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City of Light
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Keri Arthur, the New York Times bestselling author of the Outcast, Souls of Fire, Dark Angels, and Riley Jenson Guardian series, has written more than thirty books. She’s been nominated in the Best Contemporary Paranormal category of the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Awards and has won a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award for urban fantasy.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Waking was painful.
My head felt like it was full of roaches trying to claw their way out, and my body was on fire. Sweat poured from my forehead and down my spine, and the T-shirt I wore under my jacket was soaked.
But none of that mattered. Understanding the situation did. And that meant concentrating every bit of awareness on my surroundings and what was going on.
I guess the most obvious fact was that I still lived, which surprised me. Given everyone’s reactions, I’d expected the opposite.
I lay sprawled against cold metal, and the air was not only heated and still, but also ripe with the scent of urine and rubbish. There was no one close—no one I could smell or hear, anyway. I was fully clothed, and—despite the ache in my head and the fire in my body—unhurt. But the weight of my weapons was gone; no surprise there, especially if they’d believed Penny—and the question of how she’d known my true name let alone even suspect I was déchet was a point I could worry about once I’d escaped. If I escaped.
I opened my eyes, only to be greeted by a light so harsh I blinked back tears. Vampire lights. They were using vampire lights on me. I would have laughed had I not felt so shitty.
While I couldn’t actually become light—as I could become shadow—I could certainly make it appear as if I had. It was a skill that had allowed me to get out of situations like this in the past. If a cell appeared empty—if it appeared the prisoner had already escaped—there was little reason to lock said cell back up.
Of course, it wasn’t a skill that all déchet had, just those of us designed to be lures and assassins—and we’d been few enough in number.
Little fingers patted my face. It was a reassuring touch, but both Cat and Bear were confused and angry, and their emotions stung the air. I opened my hand and briefly wrapped my fingers around the energy of theirs.
“It’ll be okay,” I said softly. “We’ll be okay.”
They hummed, happy that I was awake but not really reassured. I pushed upright, but far too fast. Pain hit like a sledgehammer, so sharp it felt like my head was about to split apart. I hissed and hugged my knees to my chest, breathing slowly and deeply until the sensation faded. Once it did, I studied my surroundings. The room was little more than a ten-feet-square metal box—which was huge in a place where space was at a premium—and had obviously been, at one point in its life, a storage container, as there were no windows and the walls were pockmarked with welded-over drill holes that must have once held shelving in place. Silver mesh covered all four walls and the ceiling. This was a room designed to hold shifters and vampires, meaning Nuri’s place was more than just a bar. And though this prison should have set off my fear of enclosed spaces, it didn’t. Maybe it was the light. Or maybe the fear of not knowing what these people wanted or intended was drowning out everything else.
I glanced at the door. It, too, was silver-coated and made of thickened steel, with only a minute space between the bottom of the door and the floor. Even so, I might be able to get out that way, but not until the weakness that assailed my body eased. Shadowing in light was extremely hard and not always successful; to have any hope of escaping that way, I needed full strength.
I studied the ceiling again, squinting against the harshness of the lights. I couldn’t see anything to indicate I was being monitored, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t.
Bear, I thought. Explore.
He hummed with pleasure and whipped through me, connecting us on a level far deeper than what we’d achieved in the park, because this time, the connection lingered once he pulled free.
I closed my eyes and saw through his.
There was a dark lane little more than a foot and a half wide just beyond my cell, and the air stirred sluggishly, suggesting there was a vent of some sort nearby. Bear spun around, but there were no other buildings behind my cell—nothing but a glimpse of stained silver that was Central’s curtain wall. Unbidden, he turned again and moved down the little lane, checking the small rooms to the left and right, finding nothing but wet, musty darkness. But as he drifted toward a short flight of stairs, voices began to edge across the silence—thick, angry voices. Bear followed the sound into a room slightly larger than mine. A half dozen chairs that had seen better days encircled a small electric stove on which several blackened pots sat. One held little more than water, and the other some sort of meat and vegetable mix.
The voices were coming from the next room. Bear whisked through the wooden door, then stopped. We were back in the bar. One of the shifters—a female—leaned against the bar while Nuri stood in the middle of the room, her hands on her hips as she glared at the second of the shifters. He was a thickset man with a mass of golden hair and yellow eyes. Lion, I thought, as Bear drifted closer.
“Fuck it to hell, Branna,” Nuri all but exploded. “Did you have to use the Iruakandji on her?”
Iruakandji. No wonder it felt like I was knocking on death’s door. That particular drug had been developed in the latter part of war by the HDP, but rarely used. While it did kill shifters with great alacrity, it had proven unviable as a weapon not only because it was extremely costly to make, but because it was just as deadly to déchet, no matter how little shifter blood they had in them.
What was even more interesting, though, was the fact this lot not only had access to it, but kept it close enough to use.
“If there’s even the slightest possibility she’s a fucking déchet,” Branna said, flinging his arms out wide to emphasize his point, “then what does it matter? They’re supposed to be dead, and now she is.”
“Most of us are supposed to be dead, Branna. Does that mean you’re going to use the poison on Jonas? Or Ela?”
“He’d better not try,” the brown-haired woman said without looking up, “or he’ll find his balls shoved in the back of his fucking throat.”
Branna grimaced. “Look, that’s totally different, and you know it.”
“What I know,” Nuri said, “is that the déchet were designed to kill all shifters on sight. And yet this woman—if she was a déchet, and we have no real proof that she was—saved not only Penny, but a ranger. I wanted to know why.”
“Well, it’s one of life’s little questions that’s going to have to remain a mystery, isn’t it, because I can’t fucking undo what I did.”
And he didn’t want to, if his expression was anything to go by. Although if they were expecting me to be dead, then they were going to be pretty disappointed. When the HDP made those who were destined to become lures, they’d ensured we were immune to all known toxins and poisons. They had to, because that’s generally how lures killed when tasked to do so. Which didn’t mean we suffered no ill effects—we did. We just didn’t die from them—though I’d certainly prayed to Rhea to swiftly take both the little ones and me when they’d filled our bunker with Draccid.
But then, Draccid was a particularly insidious gas that entered the body through breath or via exposed flesh, and melted you from the inside out. It was a hideous way to die—something I knew because I’d come very close to death myself. In fact, the strong psychic connection I had with Cat and Bear was undoubtedly due to the fact that they’d not only died in my arms, but that some of our DNA had mingled on that dreadful day.
But being immune didn’t make me immortal. Far from it. Any regular weapon that would kill a vampire could kill me, with the exception of light.
“I just wish you’d fucking think before you react for a change!” Nuri swung around and headed for the door. “I dreamed of her coming for a reason, Branna, and—”
She stopped abruptly and stared at the empty space where Bear hovered. And given the slight narrowing of her gaze, I had no doubt she was aware not only of him, but of my link with him.
“Well, well, well,” she added. “Maybe all is not as lost as we thought. Branna, go see if Jonas is awake and aware, and get him to meet me down in the cell if he is.”
He muttered something under his breath, but turned on his heel and disappeared through another doorway.
Nuri took a step in our direction. “So, little ghost—”
Bear turned and fled before she could finish, and I can’t say I blamed him. He wasn’t used to confronting someone like her—hell, I wasn’t used to confronting someone like her, but obviously, I soon would be.
Bear whisked into the cell, and I held out my hand. He came to rest on my palm, and I flooded our connection with soothing energy. After a while, he calmed down enough to sever the link, then drift upward, hovering near the ceiling. Cat remained near my left shoulder, her energy dancing across my skin like tiny fireflies.
I took a deep breath and released it slowly, but it didn’t do much to ease the tension that ripped through my burning limbs. Damn it, I needed to get out of here! I might often hunger for company that was solid rather than ghostly, but I’d rather spend another hundred years alone with my ghosts than endure five minutes in the company of people like these.
The big question was, though, would I even last long enough to escape?
Nuri might want to question me, but she’d made no mention of actually keeping me alive after that.
I flexed my fingers. I had to stop worrying over things I could do nothing about. It was time to focus on the things I could—like the storm of poison ripping through my body.
I crossed my legs and closed my eyes, focusing on my breathing, on every intake of air as it washed through my nostrils and down into my lungs, until a sense of calm began to descend. It was in this state that my body had been designed to fast-track healing, and, after a few heartbeats, the fire in my flesh began to ease, as did the ache in my head.
The cell door retracted. I didn’t open my eyes, concentrating on the repair, desperate to get as close to full working order as was possible. Even so, I knew the first person to step into the room was Nuri. Interestingly, she didn’t have any particular scent, although the smell of ale, soap, and water clung to her clothes. It wasn’t her,though.
She didn’t say anything, didn’t do anything. She just stood there, studying me. After several moments, I realized she was waiting for Jonas. He eventually arrived and filled the air with the scent of cat, wind, and evening rain—an odd but interesting combination. But there was also a darkness to his scent that had the hairs along the back of my neck rising. There was anger and barely controlled violence in that darkness, and it reminded me forcibly that whatever else this man was, he belonged to a breed of soldier that had single-mindedly mutilated and killed my kind.
Nuri finally walked around me, her steps light despite her large frame. My skin twitched at her closeness, crawled with the sense of her power.
The ghosts crowded closer, their little bodies pressed against mine, their fear and anger clawing at my inside. Calm, just stay calm, I whispered internally, not entirely certain who I was trying to reassure—them or me.
As Nuri’s fiery presence retreated toward the doorway, I finally opened my eyes.
Only to meet Jonas’s gaze.
Something within me tightened; it wasn’t fear, but something far more base. I’d been specifically designed to be like honey to a bee when it came to shifters, but a side effect was that I was inordinately attracted to them. And even though there was far more to me than the task for which I’d been bred, I couldn’t entirely deny my nature. Not even now, in a situation as uncertain as this.
If he felt even an inkling of attraction, it certainly wasn’t showing—not in his scent, and not in his expression or body language. In fact, not even the darkness I sensed within him showed in those vivid, cat-green depths. Indeed, given the casual way he leaned a shoulder against the door frame, it would have been easy to believe he wasn’t particularly interested in either me or whatever was about to happen.
At least he appeared to be over whatever it was that had assailed him—even if his sun-browned skin still seemed pale and his cheeks held a slight gauntness that made his sharp nose look even more aristocratic. Even with that nose—or maybe because of it—he could definitely be called handsome. But not classically so—there was a roughness to his features that made them far more interesting than beautiful.
“Why did you attack me?” My words came out stronger than I expected, and for that I was grateful. If I was to have any hope of convincing them I wasn’t déchet, then I couldn’t give any indication that the drug they’d administered had had any effect.
“Penny said you were déchet.” The back of Nuri’s skirts swished like some gigantic black curtain as she stopped near the doorway. “And she’s not a child inclined to untruths.”
“Penny also said that she’d never met you,” I replied evenly. “And that is patently untrue.”
“No, it isn’t, simply because we haven’t met in person. I know of her only through the dreams.”
“Meaning what? That you’re some kind of witch?”
“Some kind.” She crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. Obviously I’d been right in guessing she was full human, because the silver curtain had no effect on the unprotected areas of her skin.
“So you take the word of a child you’ve never actually met, and attack the stranger responsible for saving both her and one of your own? Nice. Real nice.”
“Perhaps not, but our reaction is understandable if you are what Penny says you are.”
“I’m not. You should be able to see that just by looking at me.”
“Unlikely,” Jonas growled. His voice was deep, rich, and oddly melodious, despite the anger within it. I doubted he’d originated from anywhere around here, as those from both Central and Chaos seemed to have a more guttural edge. “There were many rumors during the war about déchet who bore neither the marks nor the scent of their kind.”
I raised an eyebrow. “And there were just as many rumors stating they could fly and walk through walls. Neither of those were true, from what I’ve read. Besides, didn’t your lot ensure all remaining déchet were obliterated after the war?”
“And yet you apparently live in the remains of one of their major bases,” Nuri noted. “And wear the military uniform of the déchet.”
“I live in a couple of rooms, one of which is a storeroom containing—among other things—tons of uniforms,” I corrected. “Last I heard, that wasn’t a crime.”
“It is when you’re carrying weapons not seen since the war,” Jonas growled. “And you’re using tunnels that were supposed to be blocked.”
“The main entrances are blocked,” I replied, with a calm I certainly wasn’t feeling. Despite his nonchalance, it was obvious he wanted to fight—wanted to attack—and the strength of that desire was so strong it rolled across my skin like a heated caress. And there was a tiny, insane part of me that wished—longed—for that caress to be real rather than mere emotion. “As I said, there are only a couple of usable areas.”
“Not according to Penny,” he said.
“Penny’s a child. I wouldn’t take everything she says as gospel.”
“Penny’s not what—”
“Jonas, enough,” Nuri cut in softly, making me wonder just what the shifter had been about to reveal.
I shifted my gaze to her. “I’m not a déchet, but whether you c...
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Book Description Little, Brown Book Group, United Kingdom, 2016. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. When the bombs that stopped the species war tore holes in the veil between this world and the next, they allowed entry to the Others - demons, wraiths, and death spirits who turned the shadows into their hunting grounds. Now, a hundred years later, humans and shifters alike live in artificially lit cities designed to keep the darkness at bay.As a dechet - a breed of humanoid super-soldiers almost eradicated by the war - Tiger has spent her life in hiding. But when she risks her life to save a little girl on the outskirts of Central City, she discovers that the child is one of many abducted in broad daylight by a wraith-like being - an impossibility with dangerous implications for everyone on earth. Because if the light is no longer enough to protect them, nowhere is safe. Seller Inventory # AWC9780349406985
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Book Description Little, Brown Book Group, United Kingdom, 2016. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. When the bombs that stopped the species war tore holes in the veil between this world and the next, they allowed entry to the Others - demons, wraiths, and death spirits who turned the shadows into their hunting grounds. Now, a hundred years later, humans and shifters alike live in artificially lit cities designed to keep the darkness at bay.As a dechet - a breed of humanoid super-soldiers almost eradicated by the war - Tiger has spent her life in hiding. But when she risks her life to save a little girl on the outskirts of Central City, she discovers that the child is one of many abducted in broad daylight by a wraith-like being - an impossibility with dangerous implications for everyone on earth. Because if the light is no longer enough to protect them, nowhere is safe. Seller Inventory # HUK9780349406985
Book Description Little, Brown Book Group, United Kingdom, 2016. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English. Brand new Book. When the bombs that stopped the species war tore holes in the veil between this world and the next, they allowed entry to the Others - demons, wraiths, and death spirits who turned the shadows into their hunting grounds. Now, a hundred years later, humans and shifters alike live in artificially lit cities designed to keep the darkness at bay.As a dechet - a breed of humanoid super-soldiers almost eradicated by the war - Tiger has spent her life in hiding. But when she risks her life to save a little girl on the outskirts of Central City, she discovers that the child is one of many abducted in broad daylight by a wraith-like being - an impossibility with dangerous implications for everyone on earth. Because if the light is no longer enough to protect them, nowhere is safe. Seller Inventory # AWC9780349406985
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Book Description Little, Brown Book Group. Condition: New. The first in an all-new futuristic fantasy series from Keri Arthur - the New York Times bestselling author of the Souls of Fire novels. Series: Outcast. Num Pages: 368 pages. BIC Classification: FMR. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 198 x 126. . . 2016. Paperback. . . . . Books ship from the US and Ireland. Seller Inventory # V9780349406985
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Book Description Little, Brown Book Group, 2016. Condition: New. The first in an all-new futuristic fantasy series from Keri Arthur - the New York Times bestselling author of the Souls of Fire novels. Series: Outcast. Num Pages: 368 pages. BIC Classification: FMR. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 198 x 126. . . 2016. Paperback. . . . . . Seller Inventory # V9780349406985
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