Home > Downpour (Greywalker #6)(9)

Downpour (Greywalker #6)(9)
Author: Kat Richardson

“I don’t think she likes you,” I observed.

Jin didn’t hide his distaste. “The feeling is mutual. Horrible little monster.”

“I have my monster; you have your buddies by the road.”

“Those pathetic guai? Strays, slip-gates. Not any friends of mine,” he added with a sniff.

Even monsters have pecking orders. Apparently, Jin was higher up this mysterious food chain than his brachiating relatives—another tidbit to put in my mental file. If I ever figured out what sort of creature Jin was, it might come in handy. There was nothing I could do to pacify Chaos about his presence in the truck, though, so I ignored the ferret and hoped she wouldn’t do herself an injury in her frenzy to take a bite of him. I drove.

The road I was already on turned into East Beach when it crossed Highway 101. About one twisty mile beyond that, Jin told me to stop only a few yards from where I’d first seen the spectral image of Steven Leung’s burning Subaru and directed me down a dirt track so narrow and overgrown, it was visible from the paved road only as a thinness between the trees. The truck’s paint was going to suffer, but I didn’t care to leave the vehicle beside the road and walk this time. I wasn’t entirely sure of Jin or what he was leading me into and I preferred to have as many escape options at hand as possible. The narrow way petered out only a few yards from the water. Once we were out of the truck again and standing on the shore of Lake Crescent, I could see a large house with floor-to-ceiling windows off to my left where the lake formed a sharp cove and a scattering of smaller houses along the shore to the right, past the Log Cabin Resort and nearly to the spot where I’d seen the ghastly figure rising from the water a few days earlier. The ghostlight and whispers were as strong as before and the colored energy mist still flowed and puddled along the shore. Straight ahead was nothing but deep, cold water for twelve miles to Fairholm.

Deep as it was, the lake was beautiful, not just along the heavily forested shore in a hundred shades of green, but the water itself was so clear, it reflected and intensified the colors of foliage and sky so the surface seemed to be made of colored glass.

Jin gazed at it with gleaming eyes and began taking off his shoes, revealing long, weirdly clawed feet. He handed the expensive shoes to me without another word and squatted down at the absolute edge of the lake, plucking fussily at the creases in his trousers as the water covered his toes. It must have been icy, but he didn’t shiver. His illusory human form faded to a ghostly shroud and he stretched his arms out toward the center of the lake.

Jin crouched, his white monstrousness bizarrely clothed in his Italian suit, chanting in a low voice in a language that rose and fell, rose and fell, breeding lassitude and casting a green glow around him. The emerald energy brightened and burned as he continued to call to it, blues and yellows flowing into it like water from nearby patches of surface energy and the thin shadows of ghosts along the shore. Then he threw his arms out farther and gathered something in, as if bodily grasping the sunken car.

I could feel the strain of magic in my gut and across my skin as I waited, watching, sinking into the Grey to see what Jin was doing. The sun, a glittering disk in the Grey, shifted in the open slice of sky above the lake. Through the clear, colorful water I saw something moving, coming toward us, carried in the bright green energy Jin had cast into the lake. The colors around the thing writhed with strange shadows and as I stared, the green light showed a swarm of horrible, wax white things with gaping, toothy jaws and staring eyes pushing and lifting the shape toward the surface. I held my ground, though I wanted to recoil from the sight of this army of swimming undead coming to Jin’s command. Slowly he unbent, standing, then rose to his feet and stepped back from the shore....

The shadowy thing came up, broaching out of the lake like a whale from the sea as the hellish swarm burst to the surface and then plunged back into the depths, flinging their burden toward the shore. It was the car in double image—real and Grey—and it tumbled above the water for a moment before it fell back in only a few yards out from the edge where we stood.

I pulled back to the normal before Jin could see me and studied the car. Though dented and misshapen by pressure, rusted where the paint had burned off, it was still undeniably a Subaru Forester. It sank back into the shallow water on its side, leaving one door just below the surface, the rest covered by the clear water, but still visible.

Jin leaned back against the Rover, reassembling his human appearance in haste as a trio of ghostly shapes shivered and then blinked out of existence beside him as they were sucked away into the lake, leaving a moment’s strange silence. In the Grey, Jin was panting a little, but the normal image wore a superior smile. “There is the car.”

I made a show of peering toward the hulk in the water, shading my eyes from the sun that was much brighter in the real world, and taking a surreptitious glance at my watch. It seemed ridiculous, but an hour had passed and it was nearing noon. The Grey has a strange way of warping time, but I felt as if I’d labored every minute of the elapsed time, even though Jin had been doing the real work. “How do I know it’s Leung’s?” I asked, hiding my own relief that the magic and its ugly cohort had dissipated.

He rolled his eyes and snapped at me. “How many of these do you think there are in this lake? You’re oblivious trash-mongers, but even your kind don’t go tossing dozens of these stinking conveyances into water like this!”

I put up my hands to calm him. “All right, all right. I’ll assume you’re as good as your word. It does look like Leung’s car.”

Jin resettled his face in a disdainful sneer. “Of course it’s his. Now you tell me about the asetem. Why did they leave?”

“Because I killed their king.”

Jin straightened so fast, the air cracked. “You what? You what? You what?” he babbled, rushing close to me.

I shrugged and pushed away from him, getting back into the Rover. “I killed him. Whacked him. Discorporated his nasty, manipulative hide,” I replied, closing the door between us. Jin reached for me through my open window as I started the engine. I pushed his shoes into his elongating black-clawed hands. “Tell you the rest later. Gotta go get someone to haul this car all the way out of the lake before dark.” I pushed the power window switch and let the window roll closed as I put the truck into reverse. Jin stared at me. Then he sat down hard and howled. I backed the Rover the hundred feet or so onto East Beach Road at a dangerous speed and pointed the truck toward Highway 101 and the nearest ranger station. Jin didn’t pursue me and I could hear his uncanny, grinding howl for miles as I drove away. I wondered why he was so upset and if I would later regret giving him that piece of information. The ferret made a huffing noise in her cage and I hoped she wasn’t privy to something I didn’t know, since she sure as hell wasn’t going to tell me what was making her chuff. But I had promised Jin I’d tell him the rest and maybe that would hold him off for a while. I hoped.

The closest place I thought I might find anyone was the Storm King ranger station where the ferret and I had taken our break the day before. Technically it was closed until May, but there’d been signs of life around and there was a pay phone. The mountains cut off cell service, so the old landline was the best bet I had. If that failed, I’d have to drive to Fairholm or Piedmont. At least it wasn’t raining at the moment; that would have made getting the waterlogged car out of the lake nearly impossible.

By the time I reached Storm King’s ranger station, Jin’s howling had died away. Once I parked in the lot, I got the ferret out of her cage again and wrestled her into her harness for a walk around the station in search of a ranger or any other help, hoping Jin hadn’t followed us or wasn’t interested in taking a piece out of me if he had. Chaos was nonplussed about the recent encounter with whatever he was, but she settled down to some intense exploring once I got her leashed and on the ground.

Chaos headed straight for the water, hopping and scampering across the chilly clearing in front of the ranger station. She diverged twice to check something on the ground, each time pausing only long enough to dig at a bright knot of Grey-stuff that had buried itself in the dirt. She lost interest in the hot spots after a few paws full of gravel and skipped back to her original path, but I noticed that the lake and the ground that sloped down into it had an unusual gleam, similar to the intrusive Greyness I’d seen near Lake Sutherland in the morning. I’d have expected so much effort to have drained, rather than added to, the freakish energy around the lake. The area near the car had seemed quieter and more normal. But here, near the ranger station, there were actually more bright lines shooting southwest than I’d seen the day before. The phenomenon seemed to ebb and flow to some rhythm I didn’t know. The power lines in the lake were apparently the source of massive energy, but . . . where did it come from in the first place?

A white pickup truck bearing a green stripe and the U.S. National Park Service emblem on the side was standing to the left of the boat ramp and dock that pointed at the northeastern shore, just a few degrees west of where Jin had raised Leung’s car from the depths. I couldn’t make out the spot from the dock as Chaos humped and skipped her way along the planks, but I found myself straining to see if there was an angry white monster on the other side. I didn’t see anything. The ferret looked over the side of the dock at the water and I did the same.

Below us, scattered branches and stones rested on pale green sand and gravel a dozen or more feet below the surface. Looking straight down into the incredibly clear water, I could see every bump and knot as well as if the branches still grew in air. As I stared down, Chaos—the ferret version of Kipling’s ’satiable Elephant’s Child—made a barking noise and jumped into the water.

“Damn it!” I spat, hauling her back up by her harness and leash as she attempted to paddle across the lake. She squirmed and wriggled as I picked her up and tried to brush the worst of the water off her, but she was soaked and shivering and stopped fighting me as soon as the cold really penetrated her skin. Then she wanted only to burrow into my clothes as quickly as possible.

“Moron tube rat,” I muttered, turning back and heading for land, just in case she tried another fool’s leap. I yanked off my scarf and started wrapping her up in it. “What are you trying to do—turn into an otter and swim out to sea?” I glanced up, gauging the distance back to the Rover, and saw a man in a dark green park service uniform and heavy jacket walking toward the white pickup. “Hey,” I called out. I wished I could wave to get his attention, but I had my hands full of wet ferret-in-velvet. I started running toward him, cradling Chaos against my chest and calling out again.

The ranger shot a glance over his shoulder, then stopped and turned to face me, waiting patiently for me to catch up. He was a middle-aged man, wings of gray spreading from his temples into his brown hair, though judging from the way his uniform hung, the park service kept him pretty fit. His nose was a little crooked, and constant cold had made the veins spiderweb across it, but there wasn’t much else about him that stood out. His aura was small and neutral yellow; he seemed totally normal—dull, even.

“Hey,” he said as I drew near. “What happened? Your dog fall in the lake?”

“My crazy ferret wants to join the Polar Bear Club, I guess,” I said, unwrapping the miscreant’s face so she could wave her whiskers at the man. She didn’t react to him at all except to sniffle piteously, so I wasn’t missing anything Grey about him, and that was reassuring: I’d begun to wonder if I’d lost more ability than I’d realized. “She jumped right into the water.”

He chuckled. “That water’s so clear, it’s like glass. Maybe she didn’t think it was there.”

“I have no idea. I’d think she could smell it, but maybe it’s too cold for her nose to work well.”

“It’s been colder. It’s above freezing today.” He glanced at a long, low building beside the water, nearly hidden by shore grass and winterdead water iris. “Why don’t you come in here and I’ll find you a towel for her.”

I thanked him and followed him into the building. It was only a little warmer inside than out and the long open room held two long water-filled troughs. “What is this place?” I asked.

“Fish hatchery. We keep the lakes stocked with trout and a couple of other sport species so they don’t get overfished. We almost killed off the native trout with introduced species and overfishing in the past. We try to learn from our mistakes.” He took a small towel out of a cabinet near the door and handed it to me. “I was just up checking on the tanks, making sure they hadn’t frozen over. Lucky for you we had a spate of subzero temps last week or I might not have come out here today.”

“I do seem to have really good luck,” I agreed, taking the towel and unwinding the ferret from my now-wet scarf. Actually, I don’t have luck, according to another Greywalker I’d met in London; I have a gift of persuasion, and that includes persuading circumstances to favor me. I think that’s probably bull, but I’ve learned not to let my natural cynicism ruin perfectly good magic: I’ll take all the luck I can get.

I wrapped Chaos in the dry towel and rubbed the water out of her fur while the ranger held on to my wet scarf. “So, do you just do fish or do you take care of the whole lake?” I asked.

“No, I do pretty much the whole lake. Name’s Ridenour,” he added, starting to offer me a hand to shake, then realizing I didn’t have one of my own free and stuffing it back into his jacket pocket. “Brett Ridenour. I’m the senior ranger for this district of the park.”

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