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Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Books

Underground

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Underground

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Author: Kat Richardson
Publisher: Roc, 2008
Series: Greywalker: Book 3
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Synopsis

Harper Blaine was just an average small-time private investigator until she died - for two minutes. Now Harper is a Greywalker, walking the thin line between the living world and the paranormal realm. And her new abilities are landing her all sorts of strange cases.

In the cold of winter, Pioneer Square's homeless are turning up dead and mutilated, and zombies have been seen roaming the streets of the underground - the city buried beneath modern Seattle. When Harper's friend Quinton fears he may be implicated in the deaths, he persuades her to investigate their mysterious cause. But when Harper turns to the city's vampire denizens for help, they want nothing to do with her or with the investigation. For this creature is no vampire. Someone has unleashed a monster of ancient legend upon the Underground, and Harper must deal with both the living and the dead to put a stop to it... unless it stops her first.


Excerpt

Chapter 1

Quinton put his backpack on the floor and shot me a crippled grin. Like Will, I'd met Quinton when my world changed. Since he'd discreetly and quietly installed the office alarm, he'd become my regular go-to guy for anything electronic, especially if it was odd or hush-hush. A little secretive, quirky, distinctly geeky, he fit well with my own taciturn nature and we'd been instant friends - and unlike with Will, I didn't have to hide the creepy stuff from him. Now he stood just inside the doorway and looked as if he wasn't sure of his welcome.

"Oh. Hi," I said, letting my curiosity draw a little silence between us.

"Hi," he said, shifting from foot to foot. His usual ease had been replaced with an unhappy nervousness and a swirling mist of smoky green, mottled like some kind of sick mold, wrapped around him in the Grey, clinging to his long coat. "Umm... Harper. I - there's a - err.... Can you come look at something?"

"Now?" I asked, glancing my watch. It was 1:12. Less than an hour until lunch with Will.

"Well, yeah. Now would be good. This is kind of important."

I found myself standing up and reaching for my own coat without giving it any thought. I owed Quinton, I liked him, and I'd only seen him nervous and jumpy once - not even vampires caused him to lose his cool - so whatever was bugging him had to be nasty. "What's the problem?"

"I really want you to see it first - before anyone else gets to it. I don't want to give you false information because I don't know what's going on myself."

"All right. Where are we going?"

"The train tunnel."

"Oh, goody," I said, grabbing my bag. "Frozen gravel and garbage. My favorite." In spite of my cynical tone, I felt a little tickle of pleasure at getting out from under the paperwork on my desk.

"Uh... Are you carrying?"

"Is that going to be a problem?"

He looked relieved and hiked his backpack up on to his shoulders. "No, no. I just want to be sure. Just in case."

That piqued my caution and curiosity. I followed him out the door and paused to lock it behind us. "In case of what? Is this going to get hot?" "Shouldn't but... I don't know what's going on, so I figure it's better to be prepared."

I nodded and we went downstairs and out of the building. Quinton hurried me along but said very little as we wound our way through the historic district and down to King Street S tation. Since lunchtime was over and the commuter trains hadn't yet started the evening runs, the train yard and rails near the station weren't busy. Quinton led me up to the Sounder train entrance at Fourth Avenue north of the train station.

"Why here?" I asked as we worked our way down the stairs toward the platform. My knee felt stiff but it wasn't throbbing, and I thanked my foresight in putting on the goofy-looking elastic brace under my jeans.

"It's closer to the tunnel than going through the station, and the platform personnel won't see us if we swing around the bottom and stay behind the stairs while we walk. They don't care that much since there're no freights at this time of day, but they're supposed to run you off if you're down on the grade."

"I don't think anyone's going to come out of that nice warm station if they can avoid it."

"Probably not," he agreed, "but we don't want them to get interested in us."

"You're being very mysterious about this," I commented, ducking around the bottom of the stairs and onto the tracks in his wake. He kept his personal life to himself, but this sort of dodginess was unlike him and it intrigued me even more than what we might be approaching.

We began crunching through the gravel and cinder toward the mouth of the Great Northern Tunnel, our breath coming up in puffs that vanished rapidly in the cold, dry air. It was a distance of about a block, but it felt longer. There were concrete walls on each side that held up the streets and buildings above and made the stretch from the stairs to the tunnel mouth seem close and claustrophobic even with the blue-white winter sky above us. A few crows cawed at us from the street railings, but the area was surprisingly uncluttered with Grey things.

"Have there ever been any accidents in this tunnel?" I asked as we neared the portal.

Quinton looked back at me, startled. "Only a couple I know of. Nothing spectacular and gory, though. No deaths or fires. Why?"

"I don't see anything - that's strange. This tunnel's - what - a hundred years old or so?"

"About that," he replied, ducking into the darkness.

I followed him, putting my left hand on the cement wall as I went. The cold was shocking, but not preternaturally so. I wished I had gloves on. The interior of the tunnel was like a freezer and I shivered as I went forward.

Once we were a short distance from the station, I heard Quinton's coat flap and rattle. A light snapped on and he directed the beam against the corner where the wall met the floor. A few feet farther away a dark stain seemed to have grown on the wall. As we got closer, I saw it was a hole. The cement lining the tunnel was about four feet thick at that point, but someone had managed to make a hole through it about two feet across and three feet high. Lying at the foot of the hole was a dead man, scruffily bearded and dressed in ragged layers of filthy clothing. One of his legs was missing from mid-thigh down.

I stepped back, repelled. "Damn, Quinton.... He must have been hit by a train." I've seen bodies before, but this one upset me more than I cared to admit. There was something wrong about its disposition that unnerved me and urged me to flee.

Quinton shook his head. "I don't think so. There's no blood. And if you look at the wound... it kind of looks... chewed."

In spite of myself, I moved forward and peered at the poorly illuminated corpse. The leg ended in a gnawed stump, and though it was hard to be sure with the amount of dirt on his clothes, there truly didn't seem to be any blood. He stunk of filth and smoke, but the guy hadn't been dead very long. Even discounting the cold and the darkness and the indifference of the station crew, someone would have spotted him if he'd been lying there for more than a day. He also had a shroud of Grey clinging to him and raveling away into the hole.

I took another step closer and looked harder at the hole, professional curiosity fully engaged. The edges flickered with ethereal strands of something Grey, gleaming with a soft white and pale yellow luminescence. Although the pall of energy lying over the corpse was suitably black - black for death, I thought - the strands that led away from it and into the hole were a neutral gray that looked as soft as angora. I shuddered at the idea, but I reached out and rubbed a bit of the nearest strand between my fingers. To me, Grey material usually feels icy cold, alive, and electrified, but aside from a cottony sensation, I couldn't feel anything this time. I touched my finger to one of the brighter bits adhering to the broken edges of the cement and got a mild tingle from it as it wriggled aside like a worm on a sidewalk. I tried to look into the hole, but I couldn't get my head craned around far enough with the body lying where it was.

"It goes all the way back into the basement of the building on the other side," Quinton said, watching me.

I glanced at him. "How do you know?"

He turned his face away from mine. "I crawled into it."

"All right," I said, straightening up. "I'd like to know how you happened to find him. This isn't exactly a public thoroughfare." Quinton kept his mouth shut.

I sighed and thought of Will's admonishments of the morning. "I'd better call the cops."

"I'd rather you didn't just yet."

"What?"

A rumbling sound started far away and a rhythmic vibration set the gravel on the tunnel floor to chattering.

"Train. C'mon!"

Quinton grabbed my wrist and hauled me along as he started running back the way we'd come.

We dashed out of the tunnel and cut to the side, pressing ourselves to the wall outside the opening, just a few feet ahead of a shrieking freight train. Something pale flipped and tumbled through the air from beneath the engine's wheels, landing on the gravel a barely a yard from us. It was an arm.

Copyright © 2008 by Kat Richardson


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