Another Kind of Dead
(The third book in the Dreg City series)
A novel by Kelly Meding
As always, special thanks to the usual suspects who’ve helped shape this series into what it’s become—my fabulous agent, Jonathan Lyons; my equally fabulous editor, Anne Groell; the awesome David Pomerico and the amazing and patient folks at Bantam/Random House and Suvudu.
Lots of love to Nancy and Melissa for listening to my rants, frustrations, and shrieks of joy when something goes right, and for being terrific friends. Thanks to my family for loving me no matter what, ignoring my mood swings, and for being my biggest fans.
A shout-out to Wendy and the Newark crew—because you didn’t think I would! Your support has meant the world to me.
And of course, hugs and kisses to my readers, I wouldn’t be here without you. Thank you for exploring Dreg City with me.
On the day of Alex Forrester’s funeral, the sun gleamed high in the sky. I wanted it to rain, if only to prove that the heavens really opened to mourn our tragedies and the friends we lost. Instead, the sunshine mocked our grief from on high, watchful and seeing nothing.
It was a simple affair in a small cemetery five miles outside the city, orchestrated within a day of the official death declaration. We had no body, so there was no casket—it’s damned hard to find the ashes of a half-Blood vampire amid the rubble of an apartment fire. But his father, Leo Forrester, wanted a small memorial. He needed to believe his son was at peace, even though Alex had died at war with himself. And what better way to offer postmortem peace to the dead than with an ancient burial ritual meant to comfort the living?
I wanted the comforting commiseration of rain as I followed Leo through the cemetery, but rain would have revealed me to the prying eyes of people who still thought me dead. We were all safer for the deception, Wyatt had insisted, and I agreed.
A sleepy minister already hovered next to the simple marble marker, laid flat on the earth. “Alexander Forrester, Beloved Son, Best Friend,” above the years in which he was born and died. It was all we could afford. Part of me wanted something grander to show he’d been here and touched our lives. The other part of me knew this was enough, maybe more than was necessary, and not to waste good money on sentimentality.
Especially with me and Wyatt both out of jobs.
Leo stopped across the marker from the minister. Wyatt Truman, my partner and constant companion, flanked his left side as we had agreed. I shifted to Leo’s right and brushed his elbow to indicate my presence. The minister acknowledged the two men with a nod and began to recite a prayer. He wasn’t ignoring me. Thanks to an orange crystal shard and a bargained favor from a human mage named Brutus, the minister couldn’t see me. No one could, due to the invisibility spell contained in the crystal.
I tuned out the words of the prayer and closed my eyes. I reached up and held the plain silver cross looped around my neck on a thin chain—a gift Alex had once given to his best friend Chalice. I tried to picture Alex’s face in the short time I’d known him—friendly blue eyes, broad shoulders, an innocent smile that didn’t belong on a twenty-eight-year-old medical student. I caught the memory and enjoyed it briefly until another superimposed itself. Hair mottled with silver and iridescent eyes, baby fangs that had punctured his lower lip. Sniveling and crying and begging me to kill him.
And I had, a little over a week ago. I’d shot him in the back of the head. Just another on the long list of sins I’d never atone for.
I wanted to cry, but I had no tears left to shed.
No, that was a lie. I’d mourned Alex as best I could, and I was sick of crying. It was time to stop punishing myself for Alex and move on with my life. The life I wanted to start with Wyatt. Burying Alex, putting this chapter of my afterlife behind me, was the first step.
“… and I will dwell in the house of the Lord. Amen,” the minister said.
I opened my eyes and stepped back, barely missing Leo’s elbow as he reached out to shake the minister’s hand. It was over that quickly. A few mourners, a smattering of words, and the well-wishes of a man who didn’t know us or the dead man he’d just prayed over.
Rituals were so odd.
The minister hustled off, probably racing away to his next gig of offering empty comfort to those willing to pay him for it. Once he was out of earshot, I said, “That was nice,” and could have smacked myself for it. It was a stupid thing to say.
“It was,” Leo said. He turned, seeking a face he couldn’t see, and fixed his attention on Wyatt instead. It was probably easier to have a conversation with an invisible person when you had a visible one to look at. “That’s it, then.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
Leo removed his wire-rimmed glasses and wiped the lenses on the corner of a wadded tissue. His eyes were red. He seemed to be choosing his words as he cleaned the glasses, then returned them to the bridge of his nose. “Simple words for a simple fact, Evy,” he said. “I’ve buried the last of my family. I have no home. That’s it for me.”
I put my hand on his shoulder. He jumped under the unexpected touch but didn’t pull away. He seemed to easily accept the notion that I was invisible and yet standing right next to him. We’d talked yesterday for hours. Well, I’d talked for hours, feeding him details of my old life as a Dreg Bounty Hunter, the circumstances of my death and resurrection into the body of a woman who happened to have magical teleporting powers, and Alex’s brave and tragic desire to help me, all the way through my second “death” in a factory fire last Saturday. All in all, he was handling his newfound education with amazing aplomb.
“Those of us who survive owe it to our loved ones to make our lives count,” I said. Words I’d come to believe in more and more since the violent deaths of my former Triad partners, Jesse and Ash, two weeks ago.
But my disembodied words didn’t sink in. I considered removing the crystal from my jeans pocket and speaking the phrase meant to reverse the magic early, before its six-hour time limit wore off. I could force Leo to look me in the eye, get him to understand why he had to keep going.
But training won out over emotion. All but five people in the world thought I was dead—burned to death in a factory fire started, on purpose, to kill me—and I couldn’t risk exposing myself. I had more enemies than allies now, and that meant preserving every advantage I could find. Being dead had worked in my favor once before.
Besides, I couldn’t possibly hope to understand Leo’s perspective. I knew much of his story—enough to realize he would never get to ask Alex’s forgiveness for past sins, and that was eating him up inside. A son had died blaming his father. No, I couldn’t relate—not to that—but perhaps Wyatt could.
Wyatt had, after all, been the unwitting pawn in the game that had killed my partners, killed me, then brought me back only to further a plot to unleash an ancient demon on the world. He’d once destroyed the life of one of his former Hunters in a misguided effort to save it, and that Hunter had returned with a vendetta that led to the deaths of sixty-four people. So many un-forgiven sins.