“That thing is still following us.” Tina could feel its subtle presence at the back of her mind.
“Yes, I know.” Muriel rose higher and with flaps of his wings shot toward Damon’s house, visible as a small cube in the distance. “And the house barrier isn’t strong enough to hold back a Shadow.”
“Are you sure?” Tina pushed herself higher and wrapped her arms more securely around Muriel’s neck, her muscles protesting under the strain. She bit her lip as she looked ahead at what was supposed to be a safe haven.
“Yes, unfortunately. Because the shields around Lost’s and Damned’s houses conceal its inhabitants’ essence, neither Shadows nor Deadeaters have ever posed a threat before.”
“But now we have one on our tails.” Tina could already distinguish the iron door of the house. “Will we lose it after we get behind the barrier?”
“I don’t know,” Muriel said.
“Maybe, but since nobody exactly knows how the Shadows function, it’s hard to say,” Haniel intruded.
Time accelerated, but Tina didn’t try to speed up her heart -- she looked over her shoulder at the black mass that stalked them -- since she had a feeling it would soon start to hammer in her ears on its own. “It’s gaining on us!”
Muriel flapped a few more times before he lowered them down on the pavement. Their feet touched the stairs that led to the door and their bodies slammed against the iron surface.
Tina’s fingers found the doorknob and she shoved the heavy door open. She fell through the opening onto the floor, wincing first at the pain in her knees and then at the weight that slammed on top of her.
Muriel, now in his human form, jumped over her and clothes from the torn shopping bags scattered on the floor and over her. He grabbed her wrist and dragged her away from the door while Haniel jumped up and slammed the door shut.
Tina rolled onto her back, her arms stretched out and her lungs gulping for air, her eyes watching Haniel as he rushed past and into the hallway. He was probably going to get his boxes.
Something smashed against the iron door and an alarm cut through the air.
She rolled on her side and pulled herself onto her knees. She needed to get up and... her knees buckled. She stared at the pink and white marble floor, her fingernails scraping the stone as she tried to pick herself up. Something warm touched her neck. Muriel.
Another thud against the door.
The noise in the background, the thundering of feet and the alarm, hushed. Her body started to shiver and not because of the coldness of the floor that seeped through her jeans. What was wrong with her? She had been in far worse situations than this. Get a grip on yourself. She looked up at the black-haired boy who stood by her side. “I can’t... I can’t seem to get up.”
“I noticed.” He offered her his hand.
She grabbed his hand and let him pull her up, thankful for his support. She wanted to ask where everybody was, when she noticed them around her, Uriel, Irene, Tristian and a group of men in dark suits moving around in slow motion. She leaned on Muriel and pressed her hand against her thundering heart.
“Uriel and the rest already know what’s going on.”
She didn’t know what to say to that. She stepped backward, her eyes on the door and on the dents that appeared on it. “It’s going to get in.”
And she was proved right a mere second later as a first wisp, thin as a hair, slipped in through the crack that appeared under the door. Her arms fell to her sides as she took a step backward. Muriel was the strongest one among them and she knew for sure that he could take that Shadow -- if Damon could, so could Muriel -- so why wasn’t he doing anything? He just stood there beside her. “What is everybody doing? Why is nobody stopping that thing?” Her shaking legs threatened to give out from under her again, but she tensed her jaw and forced her body to obey her. Another step back. “Why aren’t you stopping it?”
“Uriel wants to capture it.” Muriel followed her, his eyes watchful and his hand at Tina’s elbow.
The thread pushed its way in, another one joining it, then another one; they wiggled, the wisps thickening and widening.
She moved backwards again, her back hit the wall. Her gaze found Uriel who like a statue with a box and a jar in his hands stood a few steps away from the door. “Why?”
“To learn its weaknesses.”
They should get rid of it, slash its core and let it disappear. She could do that. Her pupils widened. If she had her sword she could do that.
The sound that reminded Tina of a monotonous murmur quickened, it regained its tempo until she could hear the annoying noise of the alarm clearly.
The dark-grey ribbons multiplied, they become a dark mass that rose up.
The men standing at the beginning of the hallway stepped forward, lining up at the wall.
Tina noticed Haniel’s boxes in their hands. They aimed them at the dark mass.
The beams pierced the blob and wrapped around it.
An ear-splitting scream pierced the air as the Shadow lifted, twisting, it threads reaching out toward Uriel, Tristian and the man in black that stood the nearest to the door.
An image of a Shadow devouring a Deadeater flashed in Tina’s mind. The world around her slowed down while the beating of her heart sped up.
A hand touched her, fingers tightly wrapped around hers and blue calm invaded her mind. She looked up, expecting to meet Muriel’s gentle eyes, but he intently stared forward. She followed his gaze and saw a slow wiggle of the Shadow and the threads that shot toward Uriel’s head. The thin wisps almost touched Uriel’s nose
A cry escaped Tina’s lips as she surged forward, but Muriel’s grip on her wrist stopped her.
“Look.” Muriel pointed at the beams that drew the Shadow back, slowly. “There’s nothing it can do, and if you look carefully, you will also notice that it’s getting smaller.”
Tina focused on the black blob and saw that Muriel was right, but this was a Shadow, who knew what that thing was still able to do? “Yes, I see, but...”
“No buts,” Muriel said. “Uriel has everything under control and you should stop panicking. I have never seen you like this.”
More blue invaded Tina’s mind, caressing her from the inside. Time sped up. “It’s the Shadows. I have seen what they can do to a person.” She might not have freaked out that time on the roof with Angelica, but that time she’d had Trinity by her side, and now she was alone, faced with the threat of losing the Dumes to that thing -- a shiver shook her frame.
Muriel wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. “Come on. Let’s get you into the living room and I will make you some cocoa.”
Tina looked over his shoulder at what was now a small dark-grey ball, before she let Muriel to guide her into the hallway. Maybe she was really making too big a deal of this. She turned forward. Or maybe not.
The small jar stood in the middle of the mahogany table. The wispy dark grey ball inside it looked like a spider as it bumped and slid against the glass repeatedly, producing short tones that reminded Tina of the screech of chalk against a board.
Uriel tapped his fingers against the jar and the Shadow jumped at it. The blackness smacked against the glass, then slipped down to the bottom of the jar, where it lay for a short moment before it shot up again and hit the glass, repeatedly, faster and faster.
“Make it stop.” Tina pushed herself away from the table. She would have stood up and left the dining room, but then she wouldn’t have learned about their plans or had any influence on them.
“And how should I do that?” Uriel leaned his forearms on the table and laced his fingers.
“Why can’t we just get rid of it?” Tina didn’t want to look at the thing, but she couldn’t keep her eyes off it. “I can’t stand it.”
“It’s thanks to you that this thing is here.” Irene glared at Tina before she bestowed her displeasure on Haniel and Muriel. “What were you thinking?”
Tina shifted under the dark gaze. “That I need some new clothes. I can’t walk around naked, can I?”
Uriel raised his brows, his jaw tensed. “You find this amusing?”
“Do I look like I’m amused?” Tina stretched out her hand, showing her trembling fingers. “Look, this is what just looking at this --” her eyes narrowed at the jar “-- thing does to me.” She put her hands on her lap. “If I had known that a Shadow would cross our path, I wouldn’t have dared to step outside. You know that.”
“That’s not the point,” Irene said. “You went outside on your own, without me or Tristian, without any protection; at least you could have taken some of our men with you --”
“Wait a minute,” Haniel intervened. “You make it sound like there was something you or your men could have done. You do know that you would probably have ended up in the way and as Shadow food? And maybe if Tristian hadn’t insisted that there are no Deadeaters in this city, we might have taken our swords with us.”
“Are you trying to say it’s Tristian’s fault?” Irene leaned over the table.
“No, it’s probably my fault, right?” Haniel said before he murmured, “Because everything is always my fault.”
“You know that it’s not true.” Uriel, who sat between Haniel and Tina, put his hand on Haniel’s shoulder.
Haniel pushed Uriel’s hand away.
Haniel leaned his stretched arms on the table, his fingertips touched the glass. “What are you planning to do with this?”
“If I can persuade Prva to let me, I’m going to take it to Angelica’s lab.”
“Why?” Tina asked.
“Because I don’t have the necessary equipment, and Prva does. And maybe I could even access Angelica’s database -- we should have started with this instead of chasing rumours.”
“That wasn’t a rumour, that was fact; Petsha did spend winters in Norway, just not this year,” Haniel said.
“How could learning about Shadows help us in finding Petsha?” Tina turned sideways so she could face Uriel.
“Maybe it can’t, but it’s better than blindly searching for him as we are doing now.”
“Uriel is right,” Muriel spoke up for the first time since they sat down. “Since we can’t find Petsha through Deadeaters, we should try to find him through Shadows.”
Tina looked over the table at Muriel. “How are we supposed to do that?”
“We try to locate Shadows, of course,” Haniel said.
“But we tried to do that before and it didn’t work, because everybody who crossed paths with Shadows was either eaten or half mad, and everything else we heard was second-hand gossip.”
“We have a Shadow here. It must have come from somewhere and that is what Tristian and Irene will try to find out, won’t you?” Uriel raised his brows at Tristian and Irene, who sat on the opposite side by Muriel.
“I will send the men out,” Irene said. “But we need to know parameters of the search and the fastest way to kill them if the men come face to face with them.”
“I can try to make a stronger version of the box, but only after Uriel gets me more information about them.” Haniel slid his fingers up the glass.
The blob, which for the last few minutes had lain on the bottom of the jar, started to smash its ball-shaped body against the jar’s wall.
“What about me -- I mean, us? Where do we fit in this?” Tina asked.
“You are coming with me, what else?” Uriel said.
“I don’t agree with that and I won’t allow it.” Irene’s brows made a V-shape on her forehead.
“We are not leaving her here with you two; I don’t believe you could protect her better than we can.” Uriel leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “It’s not that I don’t trust you or your abilities, but you are weak compared to us, and you don’t have enough manpower.”
Irene put her hands on the table, palms down, and leaned forward, but before she could open her mouth, Tristian rested his hand on her arm. “He’s right. With our situation now, she could never be as safe with us as she is with them, you could see that today.”
At least now Irene wouldn't bother her anymore. A smile found its way onto Tina's face, but it quickly disappeared under Irene's scowl.
“I’m glad that you can see my point.” Uriel stood up; he touched Tina’s shoulders then slid his hand onto Tina’s back, and pushed her forward.
“What?” Tina turned and slapped his hand away.
“Come on.” Uriel forced Tina to get up.
“You look tired, you are going to sleep.”
“I’m not tired.” And she wasn’t.
“How could you be? You drank three lattes.” Haniel stood up, too. “I saw you. I just turned my back and you were at that coffee machine.”
“It was decaf.”
“Yeah, right.” Haniel pursed his lips, his arms akimbo.
“So that’s why you were so polite and pleasing when you asked me to provide you with coffee.” Irene laced her manicured fingers.
“I don’t know why you are making such a big deal of it.” Tina refused to feel guilty under their accusing gazes. “I drank coffee, and you are acting like I killed somebody.” She frowned. Actually, they would probably be okay with her killing somebody. She passed Uriel, ready to slip into the hallway and into her room.
Uriel’s fingers around her wrist stopped her. “Where are you going?”
She looked over her shoulder and tilted her head. “To my room, where else?”
“You are going to sleep in Muriel’s Sarniikzi from now on.”
“And why is that?”
“Because you should have Muriel beside you in case you have those dreams again.” Uriel’s hand glided lower; he wrapped his fingers around her hand and his lips curved into a smirk. “Or would you rather spend time in my Sarniikzi with me?”
“Don’t talk nonsense.” Tina tore her hand from Uriel.
“He’s right.” Muriel appeared beside Tina. “I could help you.”
“You already did help me.” Tina tousled Muriel’s hair. “And without even being beside me.” She could understand the benefits of having Muriel by her side, but that would mean that she couldn’t pretend to sleep while staying awake anymore. “But I just don’t know... would your presence make a difference?”
“We have to try it.” Uriel pushed Tina through the door. “We have a Shadow and maybe we can find something through it, but I believe that for now your dreams are the only thing that can lead us to Petsha and Damon.”