Long Night Moon (The Bradbury Institute Book 2) (5 page)

Chapter 8

 

Chet rounded up everyone he could
find. Only the core staff was left. Judith addressed the group in her office.
“A nightmare goblin appears to have crossed over. For those who haven’t dealt
with them before, they are nasty little creatures. They can induce sleep,
followed by weaving nightmares into your subconscious. If you’re lucky and wake
quickly, it seems like an especially bad dream. If the spell is strong enough
it can bring on psychotic episodes.”

Franny hugged her little dog closer
to her body. “How do we catch it?”

“They like shiny things, sweets,
and blood. We’ll set traps throughout the building. Hopefully it won’t take
long to catch the thing.”

Chet said, “We’ll work in pairs so
we can watch out for each other, keep each other from falling asleep. Maura’s
raiding the kitchen for cookies and whatever else we can use.”

“I know I could use some coffee,”
Irvine mumbled as he ran a hand through his hair.

Judith nodded. “We’ll definitely
keep the caffeine flowing until we catch the goblin.”

“Is this a capture only or can we
kill it?” Sanngrid passed her favorite knife back and forth between her hands.

“I’d prefer we capture it and send
it back across the gate,” Judith said. “But I won’t shed a tear if we have to
kill it.”

Rami still looked upset from the
nightmare that woke him earlier. “I say we kill it.”

Chet designated teams. “Okay,
Niall’s with Maura. Franny and Rami, you two. Bettine’s with me. Judith, you
and Irvine?”

She nodded. “Yes.”

Chet looked at Sanngrid. “Where’s
Pete?”

Sanngrid shrugged. Franny said,
“Uh, he might be in town with Eve.”

“Ooh,” Rami said with glee.

Franny wagged her eyebrows. “I hope
so.”

Chet thought for a moment. Pete was
handy as hell in situations like this, though he would definitely be for
killing the goblin in bloody fashion. If he’d finally worked up the courage to
spend time with Eve, Chet didn’t want to ruin that for his friend. “Okay, if
they come back and we’re still dealing with this we’ll set up a trap for them
to watch. Otherwise, I say unless this becomes an emergency we just let them
enjoy the day.”

“That’s fine,” Judith said. “Sanngrid,
I want you to rotate through the teams once the traps are set. For now, I want
you to go bring up some things from the weapons room.”

Rami said, “I’d like a flame
thrower, please, with a side order of C4.”

Sanngrid grinned. “I’ll bring you a
nice big sword.”

“Ooh, me too,” Franny said. “And
can you bring Mac’s protective gear?”

“Of course.” Sanngrid addressed the
director. “Anything else?”

“That’s all for now.” Sanngrid
left. Judith said, “All jokes aside, this creature is a bad piece of work. If
you have to run it through with a sword, do it. I’d prefer no damage to the
building or anything in it, but I absolutely do not want any of my people
hurt.”

“We’ll put the traps together in
the Oracle,” Chet said by way of calling an end to the meeting. Everyone
shuffled out slowly. Spending part of the holiday on a goblin hunt was no one’s
idea of a good time.

Bettine examined her fingernails.
“This is beyond tedious.”

“I know.” Chet squeezed her
shoulder. “I’m really hoping it won’t take long.”

“It better not.” She rose to her
full height, giving her dark hair an imperious toss. “I had plans for you
tonight that would make last night seem like child’s play.” She stalked out of
the office.

Chet swore. That goblin would be
caught by dusk or he’d kill it himself.

***

Pete shivered in the throes of
memory. Blood dripping down a wall of bone. Screaming so constant he’d
forgotten what quiet felt like. He swayed, reaching blindly for something to
steady himself.

As awareness returned, he realized
he was leaning against the gun locker. Pete shook his head, trying to clear his
thoughts. He needed to be at his best, he needed to be strong. He hadn’t felt
so weak in three years.

The box had fallen to the floor,
Eve’s hair tumbling out. He stared at the gold strands. Memory superimposed an
image of shining white bone twisted by dark magic and wrapped around his
bloodied wrists. With a shuddering breath he wiped his face to dispel the
sight, then held out a hand. It shook uncontrollably. He grasped it with his
other hand, pressing them against his chest as he slid to the floor. The taste
of wet and salt on his lips told him he was crying.

Someone entered the room. Unable to
speak, Pete didn’t move.

“Pete, what are.” It was Sanngrid.
She switched to German but for once he couldn’t follow it. Crouching over him,
she brushed tears from his face and switched back to English. “What happened?
Peter
?”

He swallowed and found his voice.
“Crantz took Eve.” He flicked his gaze to the box.

Sanngrid followed his eyes. “
Scheisse
.”
She rose. “I’ll get Judith.”

Pete grabbed her hand, pulling her
back down. “No! He said only me. His boss wants only me. I have to be under the
Long Night Moon by midnight or they start sending more of her.” He choked on
the last few words.

Sanngrid stared, the shock of
seeing him in this condition clear on her face. No one at Bradbury had ever
seen him like this, not even when he first arrived. “Whatever this is you have
about Sideways.” She shook her head and covered her mouth for a moment, looking
down at the hair spilling from the box. Then she met his gaze again. “Can you
do this?”

His worst fears whispered
no
.
“I have to. I can’t let them kill her.” He pulled himself to his feet,
unsteady, nauseated, but standing.

Sanngrid stood and went to work
assembling items onto a wheeled cart. “There’s a nightmare goblin in the
building. I have to take these to the Oracle. Then I will be back and we will
make a plan.”

“You can’t go with me.”

“The hell! Look at you! You’re in
no condition to do this alone.” Knives and short swords clanged as she dropped
them on the cart. “Besides,” she said as she opened an antique trunk. “Who
better to have your back while you raid the Long Night Moon than the daughter
of a Valkyrie and a Navy Seal?”

Pete could think of no one better.
“We’ll have to keep you out of sight when we start to get close.”

“Don’t you worry about me.” She
withdrew a weapon from the trunk, presenting it to him with great flourish.
“For you, my friend.”

Bloodsinger.

The sword originated in the Court
of Twilight, made of an obsidian blade a shining inky black and a hilt of
copper and quartz, all of it blended and hardened by Fae magic. It gleamed like
a clear star-filled night, its razor edge echoing of blood. The sword whispered
to him when he wrapped his hand around the hilt. Glad to feel the touch of his
skin again. He’d defeated its former owner, earning the sword’s allegiance. Not
that Pete had wanted it then, but it had helped him escape. As soon as he’d found
Bradbury he’d stored it in the weapons room, not wanting to hear it murmuring
to him. Now he listened carefully. Testing the edge with his thumb, he gave the
sword a drop of his blood. It soaked into the obsidian and the blade gave a
pleased hiss.

“Sanngrid?”

“Yes?”

“I’m gonna want guns, too.”

“Of course.”

An hour later found them trudging
through the snow to the Sideways gate. Laden with weapons and armor, it was
slow going. The closer they got to the gate, the longer it seemed to take to
get there. Pete wanted to hurry, or perhaps never get there at all.

They paused several feet from the
tree that marked the entrance to Sideways. Pete shivered but not from the
blustery cold. “I can’t ask you to go with me, but the hell of it is I can’t
ask you to go back either. I know I need backup.”

Sanngrid said, “We already settled
this.”

“If you’re going with me then you
have a right to know some things.” He stopped short. It had been three years
since he’d spoken of his past. Judith had demanded the truth from him if he was
to stay at Bradbury, but she’d kept his secrets at his request. “I have a price
on my head in the Valley Below.”

“I figured there was a reason you
didn’t care for Sideways.”

Pete drew Bloodsinger from its
scabbard. The weight of it in his hand helped him get the next words out. “The
Queen of Bone wants my skull. She vowed to drink my blood from it, after she
decorates her throne with my entrails.”

Color drained from Sanngrid’s face.
The sacred vow of a Sidhe, even a self-appointed monarch in the Valley Below,
was nothing to ignore. No matter how much time or trouble it took, the vow
would be fulfilled. Only the Bone Queen’s death would stop it.
“That’s…disturbing.”

“Once I cross over, chances are it
won’t take long for her to be alerted. She’ll send people after me. I’ll be
lucky to be able to cross back. So we’re gonna do this quick and dirty. I can
get us to the Long Night Moon after we cross, then we find Eve. Whoever’s
between us and her dies.”

“I don’t have a problem with that.”

He looked at the tree. The time for
planning and stalling was over. His gut clenched. He gripped Bloodsinger’s hilt
tighter. “Let’s go.”

Pete led the way. As they came
closer the tree shimmered, its form coalescing into a Victorian era street
lamp. He paused again. “Have you travelled much over there?”

“No, never.”

“You can go overland but we don’t
have that kind of time. We’ll have to take the portals.”

“How does that work?”

“Pretty much like the gates on this
side. You just have to know how to find them.”

“Are there maps?”

He shook his head. “They can move
around. You have to know how to recognize the signs.”

Sanngrid looked grim. “Let’s get it
over with then.”

They crossed the gate, energy
humming all around. Pete ran a hand over the lamp, trying to recall good
memories of Sideways. They were there, buried deep, but covered by too much
pain. He sheathed Bloodsinger and checked to make sure Sanngrid stayed close.

They didn’t have to travel far to
reach the first portal. An ice-covered tree shimmered in the darkness,
reflecting tiny diamonds of light. Pete opened his senses. Sanngrid would hear
nothing but to him came the low whistle of wind through an open doorway.
Whether he was able to hear it because of the magic in him or some other reason
was still a mystery after all this time. He just knew he was grateful that the
ability was still there, even though it brought a clammy sweat to his skin.

Pete led the way through the tree,
stepping into it with confidence. Energy fizzed around them, parting like a
curtain of electricity. On the other side waited empty desert, dry and hot
under a blazing sun. Briefly disoriented, Pete scanned the surroundings for
signs of another portal. Nothing but sand and sun were evident.

Sanngrid stepped up to his side.
“Uh, Pete.”

“Yeah, I know. Hold on, it’s here
somewhere.” Pete reached out with his senses to search for magical energy. The
trouble was, they were in Sideways. The place was full of magical energy of one
kind or another. Portal energy had its own quality, though, so he tried to
narrow his focus for that.

He was about to give up and go back
the way they came and start over when he realized that was exactly what he
needed to do. Back through the same portal, but it would come out somewhere
else. There were more than a few like that in Sideways. It could make travel
damned near impossible. Much in the way that magic required intention to work,
using the portals required a leap of faith. Common sense and even instinct
might argue against it, but sometimes it was just the way things worked on this
side.

“Let’s go.” Pete led the way back
through the portal. Sanngrid followed without comment, letting her dubious
expression speak for her.

They walked out into cold air and
silver light. Dark cliffs cut jagged lines out of the side of a high mountain.
The clear glass of a still lake rested at the bottom of the plain, dotted by
snow drifts all around. The moon hung full and heavy and too close to the
horizon to be real. It was a moon no one ever saw on the other side of
Sideways. Deep in the heart of the Winter Court, the Long Night Moon was the
full moon of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year.

Pete nodded with grim satisfaction.
“We’re here.”

“My gods.” Sanngrid stared at the
moon. “It’s…it’s unreal.”

Somewhere behind him a horse
neighed. A dozen horses surrounded them. The riders all wore dark leathers and
wielded swords, their faces tattooed with intricate patterns in woad.

Shadow Raiders. Shit, I might as
well have taken us straight to the Valley Below.

“Game on, Valkyrie.” He drew
Bloodsinger and charged.

Chapter 9

 

Franny tapped her feet on the thick
carpet, bored. So far no sign of the goblin. MacGuffin snuggled at her side.
Rami sat against the opposite wall, silent and brooding, clutching a
short-handle axe. They were in the hallway outside the magic lab, with a trap
set up several feet away. It looked a bit like a bird cage, with a trail of
cookie crumbs leading to a cupcake on the inside. Franny didn’t know if it was
a good idea for them to be within sight of the trap but Rami had not been
interested in discussion.

He didn’t want to talk about the
holiday, or what kind of presents he’d gotten everyone. He didn’t want to
gossip about the fact that Captain Irvine spent the previous night in Judith’s
apartment. He flatly refused to speak about the nightmare the goblin had given
him. Usually she could get Rami to talk about something, but so far he’d been
resistant to all attempts to draw him into conversation.

She thought of another subject to
try. “So what do you think Pete and Evie are doing right now? Whatever it is,
it’s got to be more fun than this.”

It was a long moment before he
answered with a dull, “No idea.”

Franny gave up and wished she’d
thought to bring a book.

Several minutes later Rami finally
spoke. “How powerful do you think he is?”

She yawned before answering. “The
same as any other goblin. I’m sure somebody will get him.”

“No, I mean Pete.”

“Oh.” She sat up straighter. “Um. I
don’t know. The way Chet talks it sounds like Pete packs a pretty big wallop.”

Rami placed the axe on the floor
and rubbed his face. “More powerful than me?”

Franny looked at the wizard. She
knew he couldn’t be jealous of Pete, or worried about his job. Rami might be a
lot of things but mundane was not one of them. “What’s on your mind?”

“That goddamn nightmare. It’s not
rational, I know that, but it scares me.”

“What scares you?” He remained
silent. She prodded gently. “Come on, it’s just me here. What are you worried
about, Rami?”

“I was eight when my parents died.
There was no one to take me so I wound up in the system. Stayed in a few foster
homes but none of them were all that great and no one wanted to adopt someone
my age. I never felt like I belonged anywhere until I came here.”

“Oh, Rami.” She scooted across the
carpet to sit at his side. “You’re not going to lose your place here no matter
what kind of badass magic Pete can throw around. Surely you know that.”

“I do, I do! It embarrasses me to
even admit I’m thinking it. It’s from the nightmare, I know it. It took me
right back into every foster home and group home I spent time in.”

“No wonder you picked the axe. If I
had to relive something like that, I’d want to kill that goblin too.”

He laughed, a sharp humorless sound.
“I’ve always been squeamish at the sight of blood but I swear I could take that
damn thing’s head off.”

“Hopefully you’ll get a chance.”

MacGuffin sat up and looked idly
around. Rami said, “What the hell is that dog wearing?”

A touch defensive, Franny said, “I
made him some protective gear! The little fella needs it.”

“It looks like armor. Isn’t that
too heavy for him? He only weighs six pounds.”

“Well, it’s enchanted, of course! I
fixed it so it won’t be too heavy for him.” She patted the floor in front of
her. “Come here, Mac. Let Rami see your armor.”

The dog stood, his gaze locked on
the far end of the hall. Rami picked up the axe as Mac began to growl. “Call
Judith, I think we got it.”

MacGuffin took off like a bullet,
barking loud enough that Franny didn’t think she’d need her cell phone to alert
the rest of the building. Rami followed at a run. Franny grabbed her phone and
went after them.

They caught up with Mac in front of
a supply closet. The dog stood in front of the door, limbs rigid, body shaking
as he barked at whatever was inside. Rami glanced at her and she read his plan
in his eyes. Scooping up Mac, she put her hand on the door knob. Rami raised
the axe, then nodded. She swung the door open and backed away.

A broom fell out, hitting Rami on
the head before he had a chance to take the axe to it.

Franny peeked around the door. “So.
Can goblins teleport?”

Disgust twisting his face, Rami
nodded.

Franny smoothed the fur on Mac’s
head. “The things you learn.”

***

Eve sensed someone approaching
before she heard their footsteps. They ripped the black hood from her head and
blinding light momentarily seared her vision. She blinked, struggling to get a
handle on her fear and the strange nausea that lingered. Something had
happened, something that involved magic and not being in the coffee shop
anymore. Her insides had twisted and she’d fought against the hood and the
strong arms holding her captive. Then she’d been dropped on a hard floor and
left to wait, her hands tied behind her back.

Her hands were still tied but she
felt slightly less vulnerable with the hood removed. She looked up into a face
she’d never wanted to see again. “You,” she spat out.

Crantz threw his arms wide and
grinned. “Me!” He dragged a battered wooden stool over and sat. “So how are
you, Eve? Crossing over with a manufactured portal can be a bit rough on the
tummy. If you need to barf, you go right ahead.”

Eve surveyed the surroundings. The
room appeared to have been fashioned out of a cave with stone walls and floor.
A fireplace was carved in one spot, a large fire crackling like a live thing.
Whatever warmth it might have offered did not reach Eve. She shivered in the
cold. The wall curved in one direction, a light drift of snow on the floor. That
had to be an exit. She had no weapons, her hands were tied, she had no idea
where she was, though she had an uncomfortable suspicion she was on the wrong
side of the Sideways gate. Surely she’d been gone long enough that Pete knew
something was wrong. The institute would search for her.

As the nausea subsided another
unpleasant sensation took over. Her scalp ached, especially at the base.
Someone had grabbed her long hair and sawed it off painfully. There had to be a
reason for that, she thought. Proof to the institute that they had her,
they
being whoever Crantz worked for.

“I’ll be sure and barf on your
shoes if I need to,” Eve replied. She didn’t like the predatory way his gaze
raked her body.

His grin widened. “I like you, Eve.
You’ve got spirit. That always makes the breaking of a person more fun, when
they have spirit.”

Eve bit her lip, wondering if she
could play him again like she had in Frankfurt. “What’s going to happen to me?”

Crantz lowered his voice, the smile
gone. “You really want to know?” She nodded. “Oh, darling, I don’t think you
do.”

She leaned forward. “Tell me.
Please.”

It was the
please
that did
it, she could tell. His face flushed with excitement and he leaned close,
bringing his lips to her ear. She didn’t wait for him to speak. Throwing her
shoulder into his throat, she sent him sprawling to the floor. Then she hurried
to her feet and kicked him in the ribs, glad she’d worn boots. As he twisted on
the ground she ran for the exit.

Rounding the corner, Eve risked one
brief look over her shoulder. Because of that she didn’t see who she ran into
until the man had her firmly in his grip. Well over six feet tall with pale
blond hair and ice blue eyes, she knew immediately this man was the one to
worry about. The leader of the mysterious organization that tried to steal the
Key of Darkness, whose image she’d seen in a haze of magic. Power radiated from
him in dark waves.

“This is the second time you’ve
gotten the upper hand with Crantz,” he said in a smooth voice. “I need better
minions.”

Eve swallowed her fear. “It really
doesn’t reflect well on you.”

He chuckled. “I see why Leoben
likes you.” He led her back to the room, keeping one hand on her arm as he
placed Crantz’s stool close to the fire. Gesturing with his free hand he said,
“Please, sit.”

“If it’s all the same to you, I’d
rather go home.” She had no idea who Leoben was.

“You will, in time.” He gave
Crantz, who’d picked himself up from the floor and stood rubbing his throat, a
significant look. “And you will not be harmed while in my custody.”

“Custody? That sounds so
civilized.” Eve twisted her torso and arms to display her bound hands. “This is
a kidnapping.”

He regarded her with cold eyes. She
had to force herself not to flinch under his gaze. He said, “If you try to flee
you’ll find yourself lost in hostile territory. If by some miracle you manage
to get past the Shadow Raiders you’ll die of exposure in the snow and ice. So
Miss Kane, your best hope of getting out of here unscathed is to cooperate.”

Eve recalled something from Irvine’s
book about Shadow Raiders, confirming her suspicion she was in Sideways. And
based on what Irvine had written about the dangerous bandits, she wouldn’t
stand a chance against them. “What do you want with me?”

“Simply put, you’re bait.” His
broad shoulders moved in a shrug under his dark blue parka. “Leoben cares for
you, so he’ll come here for you.”

“I don’t know anyone named Leoben.”

His eyes glazed to a frosty silver.
Warmth circled her wrists and then the ropes fell. She rubbed her hands and
wrists. “Thank you. But really, I think you’ve got the wrong woman. I don’t
know anyone by that name.”

“No,” he said, a melancholy note in
his voice. “You don’t know him by that name.”

Eve took a step back. Something in
his demeanor frightened her, far more than the polite but unfeeling ice he’d
displayed earlier.

Someone approached from the
entrance. A slim woman in black with an acid green bob came to a halt a few
feet from Eve. “You, you were in the ladies room at the coffee shop, weren’t
you? If you’re the one who wacked off my hair, you and I need to have a talk.”

The woman ignored her. Her boss
said, “Do you have it?”

“Yes.” She opened a canvas bag in
her hand and took out a pair of manacles made of some white material Eve could
not identify.

“What’s that for?” Eve took another
step backward.

“Psychometry is a fascinating gift,
Miss Kane.” He took the manacles and held them up to examine them. “I find
myself a bit envious. To me, this is nothing but cold bone, worn smooth by use
and made strong by magic. But to you
-
you
have the power to perceive the story this has to tell. To draw forth its very
memories. To experience things through the senses of someone who has been in
contact with it. Surely that would allow you to truly know a person.”

“I never thought of it that way.”
She took another step back, colliding with Crantz. He gripped her shoulder,
fingers digging into her flesh painfully.

“You say you don’t know Leoben.
This will allow you to know him. To see the darkest part of his soul.”

Fear burned a path through her
nerves. “I don’t know this man Leoben. This is a mistake, please.”

He lifted the manacles to her neck,
holding them inches from her body. With a jerk of his chin he signaled Crantz
to step away. “You will know him now, Eve.” He draped the manacles around her
like some sort of macabre necklace.

Sensation slammed into Eve.
Unbearable pain, sickening fear, the roar of constant screaming. Knees being
dragged across a stone floor, leaving a trail of blood through holes in the
pants. Being dumped against a wall, half-conscious. A shimmer of familiar magic
that tasted of wildness on a star-filled winter night.

Eve screamed as she dropped to the
floor. “Pete!”

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