Shadow Silence by Yasmine Galenorn

PLEASE NOTE: I can not sell my revised indie copies of this book in a number of territories owned/covered by the UK, including Australia. This is because of an on-going issue over the rights still outstanding.

Whisper Hollow, where spirits walk among the living, and the lake never gives up her dead...

Fifteen years ago, I ran away from Whisper Hollow, Washington, a small town on Crescent Lake in the Olympic Peninsula. But truth is, if you were born here, you can never really leave. I'm Kerris Fellwater, and I'm a spirit shaman. It's my responsibility to drive the dead back to their graves, because around Whisper Hollow, people-and secrets-don't always stay buried.

My best friend Peggin finds herself under a curse after she is almost taken by the Lady of the Lake. As Bryan-my guardian and mate-and I work to break the hex, we stumble over a dark and violent mystery from the past. One the Hounds of Cú Chulainn will do anything to stop us from bringing to light.

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Chapter 1

 

The Cold Moon brought the winds in off the Strait of Juan de Fuca. They whistled through tall firs and cedars, and snaked through the undergrowth, rattling the windows as they surrounded Whisper Hollow. Catching the town in their icy embrace, they danced through the long December night. Up on Hurricane Ridge, the snow blanketed the Olympics with a thick layer of powder. Down in the shadow of the mountains, the storms brought rain and sleet, and perpetual gray clouds.

I adjusted my coat and blew on my fingers, trying to warm them as I etched a band of runes in charcoal paste on the headstone. I was sitting on the grave, straddling the fresh mound of earth covering Hudson Jacks’s mortal remains. On Saturday he had left the world, dragged into the lake by the Lady. She was ravenous lately, and Hudson had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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As I inscribed the runes, Ellia played in the background. Her violin keened through the night, her song doing battle with the storm. Her music strengthened my magic as we bound the dead man to the deep dark of the graveyard. Penelope, my terrifying and beautiful Gatekeeper, was waiting in her tomb to take his spirit with her into the Veil.

To the side, Bryan stood watch. My lover, my protector, and my guardian, he kept anyone out who shouldn’t be here. Fiercely protective, he crossed his arms as he surveyed the graveyard. A wolf shifter, he was always alert and always watching.

Behind me, the sound of the tomb opening told me Penelope was ready.

I stood and pointed my dagger at the headstone. Twin serpents coiled around the hilt in silver, and a crow was engraved on the pommel. The sigils on the blade began to glow as I whispered the Chant of Summoning.

From the depths of your grave, I summon thee.
From the dark night of your death, I call thee.
From the icy grips of the Lady, I wrest thee.
Hudson Jacks, I command thee, stand forth in my presence.

I wondered if I’d ever get used to the weight of the dead pressing on my shoulders. I could feel them watching me from through the Veil.

A moment later, a rush of energy blossomed out as Hudson appeared. He was translucent, and coiled vines were draped around his neck. The Lady had dragged him below her icy surface, and he started to wander once his body washed up on the shore. The Lady’s spirits often turned into Haunts—dangerous ghosts who needed to be put to rest before they became trouble.

I held out my hand to him. I had only been doing this for a little over six weeks, but I was learning fast. He gazed at my fingers, then at me, cocking his head to the side.

“You cannot refuse me. I’m Kerris Fellwater, the spirit shaman of Whisper Hollow. I’m a daughter of the Morrígan and you’re bound to obey me. Let me lead you to the Veil, where the Gatekeeper awaits.” The words themselves were a charm, strengthened by the strains of Ellia’s song and the power of the Morrígan.

Hudson paused. If he bolted, we’d have our work cut out for us. But a glimmer of relief appeared in his eyes and he held out his hand, placing it in my own. His fingers stung my palm, the energy crackling and snapping against my skin.

I held fast, ignoring the discomfort, and led him toward the tomb where the double doors were open. Ellia fell in behind, still playing as her cloak fluttered in the wind, and Bryan followed, guarding our backs.

As the wind keened, merging with Ellia’s music, we approached the base of the knoll housing Penelope’s tomb. Her crypt straddled the line dividing the modern graveyard from the Pest House Cemetery, where more dangerous shadows lurked. Built of cinder block buried deep into the mounded knoll, the crypt was weathered from time and weather.

A plaque affixed to the side of the door read: Here Lieth the Mortal Remains of Penelope Volkov, Guardian of the Veil, Gatekeeper of the Graveyard. Enter and Despair.

I entered the crypt, shielding my eyes from the crystal chalice that stood on the dais. Inside, a crimson liquid churned, glowing brightly. My own blood was in there, along with the blood of other spirit shamans, lament singers, and guardians who had held their posts during Whisper Hollow’s history. It was rumored that every Gatekeeper’s chalice contained the Morrígan’s blood, as well. The blood of the goddess kept the glass intact and the liquid within swirling in perpetual motion. I dipped one knee in front of the chalice, acknowledging the Gatekeeper.

Penelope stood to one side, in all her gruesome beauty. Dark veins of black blood trailed out from the raccoon mask that shrouded her eyes. She looked fragile as an aging portrait. She had swept her hair into a chignon, blond tendrils coiling down to her shoulders.

Penelope towered over me, six feet tall and gaunt in a black dress that fell to her ankles. The dress shimmered with sequins, the sheer material revealing the bones that thrust against her alabaster skin. And then, there were the nails. Jutting out from her body, as though she were a voodoo doll turned inside out, were the tips of long nails, surrounded by glistening splotches of dried blood. She looked as though some demented carpenter had crawled inside her and went crazy with a nail gun.

She glanced at Hudson’s spirit, a hungry look filling her eyes. “He reeks of lake water and her scent. We will cleanse him and remove her binding.”

“The Lady took him only a few days ago. She gave up his body fairly quickly, though I’m not sure why.” Usually the Lady kept them longer, tying them to her while she fed on their spirits before she loosed them back into Whisper Hollow.

“Perhaps he didn’t taste good.” Penelope laughed, making me shiver.

I had gotten used to her appearance by now, but she still scared the hell out of me. I let go of Hudson’s hand, and he glanced at me, a fearful light in his eyes.

“Go on, it will be all right.” I gave him a gentle nod.

Penelope held out her own palm and he reached out, touching the nails jutting from her wrists. He glanced up at her and she smiled and took hold of his fingers.

“Welcome to the Veil, Hudson Jacks. Take my hand, love, and join my dark kingdom.”

It was the same greeting each time, and each time, the spirit would smile dreamily and follow her into the Veil. I waited for a moment, then turned to walk back to where Ellia and Bryan waited for me. The doors shut with a thud, and that was the end of Hudson Jacks.

We returned to his grave, Ellia still playing. I had one last spell to weave before we were done for the night.

I pressed my hand against the charcoal rune stream, and sprinkled Rest Easy powder on his grave. Then, circling the grave, deosil—clockwise—with my dagger pointing out, I invoked the charm that would keep Hudson by Penelope’s side until he was ready to move on from the Veil to…wherever it was that spirits wandered after they left this world.

Do not rise. Do not wake. Do not the Veil, now forsake.
Do not whisper. Do not walk. Do not dance and do not talk.
To the Veil, remain, within the Gatekeeper’s domain.

 As I finished, there was a hush, and then the sound of crows echoed through the graveyard. The charm had taken. The Crow Man was watching.

I turned to Ellia. She switched to a tune that made me weep no matter what mood I was in. It was customary for the spirit shaman to weep for the dead, to mourn them even as she drove them to the Veil. It was an honor and duty to remember them.

I knelt, my tears falling on Hudson’s grave, as I filled a little jar with graveyard dirt and labeled it. Then we were done. I wiped my eyes and stowed the jar in my bag along with my dagger and other tools. Ellia slowly lowered her violin.

Bryan silently crossed to my side and held out his arms. I leaned into his embrace. Each spirit had a story. Each spirit left a legacy behind. I was the last to bid them farewell as they crossed between the worlds. Sometimes, I would be the only one to remember them.

I rested my head on Bryan’s shoulder. He was familiar; he smelled of safety and love and passion. Like Ellia and me, he was a child of the Morrígan. As he leaned down and pressed his lips to mine, I glanced over his shoulder. The moon had broken through the clouds. She was shimmering against the grass, and as I watched, a flock of crows flew past, winging their way toward us and over our heads.

“The Crow Man is walking,” I whispered. “Something’s going to happen.”

As I spoke, the clouds rolled in again, and a hail of rain broke over our heads. As we raced for my car, I glanced back at Penelope’s tomb. The crows had landed on the tree over her mausoleum. Yes, something was up, and I had no doubt the Crow Man would make sure I was right in its path.

Our work done, we convened at Lindsey’s Diner, the hot spot for late-night snacks.

Peggin, my best friend, and her new beau—Dr. Divine—were meeting us there. I still wasn’t sure what to think of Deev, as he had asked us to call him, or D-D—Peggin’s nickname for him. An artist, he had been drawn to Whisper Hollow like a moth to a flame. The town was like that. If Whisper Hollow wanted you, you’d find your way here to stay. If the town didn’t like you, it would spit you out. If you resisted going, it would feed you to the Lady or one of the other spirits lurking in the shadows.

As we pulled into the parking lot, I eased into the spot next to Peggin’s car. As I turned off the ignition and stiffly stepped out of the driver’s seat, I glanced down at my jeans. I was covered with dried mud, but I didn’t care. I wanted food, and I wanted to see Peggin, who had been swamped at work the past week.

Bryan wrapped his arm around my waist as we headed into the diner. “You’re sure you’re up for this? We could go home and I could make you something to eat there.”

I leaned into his arm. His touch brought me alive, no matter how tired I was.

He was five-eleven. His ice-blue eyes were ringed with black and they shifted color depending on his moods. His hair grazed the top of his shoulders, tousled strands the color of wheat. Bryan Tierney looked to be in his thirties, but he was actually over 140 years old—he was my protector, a wolf-shifter guardian, a son of the Morrígan.

“No, I want to see Peggin. It’s been over a week since we last got together.”

He laughed. “You two are inseparable. I love that you have such a loyal best friend.”

“She’s your friend, too. You know that anybody who has my back is good as gold in her book.” I glanced over my shoulder.

Ellia was checking her text messages. Over seventy, she looked timeless, and was as fit as anybody I knew. Tall with silver hair that flowed down her back, she was wearing a pair of linen trousers, a blouse, and the flowing floor-length green cape that she always wore when we went out to tend to the dead.

As I pushed through the door, the smell of burgers and fries made my mouth water. The restaurant was open till two a.m., and outfitted in a retro-fifties style.

Before I could look for Peggin, Debra-Su, the night-shift waitress, pointed me toward the back corner booth. She handed us menus as we headed back.

“I’ll be there in a moment. They haven’t ordered yet.” She winked.

“Thanks, Deb.” I threaded my way through the tables toward the booth.

Peggin heard my voice and waved us over. She had been my best friend since childhood, and was the only friend I had kept in touch with on my fifteen-year sabbatical from Whisper Hollow. At five-seven, she was a few inches taller than me, and stacked in all the right places with a plump hourglass figure. Her copper-colored hair was natural, and she was one of those wisecracking brainy type of women. She was about as athletic as my cats, wore cat’s-eye glasses, dressed like a fifties pinup girl, and carried a gun with which she was a deadeye shot.

“Get your ass over here, chica.” She hugged me, then Bryan. Ellia, she didn’t touch. Nobody touched Ellia—it was too dangerous.

As we approached the booth, Dr. Divine gave us a two-fingered salute, looking for all the world like a steampunk aficionado on steroids. About five-nine, he wore platform sneakers that sent him past six feet. His top hat was made of purple velvet, encircled by a black leather hatband, and had a brass clockwork design on the front. Thin black braids dangled down past his ass—there must have been fifty of them.

Deev’s skin was pale as moonlight, and he always wore clockwork goggles. Over his blue jeans and a denim shirt, he wore an ankle-length patchwork duster of denim, velvet, leather, and a kaleidoscope of prints. He was never without his antique flintlock pistol—a blunderbuss—strapped to his thigh. A few weeks earlier, I had asked him if it still worked. He answered by pulling it out and promptly shooting a can of cola off of a picnic table.

But there was nothing affected about him. When we first met, I wasn’t sure whether he was just odd or scary-crazy. Turned out, he was a little bit of both. But he was as sane as anybody who lived in Whisper Hollow.

“Hey, Deev.” I slid into the booth. Bryan followed, and Ellia swung a chair around from one of the tables to sit at the end. “How goes it?”

Deev cocked his head to the side. “Jokney got out today. I still haven’t found him.”

Bryan snickered. Jokney was a sculpture of a doglike creature that Deev had built from chrome scraps, black leather, and some sort of fur that he’d cut off a second-hand fur coat.

“Have you tried the dog pound?” Ellia asked, her eyes twinkling.

At times, Dr. Divine’s artwork took on a life of its own and went wandering around town till he rounded it up. It usually didn’t present a problem, except when the sculpture was some nightmarish vision he’d had. Those, he usually kept locked away against the chance that they, too, might decide to wake up and go out for a little walk.

“Not yet, but I will tomorrow, if he hasn’t come home.” He leaned back, wrapping an arm around Peggin’s shoulders.

She beamed at him. At first she was skeptical when Bryan offered to fix them up, but after the first date, they had become an item. Together they made a startling duo. His crazy met her twisted in a wonderful, weird way.

I opened the menu. Everything looked so good. I was starving, as I always was after a night in the graveyard.

“You’ve been chasing down spirits?” Peggin closed her menu.

“Yeah, we had to rein in Hudson Jacks. You know what happens to the ones taken by the Lady if we don’t seal them in their graves. They become Haunts, or in some cases, the Unliving, and right now, we don’t need any more of either.”

There were six paths of the dead.

The Resting Ones were those who had died, but not yet passed through the Veil. They quietly waited for Penelope to come for them and caused no trouble. The Mournful were more memory than anything else, reliving their deaths time and again as though on a movie screen. They could be disturbing, but were harmless. The Wandering Ones wandered far from their graves, but they, too, ignored humans. These three rarely presented a problem, although I did my best to release them. And then, Guides actively tried to help humankind.

But the dangerous spirits were another matter. Haunts were active troublemakers and liked to cause havoc. They were the poltergeists and the spirits who could shove people down the stairs. And then there were the Unliving.

The Unliving returned on a corporeal level, and could cause serious harm. They were smart and cunning and highly dangerous, especially when they went rogue. Veronica, the local Queen of the Unliving, ruled over the local Unliving. At some point, I was going to have to visit her. All spirit shamans were expected to make some sort of connection with the royalty of the dead.

“Honestly, your night sounds more fun than mine.” Peggin made a face. “I have to move in less than thirty days.”

I frowned. “What? Why? I thought you loved your place.”

She shrugged. “I do, but the landlord called me last night. She wants to move back into the house. I have until the end of the month to find a new place to live.”

“Aren’t you on a lease?”

“No,” she said. “Once the initial lease was up, the arrangement fell into a month-to-month agreement and I just forgot about it. My landlord is seventy-two, and up until this week, she seemed to be happy living with her daughter. But apparently the two had a major row and boom…no warning. Just a big bomb dropping.” She made a whistling sound, then, “Poooooophhh…”

“What are you going to do?” I knew how hard it was to find real estate in Whisper Hollow, and Peggin didn’t have enough money saved up to buy a house.

She cleared her throat. “I think I’ve found a place. I stumbled on a house today that I think would be perfect. I haven’t been inside, but I’m going to check it out tomorrow. It’s a fixer-upper, but I’m not afraid of a little work.”

Debra-Su returned. “Ready to order, folks?”

I handed her my menu. “Double cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate shake. Also—coffee. Lots of it.”

Peggin laughed. “Coffee for me, too, and I’ll have the grilled cheese with bacon. Potato chips and cherry pie on the side.”

“How you two can consume so much caffeine and still sleep at night confounds me,” Bryan said. “I’ll have chicken strips, fries, and no coffee. A Sprite, please.”

Dr. Divine asked for loaded potato skins and a plate of calamari, and Ellia ordered a bowl of chowder and extra rolls.

After the waitress left, I turned back to Peggin. “So, where is this house? I hope you have room for a garden. I know how much you love hydrangeas.”

She gave me a long look. “Promise you won’t argue when I tell you?”

I paused. Peggin wouldn’t say something like that unless she knew I was going to object. “All right, let’s hear it. Where is it?”

Peggin glanced at Dr. Divine but he shook his head and held up his hands. She turned back to me. “On Fogwhistle Way, across from the pub. It’s one of those abandoned houses near the pier in the Foggy Downs subdivision.”

Fucking hell. “You have to be kidding. Are you insane? You can’t move there.” I leaned on the table, feeling frantic.

“I have to agree with Kerris,” Ellia said. “That’s prime territory for the Lady. What on earth prompted you to think of moving there? The subdivision’s almost abandoned. Nobody’s moved in there for decades.”

She was right. The Foggy Downs subdivision was all but abandoned. Too many people there had met with accidents, been lured in by the Lady, or had otherwise fallen into general misfortune. There were ten houses in the neighborhood, all from the turn of the twentieth century, and they were right next to Fogwhistle Pier.

Peggin stared at us. “Are you done scolding me? You know as well as I do that there aren’t many houses for rent around here, and I refuse to live in an apartment. All the houses for sale in safer neighborhoods are far too expensive. This house is rent-to-own, and if I fixed it up, I think it would be pretty.”

I wanted to reach across the table and knock some sense into her, but Peggin could be pretty bullheaded when she thought she was being ganged up on, and if we continued to argue with her, it would only make her more determined.

I decided to try another tact. “Will you at least let me come with you when you look at it?”

She hesitated, then relaxed. “All right. I’ve got an appointment with the real estate agent tomorrow. As I said, the house has a rent-to-own option and it’s in my price range. I’m done with people yanking my life out from under me. I want to own, not rent. And I have to go somewhere.”

Bryan turned to Deev. “What do you think about this plan? Have you seen the house?”

“I have.” Deev regarded him from behind the clockwork goggles. “Peggin’s an adult. She can make up her own mind.” But he didn’t sound happy. He glanced at Peggin. “Just promise me you’ll be careful. The Lady’s been hungry lately.”

Peggin laughed. “I’m aware of that. I promise you, I won’t hang out at the lake. I’m not the sunbathing type, which is probably why I live here and haven’t moved away to sunny California.” She sobered. “To be honest, I don’t know what it is about this house, but I feel like it needs me. And I need a place to call my own.”

Deev took her hand. “You—you can always move in with me till you find a safer home.”

Surprised, I glanced at him. That was quite an offer for him to make, considering how short of a time they had been together. But then again, if I were in his shoes, if it was Bryan moving into a house next to a monster’s lair, I’d let him live with me, too. And Bryan and I had only been together about five or six weeks.

But Peggin shook her head. “Thanks, but I need my space. I’ve always had to make my own way in this world. I know you’re trying to help, but I…” She paused, looking over at me for support. “You understand.”

I let out a slow breath. “Yeah, I do.”

Peggin’s childhood had mostly consisted of ridicule for her choice in clothes, for her weight, for her lack of interest in getting married. Her older sister, Lisha, had become a family icon. The “normal” one, Lisha was blond, trophy-wife thin, had a bachelor’s degree in art history, and then had married into a family filled with lawyers and doctors.

Peggin, on the other hand, was a size 12 and had no interest in joining the society set. Her parents told her she could either study law or business in college. Anything else and she’d have to pay for it herself. She had turned them down and found herself a job, saving enough to take an online medical transcription course.

A year after Peggin graduated from high school, Lisha got pregnant, and her parents moved to Seattle so they could see the baby more often. Peggin had stayed behind.

After she earned her certification, she went to work for the hospital. Now, she worked for Corbin Wallace, one of Whisper Hollow’s best doctors. She had managed everything on her own. Peggin was used to taking care of herself and if she was wary of anybody offering help, it was because help had always come with strings attached.

Deev seemed to sense her resistance because he gave her a little squeeze and backed off. “Well, if you need a place, you have one. Just remember that, in case you don’t like the house and can’t find something suitable by the end of the month.”

I decided to change the subject.

“Agent H caught a mouse today and decided to drop it on my bed for when I woke up.” Agent H was one of my Maine Coons. I had three. The other two were girls—Gabrielle, better known as Gabby, and Daphne, named after Daphne du Maurier, one of my favorite authors. They were huge, basically Tribbles on legs.

Peggin snorted. “Sounds like Frith. He likes to bring me garter snakes that get in the house. Folly’s too lazy.”

“I love your ferrets.” Dr. Divine grinned. He didn’t smile often, but when he did, it was a trickster grin, heady and sensual.

Bryan let out a laugh. “Have you ever let your ferrets visit Kerris’s cats?” He slid an arm around me as the conversation eased into a comfortable chat and we wound down from the day.

***

I was standing in the field near the lake. I recognized that I was dreaming—or rather, that I was out on the astral, in my sleep. The field was open with no shrubs or trees except for the knee-length grass that whistled in the wind. As I stood there, my arms stretched wide to the moon, a faint cawing echoed through the air.

A flock of crows came winging in and landed around me. Their blue-black feathers shimmered under the moonlight as they formed a circle around me.

And then, I heard it. A slow processional filled the night, accompanied by violins and panpipes and the ever-present bodhrans beating a steady rhythm.

The Crow Man is coming.

The ground quaked as the giant approached, clouds of blue fire in his wake. His indigo cloak flared around him, the stars reflecting in its folds. A fur shawl encircled his shoulders, and atop his head rested a headdress—a giant crow’s head with glowing red eyes and a piercing beak. His hair fell to his shoulders, long and black, and his eyes were slits of white fire. In one hand, he carried a silver wand with a glowing crystal on top.

I slowly sank to the ground, overwhelmed by his presence. Each time we met, his power seemed to have grown stronger. Perhaps I was more attuned to the Morrígan—his mistress. Or maybe, he was just opening himself to me. Whatever the case, I wanted to curl at his feet and bask in his beauty.

He did not speak, but held out his hands. As I looked into his palms, a mist began to spiral up. It bade me to follow, and I did, flying through the night with the Crow Man by my side. He winked at me, but his smile vanished as we landed by the shores of the lake. The Crow Man pointed to the waves and I gazed out over the dark surface of the water.

The winds rose as I glanced at the water.

There she was. Rising from below the surface, a figure cloaked in pale white. She reminded me of a skeleton, clad in a layer of waxen skin. Her hair draped around her shoulders, long strands of seaweed and vines, and her skin was the color of gray mud. She looked at us through her hollow eye sockets and held out her arms.

“Come to me. I promise you peace of mind. Find joy in my embrace, and all that you’ve ever longed for will be yours.” Her voice was smooth as fine brandy, and my first instinct was to answer her call.

But the Crow Man clasped my shoulder. “Listen to her song, so you will recognize it when you hear it again. The words may not be there, but the call is always the same.”

At that moment, a scream echoed through the clearing.

Peggin!

I whirled to see the Lady standing on the water, laughing as she held Peggin in her arms. The water churned as the Lady began to slowly sink below the surface, dragging Peggin with her. I screamed, wrenching myself out of the Crow Man’s grasp. Overhead, the crows went winging by, screeching so loud their cries shattered the night. And then, the Lady and Peggin vanished from sight.

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Shadow Silence