Thirty-Two

“If I stay lucky then my tongue will stay tied”

I spend the next two days slapping up terse Dani Dailies that describe the Crimson Hag and her M.O., hunting for Dancer, collecting the rest of the ziplocks I need from the other iced scenes (except for the club beneath Chester’s, which I’m in no hurry to go near), and packing my backpack full of samples. They’re some of the most miserable days of my life. I go up and down like a fecking psychotic elevator being controlled by some fecking psychotic little kid, punching random floor buttons. One second I’m swaggering, the next I’m drooping.

One minute I’m elated because I never have to go to work again. My life is my own. Jo can quit the subclub. She’ll stop wearing sparkly stuff between her boobs and boinking Ryodan. The next minute I remember that if Ryodan’s remaining men learn that I played even one tiny little part in their boss’s death, I’m deader than every doornail in Dublin. On top of that, the Crimson Hag is loose, the Hoar Frost King is still out there, Dublin is slowly turning into Ant-fecking-arctica, Christian and me are on the outs, and now Mac has double the reasons to kill me, assuming she knows.

I can’t decide if she knows. One minute I think she does, the next I don’t.

The bodies are gone. I went back in the middle of the night to hide them. I should have hidden them right away but I wasn’t thinking clear. Aside from blood in the alley and up the brick wall, no trace of them remained.

At first I thought Mac must have found and taken them somewhere for a proper burial, but then I decided she didn’t, because yesterday I saw her hurrying down the street toward Chester’s, all bundled up and shivering in the cold, and she didn’t look sad. I’ve seen Mac sad. I know what it looks like. She looked a little tense but otherwise normal. She had a trail of ZEWs behind her, chittering away. I wonder if, like crows, the ZEWs are harbingers of death. It worries me they’re following Mac. Her tension is probably because of what’s happening to Dublin. Everybody I’m seeing is tense. And shivering. It’s ten degrees in Dublin during the day, even colder at night. Snow’s been falling, piling up. The city isn’t set up to handle this kind of weather. Lots of folks don’t have power where they’re staying. They won’t survive these conditions long.

I wonder if the Crimson Hag ate Barrons’s and Ryodan’s bodies. Stitched up their entrails then dined on the rest. I’d think she’d have spit up a few bones but maybe she needed them all to spruce up her corset. Then I figured Christian probably went back to tidy up and hide the evidence. Trying to get on my good side again or something.

I wonder where the heck Dancer is! I need his superbrain to help me crunch the facts so I can save my city from turning into an iceberg. So then I can save folks from getting knitted up into a dress.

I got two more places to check for him, then I’m out of places to hunt.

I freeze-frame up O’Connell, yanking WeCare posters off streetlamps as I go. Stupid fecking stupid feckers are trying to take advantage of people not having power, encouraging them to come into prayer meetings, to get warm and “take the white.” I didn’t know what that meant till I saw a couple folks coming out of one of the churches the WeCare people have designated as their own, wearing long white robes over their clothes.

They were carrying bags of canned goods and smiling. In my experience, anybody besides your mom that feeds you is going to want something in exchange for it.

I whiz up to Dancer’s penthouse, where we like to stretch out in the sun, disarm his booby traps and poke my head in the door, calling for him. The place is silent and empty. I decide to see if he’s got any food in the pantry ’cause I’m starving. When I get there, I crack up. There’s a note taped to a stack of cans sitting smack in the middle of the floor. It’s a cryptogram. It’s how we leave messages for each other.

I pop open can after can of beanie weenies and gorge while I solve the puzzle that tells me where he is.

There’s a lot hidden away in Dublin, just like out at the abbey. When I first started hanging out in the city, I got one of those sightseeing books and visited all the hot spots like any tourist. I was embarrassed to be a stranger in my own town, never having been out of my cage much. I wanted to know everything everybody else knew, see it all with my own eyeballs instead of watching it on TV or reading about it in a book.

I went to Trinity College and toured all the cool stuff there. I never got to go to school so it was neat to see the classrooms and labs and libraries and folks being all social instead of being kept by themselves all the time. I couldn’t wrap my brain around growing up that way. Mom taught me to read. I taught myself the rest.

I hit up the museums, dropped by the brewery, hung out in Temple Bar, visited the catacombs beneath Christ Church Cathedral and St. Michan’s Church, and eventually hunted down the underground rivers. I listened when college kids raved about their favorite places and went there, too. I paid attention when old folks talked on the streets about things that used to be.

That’s how I found Dublin-down. Couple of wrinkly old dudes playing checkers by River Liffey used to work for a mob family and knew some interesting stuff. Beneath a restaurant run by a dude name of Rocky O’Bannion, this big-time mobster that disappeared last year in the craziness of the walls coming down, I found it. A honeycomb of tunnels and hidden crypts beyond a pile of rubble and a series of grated entrances so complex only someone as curious as me or a criminal trying to hide bodies and booty would ever have gone through. Dancer and me mapped out parts but we still got a lot to explore.

That’s where I find him now, in one of the underground catacombs, down a collapsed tunnel (unless you knew how to find the hidden detour) beyond bolted steel doors, hinged into stone, all booby-trapped.

The room he’s in is long and narrow and made completely of stone, with those old vaulted fornix ceilings, supported by massive columns, like I only ever seen in ancient crypts and the library at the abbey. He’s got lights set up that I figure have to be battery-powered ’cause I don’t hear a generator, and setting one up to vent down here would take a lot of work. He’s standing behind a stone slab that used to hold a corpse but is now covered with notebooks and envelopes, laptops, bottles, beakers, and burners. Yep, this place is Dancer, just missing a TV to watch movies on, a fridge and shower, and knowing him, he probably has a hidey-hole rigged up nearby with all the conveniences. Another slab is crammed with bottled water and food. His head is down and he’s working on something, deep in thought.

“Dude, this is fecking awesome!” I say as I step inside.

Dancer looks up and the grin he gives me is blinding. His whole body changes, like he was strung up on wires hanging him from the ceiling and they just got cut. His shoulders ride lower, his limbs slide smoother, the hard planes of his face relax into the Dancer I know. “Mega!” he says. Then he says it again, “Mega!”

“That’s my name, dude. Don’t wear it out.” I swagger into the chamber and see he’s been collecting things from the scenes, too. Behind him is the pi?ce de r?sistance: a mystery board! He blew up maps and pieced together an enormous topographical survey of Dublin and the outlying areas and has pins and notes plastered all over it. I beam. I couldn’t have done better myself. “This place is the Shit,” I say.

“Thought you’d like it.” He picks his glasses up off the slab, pushes them back on his nose and grins at me. His eyes are red like he’s been studying too long. He’s tall and lanky and pretty much perfect. I grin back and we just grin at each other for a few seconds, ’cause we’re so happy to see each other again. It’s a big city. Sometimes I feel alone in it. Then I see Dancer.

I toss my backpack on a nearby folding table and pull out my ziplocks and photos to add to his board. He comes over and we sort through them in happy silence, brushing shoulders and grinning at each other. He keeps looking at me like he can’t exactly believe I’m there. Dude’s acting like he really missed me. We’re always glad to see each other, but something’s different today.

I go to start pinning my photos of the scenes on the board, and I look back at him, ’cause something don’t make sense to me, besides how strange he’s acting. “There ain’t this many iced places in Dublin!” I gesture at the pins on the board.

“There weren’t a few weeks ago. It’s been escalating.”

“Dude, there were only ten. You got, like, twenty-five pins on this board! You telling me fifteen more places got iced in the past few days?”

“Mega, the last time I saw you was nearly a month ago. The day we tried to get your sword back from Jayne.”

I gape. “That wasn’t a month ago. That was a couple days ago!”

“Nope. I haven’t seen you for three weeks, four days, and”—he looks at his watch—“seventeen hours.”

I let out a low whistle. I knew time moved different in Faery but it didn’t occur to me that the White Mansion was part of Faery. No wonder Ryodan was so pissed at me! I missed work for weeks. I snicker. It must have been driving him crazy. My snicker dies. I forgot for a sec that he was dead. I feel sick all the sudden so I tear open a candy bar and eat it.

“I was worried.”

I look at him. He’s looking me right in the eyes, more serious than I ever seen him. It makes me uncomfortable. Like I’m supposed to say something and I don’t know what.

I stare back and we just look at each other for a few seconds. I root around in my repertoire and come up with: “Dude, get over yourself. I’m the Mega. You never got to worry about me. I been on my own forever. I like it that way.” I flash him my trademark grin.

I get a faint smile in return. “Got the message, Mega. Loud and clear.” He turns around, walks back to the slab. He’s not moving smooth anymore. Some of those wires are back. I don’t like those wires. They look … I don’t know, grown up to me.

“Just saying, don’t worry about me. Stupid to worry about me. I can take care of myself.”

“Now I’m stupid.”

“I didn’t say you were stupid. I say it was stupid to worry about me.”

“And it — the act of worrying — isn’t to be confused with the person doing it.”

“Exactly. I’m the Mega, remember? I kick butt all over Dublin!” I don’t know what’s wrong with him. He’s not responding right to anything I’m saying!

“Ability to defend oneself has absolutely no bearing on or relevance to deportment or emotional comportment of others.”

“Huh?”

“Don’t tell me what I can and can’t feel. If I feel like worrying about you, I buggering well will.”

“Dude, no need to get snippy.”

“I’m not snippy. I’m offended. You were gone nearly a month. Between dodging the psychotic jackass that stalks you day and night, analyzing evidence, and trying to save this city, I’ve been haunting every iced scene that pops up. Visiting them two and three times a day. Do you know why?”

“To collect more evidence?”

“I’ve been waiting for them to melt enough that I could see if you were in there. Dead. Never to be talking to me again.”

I stare at him. We never talk about stuff like this. It reeks of a cage to me. Like there’s one more person I’m supposed to check in with now. Like my life isn’t already owned by too many other folks. “I got my sword back now,” I say stiffly. “I’m not going to get iced.”

“Invalid. Those two statements have no relevance to each other. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada. The sword won’t protect you from getting iced. I left notes for you in the pantry of every hideout I’ve got and all of yours I could find. Do you know what I heard? Nothing. For almost a month.”

“Dude, I got the picture. You didn’t like not being able to find me. Too bad you can’t put a leash on me, huh? Maybe stick me in a cage somewhere?” He’s pissing me off. I think we’re having our first ever fight. It makes me feel sick to my stomach.

“Excuse the crap out of me for caring about you.”

“Dude, what’s wrong with you? This ain’t us. Why are you ruining us?”

“Caring about you is ruining us?”

“Caring is one thing. Trying to lock me up is another.”

He gives me a look that I just don’t get. Like I’m being obtuse when he’s the one being obtuse. I thought our way of hanging was clear and well-defined. We’re superheroes. He’s not sticking to the script. If he keeps deviating, I’m jumping comic books.

“My mistake. I won’t make it again.” Just like that, he goes back to being Dancer, all business. “That day at the castle was the first time I got a look at what’s been freezing things. A lot’s happened since then. It freezes a new place just about every day. Ryodan and his men have been tearing this city apart looking for you. He raided half my stoops. I moved down here to get the bloody feck away from him. He’s going to kill you when he finds you.”

“Not if I kill him first,” I mutter around a mouthful of candy bar, pretending I didn’t already. When you have a secret that folks would kill you for, you sit mum on it. From everyone. ’Course, if I’m learning from my mistakes, I should kill Christian like I didn’t kill those stupid lisping fairies that ate Alina and ratted me out to Mac. I’m a little irked that Dancer’s back to talking about stuff like we never even had our first spat, because it’s a big deal to me. It’s going to take me hours to stop feeling nauseous and confused inside. I eat when I get confused. I stuff another candy bar in my mouth.

“Even Barrons got in on the hunt. So did those abbey girls you sometimes hang with. The city keeps getting colder with each new place that’s iced. People are falling apart. Nobody knows what to do, how to stop it, or even where it’s safe to be anymore.” He steps back and looks at the map. “So far I haven’t been able to discern the pattern. We’ve got to figure out what it’s looking for.”

“What do you mean ‘looking for’?” That was exactly the feeling I picked up with my sidhe-seer senses, but Dancer doesn’t have those. I start to feel a little less sick. I don’t know if it’s the candy bars in my stomach or thinking about work.

“Unless it’s behaving in a random, illogical manner driven by absolutely no biological imperative — which I postulate is antithetical for any sentient life form — it has purpose.”

I beam, our fight forgotten. Got to love a dude that says stuff like “postulate” and “antithetical”! “I love hanging with you!” I tell him.

He gives me a look that’s vintage Dancer but a little wary, so I turn up the wattage on my grin till he grins back.

“That purpose may be alien enough,” he goes on, “to elude ready detection, but it’s there. It’s our methods that are lacking. We have to step outside our box and process the facts with no preconceptions. This thing isn’t from our world. It doesn’t follow our rules or any laws of physics. It appears capable of opening a portal wherever it feels like it. I’ve seen it do it twice now.”

“You saw it again?” I’m so fecking jealous I could spit.

“I’ve been keeping an eye on WeCare, trying to figure who the head honcho is. Nobody seems to know who started the organization up. A few nights ago I went to check out one of their prayer meetings. The church where they were holding it got iced when I was half a block away. One minute they were singing, the next I couldn’t hear a thing. Seemed like the whole world went still or I went deaf. I stood in the street and watched. It did exactly the same thing it did at Dublin Castle. Came out of a portal, fogged everything, iced it, opened another portal, and vanished.”

I flinch. He was half a block away! What if he’d been, like, one single minute earlier? Then I have a worse thought. What if I hadn’t been able to find him for a month? Would I have been freeze-framing from one ice sculpture to the next, waiting for them to melt, wondering if I’d lost my best friend?

I’m suddenly ashamed. “Dude. Sorry I was gone so long.”

His head whips up and he gives me a grin that fecking slays me. “Dude. Thanks. Glad you’re back.”

“I hear you saved my life at the church that night. You’re the Shit.”

“No, you are.”

We grin at each other for what feels like an hour of heaven, and just like that everything is okay between us again.

We start yakking our heads off like nothing was ever wrong. He tells me scoop about new gangs forming in the city. I tell him about the Unseelie King’s library. I can’t keep that kind of fascinating stuff to myself. I can tell by how bright his eyes get that he’s dying to see it.

He tells me a huge fire-world IFP almost burned the abbey to the ground! It evaporated iron and concrete and if it had made it to the abbey, nothing would have been left. But Ryodan’s men stopped it by tethering it stationary to the ground somehow. I don’t like that it’s out there by the abbey, tied up or not. It makes me nervous.

I tell him about the Boora-Boora books and he laughs his butt off about me chasing unruly sentences down. He fills me in on how WeCare started painting buildings white to let folks know it’s one of theirs, and if you go in and sign up, and attend meetings, they give you all kinds of food and stuff. I tell him about R’jan trying to take over as king of the Fae and that the ice monster has a name: the Hoar Frost King. I think it’s the most we’ve ever told each other about the daily details of our lives. He tells me food is getting really hard to find. I tell him about the Fae being totally inert at the scenes and about what R’jan said about it killing Seelie and Unseelie deader than dead, wiping them out of all record of existence. “I think it might be after folks’ life force,” I tell him.

“But why those scenes? How does it select the ones it chooses and why does it ice them? And if it wanted people’s life force, why wouldn’t it go where the greatest number were gathered? At some of these scenes, there were only a few people.”

“You mean like why would it ice the small club beneath Chester’s when it could have iced the whole place?”

“It iced part of Chester’s?”

“That was the first place it iced that I know of. It’s the reason Ryodan dragged me into this mess.”

“It can’t be after life force. It took out a church spire, too. There wasn’t a single person or Fae at that scene.”

“Maybe it was just flying over that spire and accidentally iced it. Or maybe there was a tiny life force, like a mouse there, and it was feeling peckish.”

He grins. “Maybe.”

“I kind of doubt it, though. I think we should label them by order of occurrence. Maybe that’ll help us see something.”

“What bites,” he says, “is we can’t even tell people something so simple as: stay in small groups and you’ll be okay. People are scared of their own shadows, Mega. The whole city is on edge, tempers are high, and people are getting into fights over nothing. We’ve got to figure out what’s going on because if they don’t freeze to death first, they’ll kill each other. They’ve lost too much and been afraid too long. While you were gone, there were no Dani Dailies getting out, and in times like these, no news isn’t good news. People need to believe someone is in the streets watching out for them.”

“What about WeCare? Aren’t they taking their job seriously? Dude, when I was gone, they should have stepped up to the plate, put out more issues! A newspaper’s got a responsibility to the people!”

“The only thing WeCare is telling people is that they need to ‘take the white’ and everything will be all right. Half the city is rushing in to blindly embrace faith; the other half isn’t buying it. Toss in the shortage of food and water, and the brutal cold, and we’re going to have riots on our hands any day now.”

I push my hair out of my face and stare at the mystery board. I count twenty-four pins. My nine ziplocks are no longer representative of the scenes. “Did you collect debris?”

He gives me a what-kind-of-idiot-do-you-think-I-am look, and a grin, and picks a box up off the floor that’s crammed with more yellow envelopes like the ones on the slab. “I’ve been analyzing samples from the scenes, categorizing and isolating commonalities. I took photos, too.”

I grin back because great minds think alike and it’s so fecking cool to be peas in the Mega-pod.

While he opens envelopes, I get back to pinning pictures of the scenes where they go on our mystery board. I thought my life force idea was right until he pointed out two glaring flaws. Feck. It’s a good thing I got my “impartial” ziplocks of evidence. I start to snicker then remember again that Ryodan’s dead. It’s hard for me to remember for some reason. Like I thought he was eternal or something. I got no clue why it feels like such a kick in the teeth every time I think about it. Sure, I let the Hag out, but he’s the dude that failed to dodge her. I don’t move as fast as him, and I managed to get away.

Eight hours later I can hardly see straight. Alternately staring at bits of debris then studying the map is making me bug-eyed.

I been awake for three days, juiced on a constant sugar rush from candy bars, sodas, and the pall of something hanging over me that makes me nuts. Guilt. Guilt is for losers. Guilt is for folks who have stupid things like regrets. I contemplate the notion that maybe regrets are a process of accumulation of time, as unavoidable as a closet full of clothes and more bags of them in the attic. Is accumulated baggage what makes people get old? If so, they need to clean out their fecking attics, send the stuff to consignment shops and remember how to walk around naked like kids, little bellies sticking out, always ready for a good laugh. The second I kill the Crimson Hag, I’m sending my guilt straight to hell where it can burn. Problem is, I’m stuck with it till then and it’s making me even testier than hormones. I don’t like feeling responsible for crap. Like little anchors holding me still on my happy sea that’s got an even grander adventure waiting just beyond the next wave.

There’s a bit of everything in the plastic bags. Splinters of wood from church pews, stained glass, hair, bits of bone and carpet and leather, dirt, plastic, food, human parts, Unseelie parts. There are chunks of white crystal and shreds of yoga mats, parts of phones, teeth, jewelry, fragments of various electronics, bits of iron bars, a piece of a washboard, metal racking. There’s paper and plastic wrappers, part of a fingernail with a finger bone fused to it, a hearing aid, half a driver’s license, and so on. We make a list of each scene’s contents, tack it to the murder board, and cross off anything that wasn’t in every single bag.

We’re left with “mystery debris,” which is what we decide to call the dirt stuff at the bottom of each ziplock, metal and plastic.

“Does this stuff feel … I don’t know, weird to you, Mega?”

I scoop a chunk of crystal into my palm and hold it a second. “It’s colder than it should be, like it’s still partly iced. It doesn’t warm up no matter how long you hold it.”

“No, there’s something else. I can’t put my finger on it.”

I wait. I didn’t go to school and I’m a little in awe of how much stuff Dancer knows. If he says there’s something else, there is.

He muses aloud. “If it’s not after life forces, how is it selecting its scenes? It might not be metal or plastic that the thing is after, which is at every scene in some form, but an ingredient in metal or plastic. The thing could be hunting infinitesimal traces of something.”

I push a pile of old bones to the edge of a stone slab, stretch out next to them, fold my arms behind my head and begin mentally rebuilding the scenes to what they were before they blew, thinking it might be easier to find a commonality before they were reduced to rubble. “Like some kind of theoretical vitamin or mineral it needs in order to accomplish something it wants to do?”

“Or a common element at the scenes that makes it think what it wants might be at that scene,” Dancer says.

“Huh?”

“It could be like a fisherman, going wherever there’s salt water, because he’s looking for a whale. We wouldn’t necessarily ever find a whale. But we would always find saltwater. If we can figure out what draws it, we’re halfway to stopping it.”

“We still got three scenes we don’t have samples from. The two that R’jan said got iced in Faery and the one under Chester’s.”

“Can you ask Ryodan to help us get samples? From what I hear, pretty much everybody owes that dude something.”

All my mental pictures shatter when Dancer says his name, and suddenly I’m seeing two images at the same time: Ryodan on level four laughing, having sex, more alive than anybody I ever met ’cept of course me, and Ryodan, bled out in the alley, guts draping down the side of the building, cracking a joke while he dies, and I’m thinking the most fecked-up thought — I hardly even got to know him! “Yes, I did,” I mutter, pushing myself up because if I’m going to puke my candy bar, I’m not going to be on my back while I do it.

“Did what?” Dancer says.

I always fought with him and kept saying I hated him. “He deserved it. He was the most arrogant, irritating fecker I’ve ever known!”

“Deserved what? Who was?”

Looks like I’ll have to start calling Ryodan TP, too. ’Cause he’s making my stomach cramp. I don’t like him not being in the world. “Does this mean my contract expired, or can one of the other dudes call it in?” You just never know with dudes like them. I don’t ever want to go into Chester’s again, and I don’t want to go into BB&B again, assuming I could, because it’s just B&B now and the critical ingredients that made both places so exciting and larger than life had nothing to do with the places themselves.

“What contract?”

Now that those critical ingredients are gone forever I got a bad feeling about Dublin, about the whole world. Like I might have tilted the planet on its axis into some strange, new, and not nearly as safe a position by eliminating them.

“Mega.” Dancer’s standing in front of me. “Talk to me.”

“We can’t ask Ryodan nothing,” I tell him.

“Why not?”

I rub my eyes and sigh. “I killed him.”

I wake up with my neck all crinked and a ziplock bag stuck to my cheek by drool. I lift my head an inch or two and peek out from under my hair, hoping Dancer isn’t looking at me, and when I find him staring at the mystery board, I swallow a sigh of embarrassed relief.

I peel the bag from my face, wipe the drool off with my shirt, and rub at the grooves in my cheek. I can feel part of a ring indent in it plus a couple of those zipper lines. I don’t even remember falling asleep. But somewhere along the way I just dropped my head on the stuff I was examining and passed out. A few hours? More? “What time is it?”

“What day, you mean.”

“Dude, tell me I didn’t sleep that long!”

“You needed it. I’m not sure you’re going to be able to move, though. I’ve never seen anyone sit on a stool, drop her head on a slab and not move for fifteen hours. I thought about getting you to stretch out somewhere more comfortable. You changed my mind.” He turns around and grins at me. He’s got a busted lip. “You had no intention of being moved. You decked me in your sleep.”

“Aw, dude, sorry!” I have no memory of it.

“No worries, Mega.”

My stomach growls loud enough to wake the dead, and he says, “I got something I been saving for you.” He rummages around in one of his bags on the floor, pulls out a box and tosses it to me.

I light up like a Christmas tree. “Fecking-A! Pop-Tarts! Where did you find Pop-Tarts? I haven’t seen any for months!” Even before the walls fell, they could be tough to find. “And they’re my favorites — chocolate with frosting!” I rip open a pack and munch happily away. I polish off the first two in a quick inhale then slow down to savor every delicious, preservative-packed, sugar-crammed crumb of the remaining six. When the walls fell, all the good stuff — which is the bad-for-you stuff — got taken off the shelves first. Soda and liquor went real fast. Candy, cake, cookies, pies, things like that were next. Pop-Tarts, all the sugary cereal, flew off the shelves, too. I’m as guilty as the next person. Funny thing is, nowadays I’d just about give my right arm for a hot meal of fresh slow-cooked pot roast, carrots, peas, bread, and gravy.

Still, Pop-Tarts are close to heaven and Dancer got them for me, which makes them taste twice as good. I eat, and he tells me everything he considered and discarded while I was sleeping so I can poke holes in his theories if there are any. When he’s done talking, we’re no closer to conclusions than we were before I fell asleep.

“So, all we’ve still got is that every scene has dirt, some kind of plastic, and metal at it.”

“Actually it’s dirt, plastic, and iron. The metal in every one of the ziplocks is largely iron.”

“Iron is what we use to imprison the Fae.”

“I know. Remember how much worse the Unseelie at Dublin Castle got iced?”

I nod. “I thought it was because there were so many of them.”

“It also happens to be the location with the most iron. Tons of the stuff was used to build those cages.”

“Where was the iron at the other scenes?”

“Old railroad tracks run right next to where they were washing clothes out in the country. I checked maps, and discovered railroad tracks run past four other scenes. I found iron bullets in two of the bags. The church steeple had enormous cast-iron bells. The fitness center had part of a cast-iron teapot and iron chime fragments. At another scene there were several older cars that had frames of iron. They don’t make them like that anymore. At Dublin Castle there are all those iron cages. The racking in one of the old warehouses was made of iron.” He goes on, detailing location after location.

“Why iron? Why not say … steel. Isn’t steel iron?”

“Iron gets turned into steel. What I’m seeing is a preponderance of unworked iron, like the railroad tracks, bells, and bars. Old stuff. You don’t see a lot of iron anymore. You see composites. Steel is stronger and iron rusts. You know how old railroad tracks are almost always red with it?”

“You think we need to go back to the scenes and see if it took the iron?”

“No. I’m wondering if iron is in the salt water. If that’s what draws it.”

“But what is it after?”

He shrugs. “Who knows? Who cares? I only want to know two things: how to lure it to us and how to get rid of it. Its goals are irrelevant.”

“But Fae hate iron.”

“I know. That’s what makes me wonder if it’s drawing it somehow. I’m not saying it’s coming to iron because it likes it. Maybe it’s trying to destroy the iron by icing it. Maybe one of the Fae summoned it to destroy the only means we have of imprisoning them. Maybe trying to understand something that can open a multidimensional portal, sail across the sky, open another portal and vanish, is as much an exercise in futility as trying to divine the motives of God.”

“You believe in God?”

“Dude. Only God could have created physics.”

I snicker. “Or Pop-Tarts.”

He grins. “See. There you are. Proof of the divine. All in the chocolate smudge around your mouth.”

“I got chocolate on my face?”

“Kind of hard to see with all those ziplock lines but yeah.”

I sigh. Someday I’m going to be around Dancer with no guts in my hair, no weird clothes on, no black eyes or blood, and no food on my face. He probably won’t recognize me. “But what about those two places in Faery?” I say.

“What about them?”

“There’s no way there’s iron in Faery.”

“Assumption. Potentially erroneous. The walls came down. Everything got fractured and Faery has been bleeding through to our world. Maybe parts of our world are bleeding through to Faery, and there are railroad ties or bells in those parts. We need samples from Faery.”

“And how the feck are we going to get those? Why don’t we just try to lure it with iron and see what happens?”

“That’s plan B. Let’s try to get samples first and I’ll keep analyzing this stuff. There’s something I’m missing. I can feel it in my gut. I need more time with the evidence. Besides, even if we got it to come, what would we do with it then? We need to know what draws it and how to stop it. You get the samples. I’ll work on the rest. If there’s no iron in Faery, we know we’re back at square one without having to round up tons of iron and find a place to stack it all up where nobody will get hurt.”

I push up and head for the door.

As I’m leaving, he says, “Don’t go to Faery yourself, Mega. Make a sifter do it for you. We can’t lose another month. I got a bad feeling about these iced places.”

“ ’Cause they keep exploding?”

He takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. “No. Like there’s something worse about them. A lot worse. I can’t explain. It’s just a hunch.”

I know Dancer. When he gets a hunch, what that really means is his subconscious is seeing something he hasn’t wrapped his conscious brain around yet. Every time he’s ever told me he had a hunch, he’s worked his way around an epiphany. I trust him like I never trusted anybody. If he wants samples and more time, he’s got it.

I head up and out into the Dublin night. A light snow is falling. The moon has a blood red ring.

There’s one sure place to find a sifting Fae. Conveniently, it’s also the third place we need a sample from. With luck, I’ll be back here in a few hours with the final three ziplocks to complete our evidence chain.

My luck ain’t been so good lately.

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