Long Night Moon (The Bradbury Institute Book 2) (2 page)

Chapter 2

 

Eve met Chet in his office bright
and early with coffee for them both. After several weeks of working with Chet
and Frances to help digitize the Archives, Eve knew her way around pretty well
and thought she’d at least seen most of the books, even if she hadn’t yet
examined them all closely. There were some still too dangerous to touch until
her shielding skills were much better. Chet led the way to the back of the
large room, past the full shelves and the drawers with scrolls and the work
stations with laptops and wand scanners. He stopped in front of a door labeled
janitor
– keep out
, pushing aside a crud-laden yellow wheeled mop bucket and a
ratty push broom.

He switched his coffee to his left
hand and held out his right. “I’ll need your charm.”

Eve pulled the delicate silver
chain from under her blouse and lifted it over her head. Every member of
Bradbury had a personalized charm that served as a sort of magical passkey and
ID. Eve’s was a silver apple. She dropped it into his waiting hand.

Chet took his own charm, a small
silver book, and enclosed his fist around them both. Holding that hand an inch
from the center of the door, he murmured a long, complicated chant. The spell
called forth blue light that first wrapped around his hand, then stretched to
wash over the two of them. Magic rippled through Eve in a quiet hum. The
doorknob popped open with a crackle of static electricity.

Chet returned her charm and pushed
the door open. “Everything we have on the Gateway Forest is down there.”

They stepped onto a short landing
turned into a stone staircase which curved and disappeared into darkness. “Why
is it called that?”

He snapped his fingers, lighting a
trail of wall sconces. A soft yellow glow illuminated the staircase. “After
you.”

Eve made her way down the stairs,
heels echoing on the stone. The bottom opened into a rectangular space about
the size of her living room. A fireplace was at the far left and a round table
and chairs sat in the middle. Shelves lined the walls on either side of the
entrance and opposite. Three paintings hung on the far right wall.

The first painting was stark and
simple, a pearl-white background with thin lines of gold twisting into a
spiral. The second was a terrifying mix of red and black, shadow and darkness.
It made Eve think of the nightmares she’d had about the Key of Darkness for
weeks after trying to read it with her psychometry. The third abstract was a
messy potpourri of the color spectrum dominated by shades of blue and green
with dots of yellow and pink that brought to mind the pixies in the forest.

“Part of Bradbury’s mission
statement has to do with our location,” Chet said. “The institute isn’t located
here by accident.”

“There’s something in the forest.”
Eve stepped closer to the paintings, thinking perhaps she should have spoken in
the plural.

“Three somethings, specifically,”
Chet confirmed. “At different places around the world there are gateways
to…well, to
other
places.”

Eve swallowed, trying to keep her
breathing calm. There was nothing she could do about her heart rate. It pounded
in her chest almost painfully. “What
other
places?”

“Bradbury is unusual in that there
are three gates here.” He moved to stand beside her, using his coffee cup to
point at the first painting. “That represents the gate we call Above.” He moved
his hand slowly to the middle painting. “This one is Below.” He paused for a
moment, then indicated the last painting. “And that’s Sideways.”

“Okay.” Eve grabbed her apple
charm, rubbing her thumb across its cool surface. She wasn’t even sure what
kind of questions to ask.

Chet said, “The Above gate is
closed, from the other side. There’s never any activity and the energy levels
always read low. It’s very stable. The Below gate is closed from our side, we
keep it closed. Sometimes there are energy spikes. That’s what happened last
night.”

“Above and Below, what do those
names mean?” She had an inkling but didn’t want to say it. Couldn’t say it. It
was too much.

Chet touched her elbow, guiding her
to meet his eyes. Eve hated roller coasters. The out of control speed, the
feeling of being flung to and fro and up so fast her eyes couldn’t even take in
her surroundings. She hated that brief elastic moment of hovering in mid-air,
knowing the drop was coming and unable to do a thing to stop it. Most of all
she hated the drop itself, that feeling that everything solid had been ripped
away. She was never ready for it.

“Heaven and Hell,” Chet said.

She gasped, the roller coaster drop
knocking the breath out of her. Recovering quickly she said, “You’re telling me
Heaven and Hell exist? That they’re real? And out in the forest there’s a
doorway to each?”

“Yes.” He took a seat at the table,
gesturing for her to do likewise.

Eve took a sip of her coffee as she
sat, more to give herself time to think than anything else. She barely tasted
the beverage. “You’re talking about the Christian version of Heaven and Hell?
They’re real?”

Chet cleared his throat. Perhaps he
was as uncomfortable with questions of theology as she was. “If it makes you
feel any better there’s a gateway to Asgard in Memphis, behind the parking lot
at Graceland. The gatekeepers there have to get visitors from the other side to
dress like tourists when they cross over.”

Asgardians at Graceland, now she’d
heard everything. “Are they Elvis fans?” She laughed, tension evaporating like
air out of a balloon. “Is that the only gate to Asgard and these two here the
only gates to Above and Below?” She had no trouble understanding why the
institute used other names for the gates. It was much less intimidating.

“There are other gates to each
place, and gates to lots of other places. Above and Below just happen to be
what’s here. The Board of Directors that Bradbury answers to oversees many of
the gates, making sure access is controlled. You know, make sure nothing
crosses over that shouldn’t.”

Eve had heard whispers of this
mysterious Board but little definite information. “This location is the only
place that’s known as the Bradbury Institute?”

He nodded. “Using different names
is part of the Board’s strategy to keep us hidden. There’s no way to trace us
back to them or vice versa.”

She drew her eyebrows together.
“That sounds very James Bond.”

“The Board is a very old and
paranoid organization. When you’ve had to rebuild after having your membership
decimated by the Inquisition or Nazis I guess you get really freaking careful.”
He finished the last of his coffee, setting the cup on the table. “But we’re
not here to talk about the Board.”

Eve folder her arms across her
chest. “Which means I’m not allowed to know anything about them?”

“It’s not that. Those details
aren’t really important to your work here, not right now. Judith is the one who
has to deal with them,” he said, speaking of Bradbury’s director. “Aren’t you
going to ask about Sideways?” A hint of a smile tugged at his mouth.

Above and Below had been pretty
self-explanatory but she had no idea what Sideways could mean. “Okay, tell me
about Sideways.”

Chet stood and strode to one of the
shelves. He searched the books, fingers running over the spines. “It’s known by
a few different names. Tir Na Nog. Faery. Never-Never. It’s the closest of the
Otherworlds, the one most likely to bleed into our reality. Sometimes it can
seem like the two fold into each other. I think that’s why someone decided to
call it Sideways.” He found the book he was looking for and returned to the
table. “This will tell you about it. It doesn’t strictly follow the mythology
we’re used to.”

The cover read
Crossing the
Bridge Between This World and the Otherworld
by Captain George Francis
Irvine
. The name tripped Eve’s memory. “GFI? That’s the initials on the
broken compass I worked with when I first got here. Did it belong to him?”

Chet grinned. “The compass isn’t
broken, just altered. Magically, of course. It points to Sideways. Captain
Irvine left it here years ago.”

Eve flipped through the book. “He
was an explorer?”

“He wound up in Sideways by
accident. Sometimes people fall in by accident, down the rabbit hole, you know.
But he took to it. He’s very much like those great old explorers from history.
If he hadn’t fallen into Sideways his name would probably be in the history
books alongside theirs. But he’d also be dead, so there is that.”

The book was dated in the eighteen
hundreds. “
He’s still alive
?”

“Time doesn’t work the same way in
Sideways as it does here. He’s aged but nothing like he would have if he only
stayed on this side. Every now and then he visits and that’s one reason why I
had to tell you about the gates.”

She waited for him to elaborate.

“Pete mentioned Midwinter to you?”
She nodded. Chet said, “Captain Irvine will be coming for a visit during the
holiday. Which means the Sideways gate will be opening. That’s always, uh,
tricky.”

“Is it dangerous?”

Chet tapped the book. “Read this
and decide for yourself. The Sidhe are mercurial. Their moods are like shifting
sand. One moment you’re safe with them, the next you’ll be counting yourself
lucky if you get away with all your body parts intact. Not that we’re expecting
any of them to cross over with Irvine but it’s best to be prepared.”

He picked up his empty cup and
stood. “Start with that book. If you want to know more you’re welcome to read
anything down here. Just don’t take anything outside the grounds and try to be
careful, none of this stuff has been digitized yet.”

Eve followed him back up the
stairs. “Pete doesn’t want me to stay. Does he think it’s dangerous or is he
just afraid I’ll do something stupid?”

Chet stopped, blowing out a
frustrated breath. “Pete doesn’t like Sideways, I don’t know why. He’s not big
on sharing details. Sanngrid’s not a fan either.” Judith’s assistant, who was
more like a bodyguard than a secretary, was the person at Bradbury closest to
Pete other than Chet. Eve wasn’t surprised to hear they shared the same
attitude about something like this. Chet said, “I don’t want you to assume the
worst about the Sidhe. They’re different, very much so. You have to take them
as they are. It’s always wise to be cautious but the same could be said for
dealing with humans.” He continued climbing the stairs.

At the top he stopped again, this
time facing her. “There’s something else you need to know. There are people
here of mixed parentage.”

“Wow, who?”

“Maura’s grandmother was Seelie.”
Maura, the amazingly talented chef whose food seemed to almost have healing
qualities. Maybe there was no
almost
to it. “Her partner, Niall. His grandfather
was Seelie too.” Niall tended the gardens, both ornamental and the vegetable
and herb gardens. Everything he grew was bigger and tasted better than anything
Eve had ever had before.

“Anyone else?” Eve half expected
Pete to be named though she couldn’t articulate why.

“Bettine. Her father is from
Sideways.”

Chet’s – girlfriend didn’t fit,
perhaps paramour – had an otherworldly beauty and poise. Bettine could also
come across as cold and brittle. Eve didn’t get the two of them as a couple.
According to Franny, nobody did.

They reentered the main room of the
Archive and Chet closed the door behind them. “Just read the book,” he said.
“It’s really good. A great adventure story.”

“Will I get to meet Captain Irvine
while he’s here?”

Chet laughed. “Oh, I guarantee,
there’s no way he’d pass up a chance to get to know you. He’s an incorrigible
flirt and everybody’s fair game to him. Franny can tell you more about that.”

He headed for his office. “Look,
work is pretty much done for the year. Most of the staff will be gone in a day
or two. The only ones left will be ones who know about the gates. You wanna go
curl up in a corner somewhere and read that book, go ahead.”

“I think I’ll do just that.”
Relishing the idea of diving in, she ran her hand over the cover. Faery was
real and in her hands she held an account of its exploration. That was much
easier to think about than the fact that working and living at Bradbury meant
dealing with occasional energy spikes from a gateway to Hell.

Chapter 3

 

I must confess, a great deal of strong
drink had been imbibed in that last night. The John Company men wanted to send
me and my fellows off with a rousing evening of food, drink, and entertainment.
Of course I acquiesced to this. We had no idea when, or even if, we’d be
returning, and we faced a long perilous journey through a hostile war-torn
land. What I remember of that last night is the stifling heat, the sweet scent
of rath-ki-rani flowers blending with incense and hookah smoke, the sitar and
flute wrapping around each other in a dance equaled only by the spell of the
courtesans. It made for a heady brew and I found myself in need of cool,
cleansing air. My intention was but to walk just far enough away from the house
to find a breeze untouched by smoke, perhaps some water to dilute the wine. I
found myself gazing up at the magnificent field of stars above, ambling rather
aimlessly. I do not recall exactly how far I walked, out past the city walls
and the river and into the dense jungle. I know that I sat on the ground for
some time, against a massive banyan tree, listening to the rush of the water,
the calls of nocturnal creatures, and the music of sitar and flute that stayed
in my thoughts. At some point I closed my eyes. When I opened them it was to
blink at bright morning light as it glittered across a frozen desert of ice
that stretched as far as I could see.

I stood in a hurry, taking in my new
surroundings with a great deal of incredulity. As the cold began to creep into
me, I suddenly heard a voice behind me call out, “Are you a lost fellow?”

- Captain George Francis Irvine, from the
first chapter of
Crossing the Bridge Between This World and the Otherworld
.

 

Eve flipped to the back and front
of the book searching for some sort of
about the author
section. There
was nothing of the sort. She was curled up in a comfy chair in the study two
floors above the Archives. It had become one of her favorite places in the
institute as soon as she’d first found the room. More of a quiet break room
than a study, the shelves were lined with fiction, the seating so comfortable
it was close to nap-inducing, and heavy carpeting that swallowed sound. Most of
the staff preferred to take their breaks in the Oracle, or perhaps they all had
little hideaways like this one. Either way, no one else had ever entered the
room while Eve was there.

The next several hours passed
unnoticed as Captain Irvine’s adventures held Eve in thrall. Chet wasn’t
kidding when he said Sideways was not like the Faery of popular myth. It
consisted of five territories that bordered, overlapped, and folded in on each
other. Apparently space as well as time worked differently there. Eve loved the
names of the kingdoms. The Court of Water and Autumn, Twilight and West. The
Court of Fire and Summer, Noon and South. The Court of Air and Spring, Dawn and
East. The Court of Earth and Winter, Midnight and North. The fifth was a
mysterious place called The Valley Below that was mentioned several times in
the text but hunger forced her to stop reading before getting to the section of
the book about it.

As Eve walked to the Oracle she
considered the ways in which Sideways was similar to the myths she was familiar
with. There were two kinds of Sidhe, Seelie and Unseelie. Irvine’s descriptions
of them were similar to other things Eve had read. The Courts were primarily
Seelie territory, even Winter, something that did run counter to popular myth.
Unseelie were present in the Courts but it was intimated that The Valley Below
was where most were found.

Eve paused at the door of the café.
Chet specifically said Maura and Niall were half Seelie, but when he spoke of
Bettine he just said her father was from Sideways. Her father must have been
Unseelie. That put a whole new spin on Eve’s view of Bettine, a new and
slightly scary one.

Franny and Rami were at a table in
the center, heads together over a book. Pete sat at his customary table against
the wall with a newspaper and a cup of coffee. Eve tucked the Irvine book under
her arm and marched to Pete’s table.

As she slid into the seat opposite
him she said, “So why don’t you like Sideways?”

“You are incredibly nosy.” He
raised his newspaper higher.

“This book I’m reading makes it
sound perfectly charming.” She placed it on the table in such a way as he’d be
able to read the spine.

He lowered a corner of the
newspaper to do just that. Scowling, he said, “Yeah, well Irvine’s off his
rocker. Happens to every human who stays there too long.” He raised the paper
and turned the page.

“You seem grumpier than usual. What’s
the matter,” she teased. “Been too long since you got to beat somebody up or
shoot at somebody?”

Avoiding eye contact, Pete folded
the paper and finished the last of his coffee. “A little time in the firing
range sounds like a good idea.” Without another word he left.

Eve swore under her breath. No
matter what she said to Pete it was always the wrong thing. She wasn’t even
sure why it bothered her, but it did. Oh boy, did it.

Shoving thoughts of Pete away, she
went in search of something to eat.

***

By the end of the week only a
handful of people were left at Bradbury. The research and housekeeping staff
all received paid leave during the holiday. The only ones left were due in the
Oracle for an evening meeting, presumably to discuss the upcoming visit. Eve
sat by herself at one of the smaller tables since Franny wasn’t in the room
yet. At times she felt like she was still finding her footing, not just with
the institute’s work but with the people themselves. Inviting herself to join
Judith, Bettine, and Sanngrid at the big center table didn’t seem the thing to
do.

She didn’t sit alone for long.
Niall exited the kitchen and made his way to her table. Eve didn’t see Niall
often as his work generally kept him outside. Lanky, medium height, gray eyes,
hair dyed a rich dark blue, he looked more like a drummer for a punk band than
a gardener. “Eh, whatcha know, Evie?”

“Not much.” She wasn’t sure exactly
what to say to him and it was damn hard not to stare and look for signs of his
Seelie heritage. “So you and Maura are staying?”

“It’s home,” he grinned. “Not
really anyplace else to go. Most of the ones left are like that.”

“The ones staying for the, uh, the
holiday?”

He nodded. “Chet’s got his gran. If
it weren’t for the big to-do he’d be spending Christmas with her. Course
Jean-Pierre and Vickie went to her sister’s, on account a there’s a new baby in
the family. But Rami, his parents died when he was a kid. Franny’s people
kicked her out. Judith is a widow.”

“I didn’t know that. Any of that.
Does Judith have children?” Work was so all-encompassing, she’d never realized
how little the members of the institute talked about themselves and their lives
outside Bradbury.

“Don’t think so but I can’t say for
sure. She doesn’t talk about herself.” Niall pointed at Eve. “How about you? It
couldn’t be just curiosity that’s keeping you here.”

Eve sighed, not sure how much she
wanted to tell. Did it even matter? Surely it wasn’t much compared to being
kicked out or orphaned. “I messed up when I was seventeen. I read an object in
front of my family. Something was going on, I thought I was helping. Everybody
went nuts. I wasn’t kicked out but they’re all a lot more comfortable with me
not around.”

“And you accommodate them?”

“Feeling unwelcome is always so
much fun,” she said. “Yes, I am the accommodating problem child.”

Niall laughed, the sound almost as
musical as his accent. “Bunch a freaks, we are.” He leaned across the table,
wearing a sly grin. “I understand you’re now in the know.”

“I’ve been reading Captain Irvine’s
first book.” She’d been delighted to find there were more volumes by him in the
Gateway section of the Archives but hadn’t gotten to them yet.

“Chet told you about us too, right?
Me and Maura? Bettine?”

“He did.”

Niall reached across the table,
laying his hand atop hers briefly. “I don’t know about Bettine but Maura and I
are okay with you asking questions, should you have any.”

“There is one thing I was curious
about.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, Irvine’s books says the
Sidhe use glamours to change their appearance. That they would do that when
they crossed over so they’d look more human.”

Niall ran a hand through his hair.
“Yeah, it’s a lot easier to get away with blue hair now than if I’d been around
a hundred years ago. Maura likes that lovely shade of brunette she’s been
sporting for a bit but her real hair is quite colorful.”

Eve liked the way his gray eyes lit
when he spoke of Maura. “What about the ears?”

“Ah, yeah, well, we’re halflings.
Some of us type get the ears, some don’t. It’s all hit and miss. We don’t have
them but Bettine does.”

That was hard to picture. “Does she
ever let anyone see her without the glamour?”

“I think Chet but no telling what
she made him go through for that privilege. I hear she’s quite the stunner in her
true visage.”

Eve leaned closer, dropping her
voice. “She’s part Unseelie, isn’t she?”

He nodded. “Tread lightly around
that one, Evie. She’s not always good to Chet but she won’t stand for anyone
else to infringe on her territory, if you take my meaning.”

“She’s got nothing to worry about
from me.”

The sly grinned returned as Niall
gestured at the door. “Yeah, I’ve noticed that’s not the territory that seems
to draw your eye.”

Eve glanced over her shoulder. Pete
had entered the room with Franny and Chet, all three of them carrying boxes.
Eve looked back at Niall. “I think you meant to say,
draws my ire
.”

“Is that what the kids are calling
it these days?” He stood. “I’m going to find my lady love, see if I can stir up
a spot of trouble.
Draw her ire
.” He gave the phrase a lascivious twist.
“See you later, Evie.”

“Bye, Niall.”

Eve watched as Franny directed the
two men where to place the boxes. The women at the center table joined them,
opening boxes and pulling out items. Some of it looked like holiday decorations.
Judith glanced her way, smiling, and with a jerk of her head invited Eve to
join them.

Still feeling hesitant, Eve came to
the edge of the fray. Sanngrid unwound a spangly red Christmas tree garland and
draped it around Pete, the two of them speaking to each other in German.
Annoyance pinched his face while a wide grin split hers in delight. Chet
slipped up behind Pete, adding a Santa hat to the ensemble. Pete quickly ripped
it from his head and smoothed his hair back into place.

Franny was talking excitedly to
Judith but Eve paid no attention to the words. She stepped back and considered
leaving. Not just the room but perhaps it would have been better to leave for
the holiday. Whatever work might be done over the next three weeks would be
minimal. This was family time and these people were a family. A few months
working alongside them didn’t make her part of that.

Or maybe she was just letting her
usual holiday blues bring her down. This was always a tough time of the year
for Eve. She didn’t want to leave the institute. For one thing, three weeks was
a long time and she didn’t have the funds for a hotel for that length of time.
Maybe if she just stayed out of the way.

She returned to the table and
picked up the Irvine book, then slipped out the back entrance. Her heavy coat
was in the Archives but it wasn’t a long walk to her apartment. Boots sliding
in the fresh snow, she made her way toward the triplex where she, Franny, and
Chet lived. She was almost there when something hit the middle of her back,
something that felt suspiciously like a snowball.

Eve whirled to see Pete trudging
through the snow toward her, the absurd garland still draped around his neck.
“Think you’re gonna skip out on your share of the work, think again, Kane.”

“What are you talking about? That
didn’t much look like work.” Shivering, she used her charm to unlock the door
and entered the foyer.

Pete followed, crowding her in the
small space. Sometimes she thought he did that on purpose. “Midwinter
preparations are serious business around here, Kane.” He stepped closer,
forcing her against the wall. He placed his left hand on the wall and leaned
down. “Serious. Bidness.”

“Are you drunk?” The scruff had
turned into a beard that shadowed his face in the low light. Faint silver glowed
from his dark blue eyes, his full lips tinted red from the cold. Eve tightened
her hands on the book.

“No, I am not drunk.” He raised the
index finger of his right hand. “But I did get an early start on Maura’s honey
mead.” He leaned down even closer, nodding and squinting. “It is really good
shit.”

She raised an eyebrow. “And it
makes you high?”

“Among other things,” he whispered,
catching a stray lock of her hair between two fingers and twisting it. “Yeah.
So, go put your book up. Franny’s bringing your coat.”

“What are we doing?” If he didn’t
step back soon she was definitely going to embarrass herself. He was the one
who’d kept his distance after kissing her. She wasn’t going to throw herself at
him just for the feel of his mouth on hers again, his hands on her body, all
that cool reserve melting
-

Damn it. This was so much easier
when he was being a jerk who kept his distance.

“Can’t celebrate Midwinter without
a Yule tree.” He grabbed her shoulders, twirled her around, and pushed her down
the hall toward her apartment. “Go on, get a move on.” Then he slapped her
rear, hard enough to make her cry out. “Oops! Did I really do that?”

“Yes.” She glared over her shoulder
as she hurried to her door. “You certainly did.” And she would take it to her
grave that she’d liked it. A lot.

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