Unbound, Page 1Jeaniene Frost
Part 1: Ley Line Drifter Kim Harrison
Part 2: Reckoning Jeaniene Frost
Part 3: Dark Matters Vicki Pettersson
Part 4: The Dead, the Damned, and the Forgotten
Part 5: Two Lines Melissa Marr
The Undead Pool: An Excerpt
Books by Kim Harrison
About the Publisher
LEY LINE DRIFTER
The dim gloom was heavy in the lower level of Jenks’s stump, only the high ceiling of the cavernous great room still holding the fading haze of the setting sun. Working by the glow of his dragonflylike wings, Jenks hovered in the wide archway leading to the storerooms, feet dangling and shoulders aching as he smoothed a nick from the lintel. The smell of last year’s garden drifted up past him: musty dandelion fluff, dried jasmine blossoms, and the last of the sweet clover used for their beds. Matalina was a traditionalist and didn’t like the foam he’d cut from a sofa he’d found at the curb last fall.
The rasping of his lathe against the living oak only accentuated the absence of his kids; the quiet was both odd and comforting after a winter spent in his human-size partner’s church. Shifting his lower wings to push the glowing, silver pixy dust upward to light his work, Jenks ran a hand across the wood to gauge the new, decorative curve. A slow smile spread across his face.
“Tink’s panties, she’ll never know,” he whispered, pleased. The gouge his daughter had made while chasing her brother was now rubbed out. All that was needed was to smooth it, and his beautiful and oh-so-clever wife would never know. Or at least she’d never say anything.
Satisfied, Jenks tilted his wings and darted to his tools. He would’ve asked his daughter to fix the archway, but it took cold metal, and at five Jolivia didn’t yet have the finesse to handle toxic metal. Spilling more dust to light his well-used tools, he chose an emery board, swiped from Rachel’s bathroom.
Late March, he thought as he returned to his work, the sparse sawdust mixing with his own pixy dust as he worked in the silence and chill. Late March, and they still hadn’t moved back into the garden from Rachel’s desk, on loan for the winter. The days were warm enough, and the nights would be fine with the main hearth lit. Cincinnati’s pixies were long out of hibernation, and if they didn’t move into the garden soon, someone might try to claim it. Just yesterday his kids had chased off three fairy scouts lurking about the far graveyard wall.
Breath held against the oak dust, Jenks wondered how many children he would lose this fall to romance and how it would affect the garden’s security. Not much now, with only eight children nearing the age of leaving. Next year, though, eleven more would join them, with no newlings to replace them.
A burst of anxious motion from his wings lit a larger circle to show the winter-abandoned cushions about the main central hearth, but it wasn’t until a sudden commotion at the ground-floor tunnel entrance that he spilled enough dust to light the edges to show the shelves, cupboards, and hooks built right into the living walls of the stump. “If there’s no snapped wings or bones sticking out, I don’t want to hear about it!” he shouted, his mood brightening as he recognized his children’s voices.
“Papa. Papa!” Jerrimatt, one of his youngest sons, shouted in excitement as he darted in, trailing silver dust. “We caught an intruder at the street wall! He wouldn’t leave, even when we scared him! He said he wanted to talk to you. He’s a poacher, I bet, and I saw him first!”
Jenks rose, alarmed. “You didn’t kill him, did you?”
“Naww,” the suddenly dejected boy said as he tossed his blond hair in a credible mimicry of his dad. “I know the rules. He had red on.”
Exhaling, Jenks let his feet touch the ground as, in a noisy mob, Jack, Jhem, Jumoke, and Jixy pushed a fifth pixy wing-stumbling into the room.
“He was on the fence,” Jixy said, roughly shoving the stranger again to make his wings hum, and she touched her wooden sword, ready to smack him if he made to fly. She was the eldest in the group, and she took her seniority seriously.
“He was looking at our flower beds,” Jumoke added. The dark-haired pixy’s scowl made him look fiercer than usual, adding to his unusual dark coloring.
“And he was lurking!” Jack exclaimed. If there was trouble, Jack would be in it.
The five were on sentry detail this evening, and Jenks set the emery board aside, eyeing his own sword of pixy steel nearby. He would rather have it on his hip, but this was his home, damn it. He shouldn’t need to wear it inside. Yet here he was with a strange pixy in his main room.
Jerrimatt, all of three years old, was flitting like a firefly on Brimstone. Reaching up, Jenks caught his foot and dragged him down. “He is wearing red,” Jenks reminded him, glad they hadn’t drawn blood from the hapless pixy, wide-eyed and scared. “He gets passage.”
“He doesn’t want passage,” Jerrimatt protested, and Jixy nodded. “He was just sitting there! He says he wants to talk to you.”
“Plotting,” Jixy added suspiciously. “Hiding behind a color of truce. He’s pixy trash.” She threatened to smack him, stopping only when Jenks sent his wings clattering in disapproval.
The intruder stood with his feet meekly on the floor, his wings closed against his back, and glancing uneasily at Jumoke. His red hat of truce was in his hands, fingers going around and around the brim. “I wasn’t plotting,” he said indignantly. “I have my own garden.” Again, his gaze landed on Jumoke in question, and Jenks felt a prick of anger.
“Then why are you looking at ours?” Jhem demanded, oblivious to the intruder’s prejudice against Jumoke’s dark hair and eyes. But when Jhem went to push him, Jenks buzzed a warning again. Eyes down, Jhem dropped back. His children were wonderful, but it was hard to teach restraint when quick sword-point justice was the only reason they survived.
At a loss, Jenks extended a hand to the ruffled pixy as his children watched sullenly. The pixy buck before him looked about twelve or thirteen, old enough to be on his own and trying to start a family, married by the clean and repaired state of his clothes. He was healthy and well-winged, though t
hey were now blue with the lack of circulation and pressed against his back in submission. The unfamiliar sword in Jumoke’s grip led Jenks to believe the intruder’s claim to having a garden was likely not an exaggeration, even if it was fairy steel, not pixy. The young buck wasn’t poaching. So what did he want?
Jenks’s own suspicions rose. “Why are you here?” he asked, his focus sliding again to his own sword, set carelessly next to his tools. “And what’s your name?”
“Vincet,” the pixy said immediately, his eyes roving over the sunset gray ceiling. “You live in a castle!” he breathed as his wings rose slightly. “Where is everyone?”
Vincet, Jenks thought, wary even as he straightened with pride at Vincet’s words concerning his home. A six-letter name, and out on his own with cold steel. Pixies born early into a family had short names, those born later, the longest. Vincet was the fifth brood of newlings in his family to survive to naming. That he had a blade and a long name to his credit meant that his birth clan was strong. It was the children born late in a pixy’s life that suffered the most when their parents died and the clan fell apart. Most children with names longer than eight letters never made it. Jerrimatt, though… Jenks’s smile grew fond as he looked at the blond youngster scowling fiercely at Vincet. Jerrimatt, his birth brother, and both his birth sisters would survive. Matalina was stronger now that she wasn’t having children anymore. One or two more seasons, and all her children would survive her. It was what she prayed for.
Not knowing why he trusted Vincet, Jenks gestured for his children to relax, and they began shoving one another. The earth’s chill soaked into Jenks now that he wasn’t moving, and he wished he’d started a fire.
“I heard you investigate things,” Vincet blurted, his wings lifting slightly as the kids ringing him drifted a few paces back. “I’m not poaching! I need your help.”
“You want Rachel or Ivy.” Jenks rose up to show him the way into the church. “Rachel is out,” he said, glad now he hadn’t accompanied her on her shopping trip as she searched for some obscure text her demonic teacher wanted. She’d be in the ever-after tomorrow for her weekly teaching stint with the demon, and of course she’d waited until the last moment to find the book. “But Ivy is here.”
“No!” Vincet exclaimed, his wings blurring but his feet solidly on the poker-chip floor, rightfully worried about Jenks’s kids. “I want your help, not some lunker’s. I don’t have anything they’d want, and I pay my debts. They’ll tell me to move. And I can’t. I want you.”
His kids stopped their incessant shoving, and Jenks’s feet touched the cold floor. A job? he thought, excitement zinging through him. For me? Alone?
“Will you help me?” Vincet asked, the dust from him turning a clear silver as he regained his courage and his wings shivered to try and warm himself. “My newlings are in danger. My wife. My three children. I don’t dare move now. It’s too late. We’ll lose the newlings. Maybe the children, too. There’s nowhere to go!”
Newlings, Jenks thought, his focus blurring. A newborn pixy’s life was so chancy that they weren’t given names or considered children until they proved able to survive. To bury a newling wasn’t considered as bad as burying a child. Though that was a lie. He and Matalina had lost their entire birthing the year they moved into the church, and Matalina hadn’t had any more since, thanks to his wish for sterility. It had probably extended Mattie’s life, but he missed the soft sounds newlings made and the pleasure he took in thinking up names as they grasped his finger and demanded another day of life. Newlings, hell. They were children, every one precious.
Jenks’s gaze landed squarely on Vincet, assessing him. Thirteen, with a lifetime of responsibility on him already. Jenks’s own short span had never bothered him—a fast childhood giving way to grief and heartache—until he’d seen the other side, the long adolescence and even longer life of the lunkers around them. It was so unfair. He’d listen.
And if he was listening, then he should probably make Vincet feel at home. As Rachel did when people knocked on her door, afraid and helpless.
A flush of uncertainty made his wings hum. “We’re entertaining,” he told his kids with a firmness he’d dredged up from somewhere, and they looked at one another, wings drooping and at a loss. Pixies didn’t tolerate another on their land unless marriage was being discussed, much less invite him into their diggings.
Smiling, Jenks gestured for Vincet to sit on the winter-musty cushions, trying to remember what he’d seen Rachel do when interviewing clients. “Um, give me his sword, and get me a pot of honey,” he said, and Jerrimatt gasped.
“H-honey…” the youngster stammered, and Jenks took the wooden-handled blade from Jhan. The fairy steel was evidence of a past battle won, probably before Vincet had left home.
“Tink’s burned her cookies, go!” Jenks exclaimed, waving at them. “Vincet wants my help. I don’t think he’s going to run me through. Give your dad an ounce of credit, will you?”
His cursing was familiar, and knowing everything was okay, they dove for the main tunnel, chattering like mad.
“I brought you all up,” he shouted after them, conscious of Vincet watching him. “You don’t think I know a guest from a thief?” he added, but they were gone, the sound of their wings and fast speech fading as they vanished up the tunnel. It grew darker as their dust settled and went out. Chilled, Jenks vibrated his wings for both warmth and light.
Making a huff, Jenks handed the pixy his sword, thinking he’d never done anything like that before. Vincet took it, seeming as unsure as Jenks was. Asking for help was in neither of their traditions. Change came hard to pixies when adherence to rigid customs was what kept them alive. But for Jenks, change had always been the curse that kept him going.
Jenks darted to a second, smaller hearth at the outskirts of the room for the box that held kindling. Insurance wouldn’t allow a fire inside the church, and the kit had never made it inside. And if I’m interviewing a client, he thought, worried he might not make a good impression, it should be by more than the glow of my dust. The interview should be given the honor of the main hearth in the center of the room.
Vincet slid his sword away, his wings shivering for warmth as he looked at the ceilings.
“Um, you want to sit down?” Jenks said again as he returned with the kindling, and Vincet gingerly lowered himself to the edge of the cushion beside the dark fire pit. Though never starting outright war, poaching was a plague upon pixy society. Even being used to bending the rules, Jenks felt a territorial surge when Vincet’s eyes scanned the dim room.
“I heard you lived in a castle of oak,” Vincet said, clearly in awe. “Where is everyone?”
Watching him, Jenks struck the rocks together, whispering the words to honor the pixies who first stole a live flame and to ask for a prosperous season. Matalina should be at his side as he started the season’s first flame, and he felt a pang of worry, wondering if it was wrong to do this without her.
“Right now we’re living in the church,” he said as an ember caught the charred linen, glowing as he added bits of fluff. “We’re going to move out this week.” I hope.
Vincet’s wings stilled. “You live inside. With … lunkers?”
Smiling, Jenks began placing small sticks. With an instinctive shift of the muscles at the base of his wings, he modified the dust he was laying down to make it more flammable. It caught immediately, and stray bits floated up like motes of stars. “For the winter so we don’t have to hibernate. I’ve seen snow,” he said proudly. “It burns, almost, and turns your fingers blue.”
Perhaps I could turn one of the storage rooms into an office? he thought as he set the first of the larger sticks on the flames and rose from his knees. But the thought of Matalina’s eyes, pained as strangers violated their home repeatedly, made him wince. She was a grand woman, saying nothing when his fairy-dusted schemes burned in his brain. Better to ask Rachel to bury a flowerpot upside down in the garden beside the gate at the edge of th
e property. Hang a sign out or something. If he was going to help Cincinnati’s pixies, he should be prepared.
“I need your help,” Vincet said again, and Jenks’s dust rivaled the firelight.
“We don’t hire ourselves out for territory disputes,” Jenks said, not knowing what else the pixy buck could want.
“I’d not ask,” Vincet said, clearly affronted as his wings slipped a yellow dust. “If I can’t hold a piece of ground, I don’t deserve to garden it. My claim is strong. My wife and I have land, three terrified children from last year, and six newlings. I had seven yesterday.”
Though the young pixy’s voice was even, his smooth, childlike face clenched in heartache. Seeing his pain, Jenks settled back, impressed that this was his second season as a father, and he had managed to raise three children already. It had taken him and Matalina two seasons to get their first newlings past the winter, and no newlings at all had survived that third winter. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Food is hard at this time of year.”
Vincet had his head bowed, mourning. “It’s not the food. We have enough, and both Noel and I would gladly go hungry to feed our children. It’s the statue.” His head came up, and Jenks felt a stab of concern at Vincet’s haunted expression. “You’ve got to help me—you work with a witch. It’s magic. It’s driving my daughter mad in her sleep, and last night, when I kept her awake, it killed one of my newlings.”
Jenks’s wings angled to catch the heat from the fire, and a sudden surge of warmth drove out the chill that had taken him. A statue? Leaning forward, Jenks wished he had a clipboard or a pencil like Ivy always had when she interviewed clients. He didn’t know what to say, but a pen always made Ivy look like she knew what she was doing. “A statue?” he prompted, and Vincet bobbed his head, his blond hair going everywhere.
“That’s how we got the garden,” he said, his words faster now that Jenks was listening. “It’s in a park. The flower beds abandoned. No sign of pixy or fairy. We didn’t know why. Last year, we held a spot of ground in the hills, but lunkers cut it down, built a house, and didn’t put in any flowers or trees to replace what they destroyed. I barely got my family out alive when the dozers came. Noel—that’s my wife—was near her time. She couldn’t fly much. The park was empty. We didn’t know the ground was cursed. I thought it was goddess-sent, and now my children… The newlings… They’re dying in their sleep, burning up!”