

"You couldn't tell the difference, could you?" the disguised Luis said to Lolli. His face changed, features subtly s.h.i.+fting to become Dave's. The blackened mouth and eyes remained, as did the sheen on his skin.

Lolli gasped.

He laughed like a maniac, his voice raspy. "You couldn't even tell the difference, but you would never give me a chance."

"You f.u.c.king s.h.i.+t." Lolli slapped Dave. She hit him again, blows raining against the hands he threw up to ward her off.

Luis grabbed her arms, but Dave laughed again. "You think you know me? I'm Sketchy Dave? Dave the Coward? Dave the Idiot? Dave who needs his brother's protection? I don't need nothing." He looked Luis in the face. "You're so smart, right? So smart you didn't see any of this coming. Who's the moron, huh? You got some fancy f.u.c.king word for how stupid you are?"

"What have you done?" Luis asked.

"He made a deal with Mabry," Val said. "Didn't you?"

Dave smiled, but it looked like a rictus grin, the skin of his mouth too tight. When he spoke, Val saw only blackness beyond his teeth, as though she were looking into a dark tunnel. "Yeah, I did a deal. I don't need the Sight to know when I have something somebody wants." He wiped his forehead, eyes increasingly wide. "I wanted-"

He collapsed, his body shaking. Luis sank to his knees next to Dave and reached out to smooth his dreads back from his face, then abruptly pulled his hand back. "He's way too hot. It's like his skin is on fire."

"Never," Val said. "He's been using Never much more than once a day. He had to take it this whole time to keep that shape."

"In the movies they put people with crazy fevers in a bathtub with ice," Ruth said.

"What, when they O.D. on faerie drugs?" Lolli snapped.

"Grab him," Val said. "The lake should be cold enough."

Luis slid his hands under his brother's shoulders. "Be careful. His body is really warm."

"Take my gloves." Ruth pulled a pair out of her coat pocket and handed them to Val.

Pulling them on quickly, she grabbed Dave's ankles. Touching his skin was like grabbing the handle of a pot of boiling water. She lifted. He was so light, he might have been hollow.

Together she and Luis hurried down the steps, down the paths of the Ramble to the edge of the water. The heat of Dave's body scorched her skin through the gloves and he twitched and writhed as if he were fighting some unseen force. Val gritted her teeth and held on.

Luis waded into the water and Val followed, the frigid cold at her calves a terrible contrast to the burn of her hands.

"Okay, down," Luis said.

They lowered Dave into the water, his body steaming as it touched the lake. Val let go and started back to the sh.o.r.e, but Luis held on, keeping his brother's head above water, like a preacher performing a terrible baptism.

"Is it helping?" Ruth called.

Luis nodded, rubbing his brother's floating face. Val could see that Luis's hand was bright pink, but whether he was burned or just cold she wasn't sure. "Better, but we have to get him to a hospital."

Lolli waded in, staring down at Dave. "You f.u.c.king moron," she shouted. "How could you be so stupid?" She looked suddenly lost. "Why would he do this for me?"

"You can't feel responsible," Val said. "If I were you, I think I'd want to kill him."

"I don't know what to feel," Lolli said.

"Val," said Luis. "We have to go ask Ravus for help."

"Ravus?" Ruth demanded.

"He saved his life before," Luis said.

Val thought of Ravus's face, closed, his eyes dark with fury. She thought of the things she knew about Mabry and the things she just guessed about the currency Dave had used to pay for her help. "I don't know if he'll be willing to now."

"I'll take Dave to the hospital," Lolli said.

"Go with her, okay?" Val asked Ruth. "Please."

"Me?" Ruth looked disbelieving. "I don't even know him."

Val leaned close to her. "But I know you."

Ruth rolled her eyes. "Fine. But you owe me. You owe me like a month of mute servitude."

"I owe you like a year of mute servitude," Val said and waded into the water to help Luis lift his brother's body once more. Slowly they made their way to the street. The first cab they hailed pulled up and then, seeing Dave's body, drove off before Lolli could grab hold of the door. The next one stopped, seemingly indifferent as the two girls got in and Luis draped his writhing brother across their laps.

"Here," Ruth said, handing over the harp.

"We'll take care of him," Lolli said.

"I'll be there as soon as I can." Luis hesitated shutting the door.

The taxi started to move and Val saw Ruth's pale face staring from the back window, her lips mouthing something Val couldn't make out as the car got farther and farther away.

Chapter 12.

And her sweet red lips on these lips of mine Burned like the ruby fire set In the swinging lamp of a crimson shrine, Or the bleeding wounds of the pomegranate, Or the heart of the lotus drenched and wet With the spilt-out blood of the rose-red wine.

-OSCAR WILDE, "IN THE GOLD ROOM: A HARMONY"

A horse-drawn carriage had stopped beneath the arch of the bridge support. It was a long way from the park or anywhere else that a carriage should be and the dun horse looked restless in the pale, dawn light. There was no driver.

"Do you think someone took a ride to the supermarket?" Val asked.

"That's no horse," Luis said, pulling Val wide of it. His eyes were bloodshot, his lips cracked with cold. "Be glad you can't see what it really is."

It looked like any other city horse, with its big sagging back and fat hooves. Val squinted at it until the image blurred, but she still didn't know what Luis saw and she decided not to ask. "Come on."

Sticking near the opposite wall, she crept beneath the overpa.s.s, Luis right behind her. She knocked on the stump, but as they slipped through the doorway, Val heard someone banging down the bridge stairs.

It was too late for them to do anything but gape at Greyan. His hands were covered in blood, blood that dripped off the tips of his fingers and clotted on the dusty steps, too bright to seem real. He held his bronze knives together in one hand. They, too, glistened with gore.

"It is done," the ogre said. He looked tired. "Little humans, let me lesson you to intrude no more in the dealings of the fey."

"Where's Ravus?" Val demanded. "What happened?"

"Would you fight me again, mortal? Your loyalty is commendable, if misplaced. Save your courage for a more worthy foe." He pushed past her and walked down the remaining steps. "I have no l.u.s.t for dealing more death today."

Everything narrowed to that moment, that word. Death. Surely not, Val told herself, touching the cold stone wall for support. For a moment, she didn't think she could walk the rest of the way up the stairs. She couldn't bear it.

Luis walked slowly up the steps, up to the landing, and then back down. He brought his finger to his lips. "She's in there."

Val started moving, too fast, and Luis's hand clamped down on her arm. "Quiet," he hissed.

Val nodded, not daring to ask about Ravus. Together, they inched up the steps, each footfall causing a little puff of dust, the creak of the iron frame, the jangle of the harp strings, things that Val hoped were hidden by the steady rumble of traffic overhead. As they neared the landing, she heard Mabry's voice, full of anxiety. "Where do you keep it? I know you have to have some poison somewhere. Come now, do me one last service."

Val waited to hear Ravus's answer, but he didn't speak.

Luis looked grim.

"You used to be so eager to please," Mabry went on bitterly. Something fell inside the room and Val thought she heard the sharp sound of shattering gla.s.s.

Val crept forward, parting the plastic sheeting. Ravus's desk was turned over, his books and papers scattered across the room. The armchair was sliced cleanly across the back, leaking feathers and foam. A few candles flickered from the floor, some encircled with rivulets of wax. The stone of the walls was grooved with deep cuts. Ravus lay stretched out on his back, one hand over his chest as blood rose between his fingers. Dark, wet streaks painted the floor, as though he had crawled across it. Mabry bent over a cabinet, one hand rummaging through the contents, the other holding a dish that contained the red remains of something.

Val crawled closer, heedless of Luis's warning fingers digging into her skin, fear numbing her to anything but the sight of Ravus's body.

"Do you know how long I've waited for you to die?" Mabry asked, her voice almost frantic now. "Finally, I would be free from exile. Free to return to the Bright Court and my work. But now all the pleasure I thought to have from your death is robbed from me.

"Someone has to appear to have murdered all those faeries, so at least you were good for one thing. No one likes loose ends." Mabry selected a vial from the cabinet and took a breath. "This will have to do-my new Lady is impatient and wants things taken care of before Midwinter. Isn't it ironic that after all this time, after all your loyalty, it is I who was chosen to be her agent in the Unseelie Court? I would not have thought the Queen of the Seelie Court would want a double agent of her own. Perhaps I can come to enjoy working for Silarial. After all, she's proven to be as ruthless a mistress as my own dear Lady."

Val parted the plastic sheeting and crawled into the room. Ravus's head was turned toward the wall where Tamson's sword hung, his golden eyes dull and unfocused. There was a deep pit in his chest that his hand half-covered, as though he were pledging something in death. The room reeked of a weird, heavy sweetness that made Val want to gag.

I cross my heart and hope to die.

Val was shaking as she stood, no longer caring about Mabry, about politics or plans or anything except Ravus.

She couldn't look away from the blood that stained the edges of his lips and pinked his teeth. His skin was far too pale, the green of it the only color left.

Mabry spun, the plate in her hand clearly holding the piece of flesh missing from Ravus's chest. His heart. Val felt dizziness threaten to overwhelm her. She wanted to scream, but her throat closed up on the sound.

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