Black Heart Page 58

I placed my hand on the door and said the words. “I am the Hound of the Hunt, and no walls can bind me.”

The door went fluid, and I slipped inside. It was pitch-black, and that worried me. There should have been a safety light on. The smoke was thicker down here, closer to the source of the explosion.

I fumbled for the handle of the door in the dark. My fingers touched a dead bolt, and I turned it until it opened and then pushed the door open.

Nathaniel and J.B. had approached the door and were standing right on top of it when I swung it outward. Beezle immediately shot inside and took up his usual perch on my shoulder. Bendith stood several feet away with his arms crossed like a sulky child, spotlighted in the glare from the streetlight.

“Bendith,” I called softly. “Will you at least come over here and hold the door open while we’re inside?”

“I do not see why I should,” Bendith said.

“Bendith,” Nathaniel said. He didn’t raise his voice, but there was steel there.

Titania’s son slouched across the alley to the door and leaned against it, resuming his crossed-arm posture. “Happy?”

“Delighted,” I said. I gestured to the other two to enter.

Nathaniel immediately took up a position in front of me, and J.B. behind. I rolled my eyes.

Nathaniel lit a very small ball of nightfire. In its faint light we could see the empty maintenance hallway, and a set of dark stairs leading to the basement. There’s something ominous about steps disappearing into an underground darkness. Everyone knows that there’s nothing good in the basement. The basement is where secrets hide, horrors lurk.

And my own experience had taught me that monsters were definitely waiting for me.

Nathaniel sent the nightfire ahead of us. The little ball of light floated over the steps, showing that there was nothing waiting there for us. We proceeded cautiously down after it.

About halfway down, the smell hit me. My stomach roiled and I gagged.

“Don’t puke,” Beezle whispered. “You’ll definitely attract attention if you puke.”

I covered my nose and mouth. “What is that?”

It smelled sort of rotten, but also had a sharp, ammonia-like tang to it. It reminded me of something, but I couldn’t think of what. It seemed like I had smelled it recently, but it hadn’t been exactly the same. I couldn’t put my finger on it.

“We definitely know someone smelly is in there,” J.B. said.

I reached for my sword, and realized I didn’t have it. It was lying on top of the pile of clothes I’d discarded next to the bed. I was loaded with magic, but I still felt strangely helpless without the sword.

The aura from the nightfire seemed a small thing, pathetic against the encroaching darkness. We had no hope of sneaking up on whatever was in the basement. The nightfire might as well be a beacon announcing our presence. It still seemed wiser to have light than go without.

Nathaniel reached the bottom step.

14

I READIED MY MAGIC FOR AN ATTACK. WE ALL TOOK AN inward breath as he passed under the doorway and into the room.

Nothing happened. I hurried after him, so that he wouldn’t be alone if some horrible thing came snarling out of the darkness. The smell was overwhelming now. I was worried we were about to stumble onto a pile of dead bodies stored here since the vampire invasion. Nathaniel paused for a moment, directing the nightfire around the room so that we could see all around.

It was a pretty standard-looking storage area. The room was long and rectangular. There was a maintenance supply closet to the right. J.B. quickly checked the door to confirm that it was locked. The rest of the space was filled with floor-to-ceiling cages in two rows on each side. Each space was padlocked and stuffed with items that people didn’t want or need inside their condos. Bikes, kayaks, Christmas decorations—it all seemed safe and normal and not menacing in the least.

“What the hell is that?” J.B. said behind me.

I glanced back at him and saw him pointing toward the floor at the end of the storage rows. Nathaniel turned up the luminescence on the nightfire with a wave of his hand. The shadows receded, and we could all see what J.B. was indicating.

Some kind of green slime coated the floor at the very end of the room. It glistened like a live thing in the blaze from the nightfire.

“Oh, no,” Beezle said. “The last time there was viscous liquid, a bunch of us ended up inside a chrysalis.”

“Shh,” Nathaniel said, and began moving forward cautiously. J.B. and I followed. I wondered whether Bendith was still holding the door open upstairs, or whether he’d gotten bored and decided to wander away.

“But you weren’t in the chrysalis, so what do you care?” I asked softly.

“There are not enough red shirts here for my liking,” Beezle said. “I might end up getting cocooned just because there’s no one else around. I’d climb inside your pocket but you didn’t bother to put any pants on.”

“And thank the gods above and below for that,” J.B. murmured behind me.

“How can you think of sex at a time like this?” I hissed.

“I’m a guy. And you’re not wearing pants,” J.B. said. “It’s kind of hard to concentrate on imminent peril while I’m walking behind you, actually.”

“Will the three of you cease?” Nathaniel said in an undertone. “Why do we not simply dispense with all caution if you are going to bicker so loudly that we cannot hear danger approaching?”

Prev Next