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Feverborn, p.1

Feverborn, page 1

 part  #8 of  Fever Series

 

Feverborn
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Feverborn


  Feverborn is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the productions of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2016 by Karen Marie Moning

  All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

  DELACORTE PRESS and the HOUSE colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

  Grateful acknowledgment is made to W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., for permission to reprint ten lines from “Diving Into the Wreck” from Diving Into the Wreck: Poems 1971–1972 by Adrienne Rich, copyright © 1973 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

  LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA

  Names: Moning, Karen Marie, author.

  Title: Feverborn : a fever novel / Karen Marie Moning.

  Description: New York : Delacorte Press, [2016] | Series: Fever; 8 Identifiers: LCCN 2015041311 | ISBN 9780385344425 (alk. paper) |ISBN 9780440339823 (ebook)

  Subjects: LCSH: Paranormal romance stories. | BISAC: FICTION / Romance / Paranormal. | FICTION / Fantasy / Paranormal. | FICTION / Romance / Fantasy. | GSAFD: Fantasy fiction.

  Classification: LCC PS3613.O527 F48 2016 | DDC 813/.6—dc23

  LC record available at http://lccn.loc.gov/2015041311

  eBook ISBN 9780440339823

  randomhousebooks.com

  Book design by Caroline Cunningham, adapted for eBook

  Cover design: Eileen Carey

  Cover photographs: © Elena Alferova / Trevillion Images (woman), © andreiuc88/Shutterstock (background)

  v4.1

  a

  Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Author’s Note

  Part I

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Part II

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Part III

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Part IV

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  People

  Sidhe-Seers

  The Nine

  Fae

  The Keltar

  Humans

  Characters of Unknown Genus

  Places

  Things

  Dedication

  Acknowledgments

  By Karen Marie Moning

  About the Author

  Dear Reader,

  If this is the first book you’ve picked up in the Fever Series, at the end of Feverborn I’ve included a guide of People, Places, and Things to illuminate the backstory.

  If you’re a seasoned reader of the series, the guide will reacquaint you with notable events and characters, what they did, if they survived, and if not, how they died.

  You can either read the guide first, getting acquainted with the world, or reference it as you go along to refresh your memory. The guide features characters by type, followed by places, then things.

  To the new reader, welcome to the Fever World.

  To the devoted readers who make it possible for me to continue living, dreaming, and writing in this sexy, dangerous world, welcome back and thank you!

  Karen

  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.

  It all boils down to what we become at our worst moment.

  What you find yourself capable of if…say…

  You get stranded in the middle of the ocean with a lone piece of driftwood that will support one person’s weight and not a single ounce more—while floating beside a nice person that needs it as badly as you do.

  That’s the moment that defines you.

  Will you relinquish your only hope of survival to save the stranger? Will it matter if the stranger is old and has lived a full life or young and not yet had the chance?

  Will you try to make the driftwood support both of you, ensuring both your deaths?

  Or will you battle savagely for the coveted float with full cognizance the argument could be made—even if you merely take the driftwood away without hurting the stranger and swim off—that you’re committing murder?

  Is it murder in your book?

  Would you cold-bloodedly kill for it?

  How do you feel as you swim away? Do you look back? Do tears sting your eyes? Or do you feel like a motherfucking winner?

  Impending death has a funny way of popping the shiny, happy bubble of who we think we are. A lot of things do.

  I live in a world with few fences. Lately, even those are damned rickety.

  I resented that. There was no straight and narrow anymore. Only a circuitous route that required constant remapping to dodge IFPs, black holes, and monsters of every kind, along with the messy ethical potholes that mine the interstates of a postapocalyptic world.

  I stared at the two-way glass of Ryodan’s office, currently set to privacy—floor transparent, walls and ceiling opaque—and got briefly distracted by the reflection of the glossy black desk behind me, reflected in the darkened glass, reflected in the desk, reflected in the glass, receding into ever-smaller tableaus, creating a disconcerting infinity-mirror effect.

  Although I stood squarely between the desk and the wall, I was invisible to the world, to myself. The Sinsar Dubh was still disconcertingly silent, and for whatever reason, still cloaking me.

  I cocked my head, studying the spot where I should be.

  Nothing looked back. It was bizarrely fitting.

  That was me: tabula rasa—the blank slate. I knew somewhere I had a pen but I seemed to have forgotten how to use it. Or maybe I’d just wised up enough to know what I held these days was no Easy-Erase marker of my youth, scrubbed off by the gentle swipe of a moistened cloth, but a big, fat-tipped Sharpie: black and bold and permanent.

  Dani, stop running. I just want to talk to you…

  Dani was gone. There was only Jada now. I couldn’t unwrite our fight. I couldn’t unwrite that Barrons and I moved those mirrors. I couldn’t unwrite the choice of mirrors Dani made that took her to the one place too dangerous to follow. I couldn’t change the terrible abusive childhood that fractured her, with which she dealt brilliantly and creatively in order to survive. Of them all, that was what I really wished I could erase.

  I felt immobilized by the many ways I could screw things up, acutely aware of the butterfly effect, that the tiniest, most innocuous action could trigger unthinkable catastrophe, painfully evidenced by the result of my trying to confront Dani. Five and a half years of her life were gone, leaving a dispassionate killer where the exuberant, funny, emotional, and spectacularly uncontainable Mega had once stood.

  Lately I’d taken some comfort in the thought that although Jericho Barrons and his men were way the hell out there on the fringes of humanity, they’d figured out a code to live by that benefited them while doing modest damage to our world. Like me, they had their inner beasts but had spawned a set of rules that kept their savage nature in check.

  Mostly.

  I’d settle for mostly.

  I’d been telling myself I, too, could choose a code and stick to it, using them as my role models. I snorted, morbidly amused. The role models I had a year ago and the ones I had now were certainly polar opposites.

  I glanced up at the monitor that revealed the half-darkened stone chamber where, on the edge of that darkness, Barrons and Ryodan sat watching a figure in the shadows.

  I held my breath waiting for the figure to once again lumber forward into the pallid light streaking the gloom. I wanted a second thorough look to confirm if what I suspected at first glance was true.

  When it shuddered and stumbled to its feet, arms swinging wildly as if fighting off unseen attackers, Barrons and Ryodan uncoiled and assumed fighting posture.

  The figure exploded from the shadows and lunged for Ryodan’s throat with enormous taloned hands. It was rippling, changing, fighting to hold form and failing, morphing before my eyes. In the low light cheetah-gold irises turned crimson then blood-smeared gold then crimson again. Long black hair fell back from a smooth forehead that abruptly rippled and sprouted a prehensile crest. Black fangs gleamed in the low light, then were white teeth, then fangs again.

  I’d seen this morphing enough times to know what it was.

  The Nine could no longer be called that.

 
There were ten of them now.

  Barrons blocked the Highlander before he reached Ryodan, and suddenly all three were blurs as they moved in a manner similar to Dani’s freeze-framing ability, only faster.

  Make me like you, I’d said to Barrons recently. Though in all honesty I doubt I’d have gone through with it. At least not at the moment, in the state I was in, inhabited by a thing that terrified me.

  Never ask me that, he’d growled. His terse reply had spoken volumes, confirming he could if he wanted to. And I’d known in that wordless way he and I understand each other that not only did he loathe the idea, it was one of their unbreakable rules. Once, he’d found me lying in a subterranean grotto on the verge of death, and I suspect he’d considered the idea. Perhaps a second time when his son had ripped out my throat. And been grateful he’d not had to make the choice.

  Ryodan however did make that choice. And not for a woman, fueled by the single-minded passion that drove the Unseelie king to birth his dark court, but for reasons unfathomable to me. For a Highlander he barely knew. The owner of Chester’s was once again an enigma. Why would he do such a thing? Dageus had died or at the very least was dying, lanced by the Crimson Hag, battered and broken by a horrific fall into the gorge.

  People die.

  Ryodan never gives a bloody damn.

  Barrons was furious. I didn’t need sound—although I sure would have liked it—to know down in that stone chamber something primal was rattling in Barrons’s chest. Nostrils flared, eyes narrowed, his teeth flashed on a snarl as he spat words I couldn’t hear and they attempted to subdue the Highlander without using killing force. Which I suspected was more a damage-control technique than a kindness, because if Dageus died he would come back at the same place they do when reborn. Then they’d have to go wherever that was to retrieve him, which would not only be a pain in the ass but make a tenth person who knew where the forbidden spot was—a thing not even I knew.

  I frowned. Then again maybe I was making assumptions that didn’t hold water. Maybe they came back wherever individually they died, which would put Dageus somewhere in a German mountain range.

 
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