Feverborn (Fever #8)

by Karen Marie Moning

Part I

Appearances to the mind are of four kinds. Things either are what they appear to be; or they neither are, nor appear to be; or they are, and do not appear to be; or they are not, and yet appear to be. Rightly to aim in all these cases is the wise man’s task.

—Epictetus

…then She Who Came First gave the Song to the darkness and the Song rushed into the abysses and filled every void with life. Galaxies and beings sprang into existence, suns and moons and stars were born.

But She Who Came First was no more eternal than the suns, moons, and stars, so she gave the Song to the first female of the True Race to use only in times of great need, to be used with great care for there are checks and balances, and a price for imperfect Song. She cautioned her Chosen never to lose the melody for it would have to be gathered from all the far corners of all the galaxies again.

Of course it was lost. In time enough, everything is lost.

—The Book of Rain

PROLOGUE

Dublin, Ireland

The night was wild, electric, stormy. Unwritten.

As was he.

An unexpected episode in what had been a tightly scripted film.

Coat billowing like dark wings behind him, he walked across the rain-slicked roof of the water tower, dropped to a crouch on the edge, rested his forearms on his knees, and stared out over the city.

Lightning flashed gold and scarlet, briefly gilding dark rooftops and wet-silver streets below. Amber gas lamps glowed, pale lights flickered in windows, and Faery magic danced on the air. Fog steamed from cobblestones, mincing through alleys and shrouding buildings.

There was no place he’d rather be than this ancient, luminous city, where modern man rubbed shoulders with pagan gods. In the past year, Dublin had transformed from an everyday urban dwelling with a touch of magic to a chillingly magical city with a touch of normal. It had metamorphosed from a thriving metropolis bustling with people, to a silent iced shell, to its current incarnation: savagely alive as those who remained struggled to seize control. Dublin was a minefield, the balance of power shifting constantly as key players were eliminated without warning. Nothing was easy. Every move, each decision, a matter of life and death. It made for interesting times. Small human lives were so limited. And for that very reason, so fascinating. Shadowed by death, life became immediate. Intense.

He knew the past. He’d seen glimpses of many futures. Like its unpredictable inhabitants, Dublin had fallen off the grid of expected trajectories. Recent events in the area had not transpired in any future he’d seen. There was no telling what might happen next. The possibilities were infinite.

He liked it that way.

Fate was a misnomer; an illusion erected and clung to by people who needed to believe when things spun out of their control there was some grand purpose for their fucked-up existence, some mysterious redemptive design that made it worth the suffering.

Ah, the painful truth: Fate was a cosmic toilet. It was the nature of the universe to flush sluggish things that failed to exercise free will. Stasis was stagnancy. Change was velocity. Fate—a sniper that preferred a motionless target to a dancing one.

He wanted to graffiti the side of every building in the city: IT ISN’T FATE. IT’S YOUR OWN STUPID FUCKING FAULT. But he knew better. Admitting there was no such thing as Fate meant acknowledging personal responsibility. He wasn’t about to ante up on that hand.

Still…every now and then one came along like him, like this city that defied all expectation, owned every action, flipped Fate the bird at each opportunity. One that didn’t merely exist.

But lived. Fearless. No price too high for freedom. He understood that.

With a faint smile, he surveyed the city below.

From the tower he could see all the way to the choppy whitecapped sea, its black and silver surface shadowed by the hulking shapes of abandoned ships and barges, and sleeker vessels bobbing on the storm-tossed waves, white sails snapping in the chilly gale.

To his left rooftops stretched, another shadowy rain-pelted sea, sheltering what humans had survived the fall of the ancient walls that had kept the Fae hidden for millennia.

To the right, tucked down a quiet cobblestone street of pubs and upscale shops—easy to identify by the floodlights blazing on the rooftop and the vast section of forsaken city beyond it decimated by the bottomless appetites of the Shades—was that peculiar spatially challenged place known as Barrons Books & Baubles, which was so much more than it appeared to be.

Somewhere down there where gutters routed streams of water to a vast underground drainage system riddled by long forgotten catacombs, Fae walked the streets both openly and hidden, and neon signs cast fractured rainbows on the pavement, was the prior owner of that bookstore, if such a place was ever owned; his Machiavellian ruthless brother; and an invisible woman who, like the building to which she now laid claim, was far more than she appeared to be.

Farther to the left down winding rural roads, if one traveled a solid hour of stark desolation through a second hour of Faery-lush vegetation, was another of those ancient places that could never be owned and the brilliant, powerful woman determined to command it.

Barrons, Ryodan, Mac, Jada.

The possibilities were enormous, dazzling, and he had a fair idea how things would go…but these moments were unpredictable, unscripted.

He threw back his dark head and laughed.

As was he.

1

“It’s the end of the world as we know it…”

I grew up believing in rules, thanks to my parents, Jack and Rainey Lane. I didn’t always like them and I broke them when they didn’t work for me, but they were sturdy things I could rely on to shape the way I lived and keep me—if not totally on the straight and narrow, at least aware there was a straight and narrow I could return to if I got to feeling lost.

Rules serve a purpose. I once told Rowena they were fences for sheep, but fences do more than merely keep sheep in a pasture where shepherds can guide them. They provide protection in the vast and frightening unknown. The night isn’t half as scary when you’re in the center of a fluffy-butted herd, bumping rumps with other fluffy butts, not able to see too much, feeling secure and mostly normal.

Without fences of any kind, the dark night beyond is clearly visible. You stand alone in it. Without rules, you have to decide what you want and what you’re willing to do to get it. You must embrace the weapons with which you choose to arm yourself to survive.

What we achieve at our best moment doesn’t say much about who we are.