The cold bit deeper than any Vincent had ever endured, beyond a night spent out in the snow or the sting of wind through a threadbare jacket. This was the cold of the grave, of something buried a thousand years in permafrost or shut away in a tomb untouched by the sun for centuries.
His eyes felt as though they’d been gummed shut; it took effort to peel them open. Broken glass glistened beside him on a polished wooden floor. Rain blew in through the shattered window, soaking his skin and clothes. The flavor in his mouth was beyond horrible: river slime and rot, blood and wet bone. But the taste already faded, shifting from reality to lingering memory, the presence which had caused it now departed.
Every muscle, every fiber, ached as if he’d been beaten. Had he? Recollection fluttered at the edge of his cold-numbed mind, but he couldn’t quite grasp it. Did he drink too much gin or let some stranger talk him into going back to a room in an attempt to get out of the weather, even at the risk of his life?
No. Those days were long over. Gone. He remembered now.
Where was he?
The taste—there’d been a spirit present. Had he channeled it during a séance?
Vincent tried to sit up, to take stock of his surroundings, but his body refused to obey. Exhaustion hollowed out his bones, the vital spark of his existence drained almost to the point of flickering out. His tired heart labored as panic crept in—what had happened to him?
“Lizzie?” he tried to ask, but his tongue was too sluggish to form the words.
No, wait. She hadn’t been with them. He’d come here, wherever here was, with Dunne. To remove a poltergeist. Or what they’d thought was a poltergeist.
Memory offered up an icy laugh and a patch of darkness, of shadow cast independent of any light source. A touch, gelid and glutinous, not on skin but on his very soul. The flavor of slime and decay.
What had happened? Where was Dunne?
His mentor wouldn’t have left him. Wouldn’t have abandoned either Vincent or Lizzie. But the room around him was quiet, except for the tap of rain and the sigh of the wind.
Vincent managed to turn his head. Broken furniture, shattered glass, bedding hauled off a frame and ripped to shreds, its down stuffing covering the sodden floor like unseasonable snow.
Why was he so cold?
Dunne would know. Vincent just had to find him.
With a monumental effort, he gathered what little strength he had left and rolled onto his side, away from the window.
Dunne’s face lay inches from his. Glassy eyes stared at the ceiling, and a congealed line of blood leaked from his nose.
Vincent opened his mouth to scream, but no sound came out.