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Rosemary Edghill

Rosemary Edghill's first professional sales were to the black-and-white comics of the late 1970s, so she can truthfully state on her resume that she once killed vampires for a living. She is also the author of over thirty novels and several dozen short stories in genres ranging from Regency romance to space opera, making all local stops in between. In addition to her work with Mercedes Lackey, she has collaborated with authors such as the late Marion Zimmer Bradley and SF grand master Andre Norton, worked as a science fiction editor for a major New York publisher, as a freelance book designer, and as a professional book reviewer. Her hobbies include sleep, research for forthcoming projects, and her Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Her website can be found at  


Since the Great Sundering of the Bright and Dark Courts at the very dawn of human memory, the ancient partnership of human and Sidhe had been a thing fragmented and incomplete. Once humans had called upon the Fair Ones for protection by right. Now the humans had—largely—forgotten them, no longer looking to them for aid when the shadows loomed large in their lives.

But the Sidhe had long lives—and longer memories.

And they remembered.

* * *

TriCounty Mall was the biggest mall in the tristate area. It covered nearly ten acres (not counting parking) and had three interior levels. The basement arcade, primarily luxury boutiques, closed at five. That made McKinnon's job easier. David McKinnon was a security guard, and from five p.m. to midnight every night he walked the mall.

* * *

"Quiet today?"

Every day at four o'clock McKinnon asked that question, and every day for the last four months he'd gotten the same answer.

"Quiet. Just kids hanging out. Kids! When I was their age, I had a job." Sam Ainsley—whose job it was to watch the dozens of video feeds that covered the inside of the mall—looked up as McKinnon entered. He swung his chair around, eclipsing tiny monochrome video views of the Food Court, the International Bazaar, the three central galleries.

When we were their age, Sam, there were jobs to be had. But he didn't say that. Ainsley would have found any show of interest in the kids worth commenting on, and that, in turn, might lead to McKinnon losing his comfortable quiet cakewalk of a job. Nothing odd in the way a rentacop looked at the Mall's paying underaged patrons would be tolerated—and TriCounty was paying Paladin Security far too much for Paladin to take any chances.

"Yeah, sure," McKinnon said instead. "Here's to peace and quiet."

He signed for his revolver and went over to his locker. He was already in uniform—sober, nonthreatening grey—but now he strapped on his utility belt: beeper, baton, cuffs, cellphone, and gun. He looked into the small skewed mirror just as he always did—one last reality check before an eighthour tour in Fantasyland.

The same image as always looked back. A nice guy. A harmless guy. Someone who'd never be a hero.

* * *

He was Hunter, and he had come to hunt. For many days he had watched them—his soft, foolish prey—learning their habits in his new stalking ground. No one noticed him. No one ever did. That was the way Hunter liked it. He'd made his way across a dozen states in his old black van, always careful to put plenty of distance between himself and his last kill before starting a new stalk. He made sure that the prey disappeared completely, too. That was a good hunter's job, to take care of the kill. Hunter knew that.

And tonight it was time to hunt again, and then move on.

* * *

The TriCounty Mall was designed with two long central galleries anchored at each end by A Major Upscale Department Store that had entrances on the ground- and second-floor levels. The main axis of TriCounty was a pedestrian shopping street five blocks long with trees and ornamental plantings down the center. It was crossed, halfway along, by the entrance to the Food Court (on your left) and the Duodecaplex (on your right). In the Duodecaplex, as its name implied, twenty movies ran continuously while previews of forty coming attractions cycled endlessly on the massed bank of monitors outside the ticket window. The uproar was no less raucous than that of the Food Court, where batterfried grease in twentyseven ethnic varieties was available. The ground floor had ten additional galleries leading off it: the largest part of McKinnon's job was directing baffled shoppers down the right one.

The kids, now, they always knew exactly where they wanted to go.

He'd read about them in Time, of course, and got a briefing on them when he'd come to work at TriCounty. New urban social phenomenon. Displaced protoYuppies. Latchkey detritus of the twopaycheck family.

The kids.

The kids who drifted into the Mall in slow accretions from the time school closed, and stayed. Who arrived on weekends before the mall opened, and stayed. On vacation, in summer, they roamed the mall eight, ten, twelve hours at a time, moving from clothing store to video arcade to Food Court to theater in a slow tidal motion.

Only ten years—well, fifteen—separated McKinnon from the border of teenhood. He'd been a kid. He still watched MTV. It wasn't as though he never saw kids, especially with the job he had. But somehow these kids were different.

They didn't make trouble (not like the kids of McKinnon's youth). They didn't loiter—exactly. On their faces was the rapt blankness of the scientist . . . or the saint.

They were content to be here.

* * *

If they would not ask for protection, still they must be protected. She and others like her knew that. But the Sidhe were not many in comparison to the Mortalkind, especially now. They could not save them from every hurt and harm—from their wars, from their plagues. With each generation, fewer among them felt called to the ancient work at all, saying that the race that had been such a trouble to them through the centuries could best be left to fend for itself, and solve its own problems.

Amirmariel did not agree.

She had never agreed, though she could not say why. She bore no soft love for the humans. She kept none as a pet, as some did. She called none "friend," as some did.

But they had been the charge laid upon her ancestors by Danu, and she would not give them up.

* * *

Five o'clock. McKinnon began his first circuit of the night: a brisk walk down the first-floor main gallery with a stop at the transparent elevator. He'd take one quick trip down to make sure the basement arcade was locked up, then bring the elevator back up and make sure it was disabled from descending into the bottom level.

When he went down, the burnished bronze gates were secure. Through the lattice he could see the fronts of the individual stores, each sealed inside its Plexiglas cocoon. And something more.

Something moving.

McKinnon swore under his breath and fished out the heavy ring of keys that would unlock the gate. What he'd seen could be anything from an escaped pet to a random piece of paper blown by the HVAC system to a trapped employee to a thief. But whichever it was McKinnon had to know. He locked the gate behind him and went in.

The basement level had carpet and uniform marblefaced shop facades. The lights were rheostatted down to twilight and the unwinking red eyes of individual security systems shone through each impeccably locked and sealed storefront. The only impediment to sight the entire length of the gallery was the spurious park halfway down.

McKinnon started down the passageway. His hand made a reflexive gesture toward his gun. He reached the tree and stared past it to the end of the gallery, at a door where no door should have been, a dark halfopen crack in the pale marble. McKinnon walked forward, and found his gun in his hand.

He touched the door. It was cool, sliding liquidly beneath his fingertips as he pushed it inward toward blackness.

There was a gasp, a movement in the darkness. Forewarned by reflex McKinnon threw his arm up over his face just as something exploded and printed his skin with soft impacts of light.

He lowered his arm slowly. Purple, gold, and jade blotches floated in his sight. McKinnon blinked away the afterimage as he stood noseclose to a marble panel without break or seam.

There was no door.

From habit only, he completed his round of the basement, and tried to unsee the image that had painted itself on his lids in the afterimage of the flash.

A girl. A girl standing in the darkness, her eyes glowing wolf-green.  


He liked his job. He needed his job.

There was no door and never had been. The smart money—the safe money—was on that version of reality. No door. No girl. It was easy: he'd had a moment's vertigo; there'd been a trick of the light. A bulb had exploded; a job for Maintenance. He'd write up a "go-see" ticket at the end of his shift, if he remembered.

Nothing more.

But there was one thing more. The sound that went with the light. The sound of distant laughter.

* * *

She'd been seen. That was a foolish mistake; a child's mistake. But who could have expected the grey-clad Guardsman to be so diligent in his task? Most of them were foolish, lazy, inattentive—which was why the monster she hunted had been able to take so many children for his foul pleasure.

He would not take another.

She knew he meant to kill tonight—kill and vanish. The scent of blood on the wind told her so. That he meant to do it when this Shoppinghame sent the last of its inhabitants out into the night she knew as well, for that had been his way before. Three times he had killed before she had known that a monster stalked the World Above. Five times more he had killed and she had been unable to stop him.

This time—this time—he would neither kill, nor be free to kill again.

This I swear, by all the tears Danu has shed for Sidhe and Mortalkind alike.  

* * *

McKinnon returned to the surface and disabled the elevator's access to the basement, just as if this were an ordinary night. He called Ainsley on his cellphone to report. He didn't mention what he might have seen; only what he knew was there. Nothing.

Five-thirty: he looked up and there they were—half a dozen of them, rapt in insularity, the oldest barely fifteen. Lacquered frightful hair and ringpunched ears, elaborate loveknots bound at wrist and ankle, blank button faces of record albums like hostile icons starring jacket and purse.

The kids.

One, uncharacteristically, turned her head to notice McKinnon. Her eyes flashed in the neon dazzle like a wolf's, causing an unpleasant flare of memory, and her hair went pinkbluegreen as it passed through the serial radiance of illuminated signs. She turned back to her clique and flung up her head in joyless laughter. The high ululation cut through the white noise wash of sound in the mall, meaningless and inhuman.

McKinnon wondered what they saw when they looked in the mirror.

"Nothing without a soul shows in a mirror. Just you wait, Davey—keep on the way you are and someday—poof!—you won't be there." His mother's laughing threat, years and miles away in space-time.

The kids passed on.

* * *

Hunter had already chosen his prey. He'd chosen her days ago. Her name was Kylie. She was skinny and dyed her hair and wore too much makeup, just like all the rest of them. She was one of the ones who spent hours at the Mall, staying late almost every night and leaving only when it closed. A trashy, mindless, disrespectful girl.

Her parents certainly wouldn't regret her disappearance. He was obviously doing them a favor.

* * *

Six forty-five. McKinnon walked—up and down the upper and lower galleries, around the Food Court, past the Duodecaplex. Around the International Bazaar, past the video arcade.

No one liked to rent near the arcade: even with sound baffles the music the arcade played was too loud. But it was profitable. And full, even this early on a weekday night. The after-or-instead-of dinner shoppers were filling TriCounty now: fox-sharp professional women in suits and jogging shoes; family groups with untidy children in tow; the lost, the surly—and the kids.

McKinnon passed a cluster of them in the Food Court. They were standing with their backs to the world, sharing pizza and fried mushrooms and tall paper cups of overiced sodas. The girl who had noticed him before was in the middle of them, standing with the graceful body-obliviousness of the very young.

She was here a lot, McKinnon knew—the one with her bleached and abused hair standing out from her head like an egret's crest. He thought he'd heard her friends call her Amy. So pale; she must never see the sun. . . .

McKinnon pulled himself up with a jerk. She was just a kid, with a home and parents trying to do right by her, finding her way into adulthood with rituals that stayed the same even while they baffled each preceding generation. She was nothing special. She was nothing to do with him.

But as if she were a touchstone of some sort, tonight he was aware of the kids as never before—and the more he watched, the more he saw an eerie similarity among them.

But not all of them. There were the pudgy ones, the gawky ones, the ones with their parents. The ones that didn't, somehow, qualify. They were brown, and sun-marked, and when their eyes passed over you there was some disturbance in their depths. Some taint of humanity. There were those. And there were the others. 

It might be a trick of the light, but for the first time David McKinnon thought the others were aware of him.

They were the ones with the money to buy the expensive fashions, the girls with the waif-thin bodies and the mask-painted faces; the boys with the challenging robotic stares. The ones who looked so much older than their age, until they were startled into laughter for a moment, and you saw that they, too, were only children.

The ones who made a game of fearlessness, never imagining that fear is a survival trait.

* * *

Kylie hated it when the Mall closed. She stayed as late as she could as much as she could. Who cared if it was a school night? She was in ninth grade now—high school. Practically an adult. Practically in college. 

And it wasn't like anybody cared if she were home or not. She was sure they'd just prefer it if there were some way for her to go to the Mall and stay there forever. Then Mom wouldn't always be picking at the way she looked, and Dad wouldn't be staring at her as if she were always in his way.

Yeah, they'd love it if she could just live at the Mall.

She did her best. Dad had given her a credit card for her last birthday (well, he'd made her co-signator on one of his, but that didn't matter) and he never complained how much she charged. She could even get cash advances off it from the ATM. That had been the one nice thing they'd ever done for her. If she could just have a car, Life would be perfect, but she was too young for that. At least the buses ran really late.

Maybe she'd go to a movie, so she could stay out later . . . no. They'd bitch about that on a school night, and she hated listening to them whine. What would the neighbors say? and all that Cliff Huxtable stuff. As if they'd ever been a real family—Mom wasn't even her real mom!

No, might as well go home. Once the Mall closed.

Kylie turned back to the video game.

* * *

It was time. Amirmariel had watched the monster watch Kylie all evening and watched the Guardsman watch them, afraid but not knowing what he feared. The lights and noise of the Arcade, unpleasant as they were for her, provided a perfect cover for what she needed to do now.

She approached the girl as she hung over the bright machine. This room was one of the last to close in the Shoppinghame, and so those who would loiter to the end always came here. She touched Kylie's shoulder, and willed Sleep upon her, catching her quickly as she slumped.

She tucked the sleeping body out of sight behind the machines, casting a quick glamourie over the sleeper so that she would seem to any eye like nothing more than a badly folded pile of fabric. The illusion would not last long, but then, it did not need to. A stronger glamourie transformed her into the likeness of she whom she had bespelled, and she took Kylie's position in front of the machine, looking quickly around.

No one had noticed. The others of Kylie's clique who yet remained here were already drifting toward the exits and their homes. Only those enrapt in their games—or truly desperate to remain in this place a few minutes more—were in the arcade. Amirmariel would do now as she had seen Kylie do so many nights before. She would wait here for the grey Guardsman to send her forth . . . this night, into the talons of the hunter.

Who would discover that hunter had become prey. . . .

* * *

The mall would be closing soon, leaving McKinnon to walk the rest of his tour in solitude. Except for late-movie patrons in the Duodecaplex, cut off from the interior of the mall by a sliding gate, TriCounty would be empty. Even the mall kids would be gone. The part of his job he liked least was chasing them out.

The video arcade was always the last business to close. McKinnon checked his watch with numb habit: nine-fifteen, and in the abrupt absence of Muzak he could hear the thump and hush of the Arcade plainly, even from halfway down the Mall.

Time now to go and stand obviously in the doorway. It's bedtime, kids, time to go. 

McKinnon stopped in front of the Arcade, where the flashing lights from two-dozen cathode tubes painted a Spielberg vision of the gates of hell. The others usually didn't bother with the Arcade; it was the province by this time of night of rowdy older boys, mostly college students, intent on a strange arcana of mock bloodshed and high scores.

For a moment he thought Amy was there. She gazed at him directly one last time. Her eyes might have been any color, but he was sure they were green. There was nothing human in her gaze, only the knowledge of what he knew.

There was no door.  

But if there was?

What would come through it? What would find the Mall a perfect habitat—away from sun, away from church bells, safe from Cold Iron and the possibility that anyone would ever look too close?

They had always come to gaze on the doings of humans. The frightful certainty, germinating from weeks of indifferent observation, nagged like a ticket to madness.

There was no door!  

Slowly, the Arcade staff closed it down: first the sound system, then the machines, and reluctantly, the captains and the kings departed. He looked for Amy to leave, but she didn't, only another girl who resembled her slightly.

He tried to tell himself he'd mistaken the other girl for Amy, and knew he hadn't. But the Arcade was empty now.

He followed them out. McKinnon repressed an urge to speak to the girl, to ask her name, to ask her if she knew anyone named Amy.

Things like that could get you fired.

So could thinking there was a secret door in the basement.

So could thinking that TriCounty Mall was infested with elves, or fairies, or vampires, or whatever he thought he was thinking.

At nine o'clock he'd gone around and locked all the secondary doors to the Mall. Now, a little after nine-thirty, he followed this first round of stragglers to the main entrance and locked the door after them. Now to walk the Mall again—checking for more stragglers, check all the restrooms—and settle down for a quiet end-of-shift.

* * *

The lights were bright out here in the parking lot, but Amirmariel didn't let that bother her. They'd been bright in all of the other places where the monster had killed. She wandered slowly toward the bus stop, making herself seem oblivious.

Making herself seem like Kylie. Like prey.

* * *

Hunter knew Kylie's habits now. He was waiting in the van for her to come out of the mall, and when she did, he began moving toward her. The parking lot was so brightly lit the fact that his lights weren't on didn't show.

There were only a few cars still here at this hour, and she was walking away from them, toward the bus stop. It was down at the corner, out of sight of the mall. The next bus wouldn't come until 9:45, fifteen minutes from now. He pulled up beside her and opened the driver's side door of the van.

"Going my way?" he asked.

She stopped and turned toward him—just as they all had—and when she did, he reached out and grabbed her arm, yanking her in, across him and into the passenger seat. The passenger door was welded shut, only one of many modifications he'd made to the van.

But instead of resisting, instead of screaming or struggling, she . . . smiled.

"Hello, Hunter," she said. "I've waited a long time to meet you."

Her voice was not childish at all.

She reached out and threw something at him. Glitter, he thought, green and gold and purple, but it melted when it hit his face as if it were a handful of snowflakes.

He'd meant to slam the door and drive away, but he didn't. He closed the door quietly and drove around the mall, to one of the side doors. There he turned off the van and got out, leaving the keys in the ignition. The prey—terrifyingly not prey—got out after him.

He wanted to run, to scream, to hurt her, but he could do none of those things. He could only follow her quietly as she opened the door and went back into the Mall.

* * *

Kylie woke up, lying on dusty, dirty carpet. There was a moment of disorientation, followed by a moment of utter terror: it was dark; she didn't know where she was or how she'd gotten here! She scrambled to her feet, groping her way out from behind something large and metal.

She felt a wave of relief at seeing the familiar—though now-dark—mall beyond the latticework security gates. She was locked in the Arcade! She still didn't know how it had happened, but at least she knew where she was.

She ran to the gates and began shaking them.

"Hey! Let me out! Hey!"

* * *

In the silence of the Mall, all sounds were magnified. McKinnon heard the rattling of the security gate from halfway down the passageway. He headed toward it at a run.

There was a girl standing inside the Arcade, hanging off the gates like a prisoner on death row. She looked both scared and relieved to see him.

He'd seen her leave the Mall twenty minutes ago. Seen her walk out of the Arcade and seen it locked up behind her.

"The Mall is closed," he said, because he could literally think of nothing else to say.

"Well, duh!" she said, sounding both angry and frightened. "Get me out of here!"

He had her step away from the gate, and opened it—and then, to her anger and horror, took her to the Security Office.

The police had to be called. Or, at least, a report made.

Fortunately, it wasn't his decision to make.

* * *

Paladin Security decided to call the police, based on McKinnon's report that the Arcade had been empty when it had closed at 9:30. At that, the girl named Kylie Anderson burst into tears and refused to tell them anything at all, but both McKinnon and Ainsley were used to that.

"Hey," Ainsley said, looking at the screens, "I thought you locked up the elevator when you came on."

"Of course I did," McKinnon said. "First thing."

"Well, look at Seven. It's down in the basement now."

McKinnon growled wordlessly, looking at the screen. "I'll go lock it down again—and check the basement, too. Maybe she brought a friend. Think you can handle this desperado here?"

Ainsley laughed. "Sure. We'll get to be old friends. Oh—and better go check the East Door on your way back. Got a red light on the board there—and I know it was showing green at nine."

"Helluva night."

"That's what we get the big bucks for, Davey."

* * *

He who had been the hunter for so long was now nothing but prey. The terror of it unmanned him, to the point that he could not see where he was going. It did not matter. His body acted without his will, following wherever the girl led.

She took him into the elevator—it was supposed to be locked down, but it descended into the basement at her touch. She led him down the gallery, toward the back wall, walking as if she did not mean to stop.

Surprise made him look. He knew there was no door here. He knew every inch of this mall. But she pushed against the wall, and a door opened.

With every fiber of his being, he struggled against going through it.

"Come," she said. "You'll like it."

She no longer looked like his Kylie. Her ears were long and pointed, and her eyes were like a cat's, emerald green. The slit pupils were wide in the dimness, and glowed with silver fire like a beast's.

She was a demon come to take him to Hell.

He tried to fall to his knees to pray, but he could do nothing but follow her through that awful door.

He did not know how long they spent in darkness, but at last there was light. A cool silvery mist-light: he was standing with the demon-creature in a place that was nothing but mist: mist above, mist below, and mist all around him.

"Here is where I leave you, Hunter," she said. "You will never leave this place. One warning I give you, and one promise: here in the Chaos Lands, your dreams will be made real. All your dreams. Dream well, monster."

She threw back her head and laughed, a high wolf-howl of triumph, before the mists covered her and she was gone.

Hunter was alone.

No, not quite alone.

He could hear them, prowling in the mist, just beyond his sight.

Things with fangs.

Things with claws.

Hunting him. 

* * *

As Ainsley had said, the elevator was in the basement. McKinnon called it up to ground level, and, much against his wishes, took it down to the basement again.

The door was there.

This time it was almost a relief to see it. If he was going to start seeing girls in two places at once, he might as well get the whole package, hallucinations and all. He hurried quickly to the door, almost afraid, this time, it would close before he got there.

She stepped out of it just as he got there.

She was dressed just like Kylie, but no one would mistake her for a mall kid. Not just the ears and the eyes, but her presence. . . . 

"Are you sure you wish to see this, grey Guardsman?" she asked. Her voice held cool curiosity, nothing more.

"Who . . . what are you?" he asked.

"A Guardsman, of a kind. I tell you this: outside you will find a black van. In it there are trophies of murdered children. You will never find the one who killed them, nor did he kill here, as he meant to. I have made this place safe for your kind. It is . . . a thing I do."

"You can't just . . ." It was an inane conversation to be having, even he knew that.

"Kill him?" She smiled, not prettily. "I did not kill him, grey Guardsman. I did not even judge him. I took him to a place where he could judge himself, and from which he will never return to trouble you. And now I will seal this privy Gate forever, so that it will cause no trouble here in the world. Deal gently with the child, grey Guardsman. Had I not embarrassed her, she would have died tonight."

She stepped back through the door and was gone, and the wall was just a wall.

McKinnon ran his hands over it, slowly, but there was nothing else.

* * *

It was too much to take in all at once. He was going to have to think about it for a long time to make any sense of it at all. But one thing made sense right now. When he'd locked the elevator down on the Main Level one more time and gone to check the East Door, there was a black van parked right outside it, with the driver's side door unlocked and the keys in the ignition.

He took them and opened the back. And what he saw then made him walk inside and place a much more urgent call to the local police.

* * *

The mystique of the "bumbling rent-a-cop" saved him. Of course he'd looked in the back of the van—he'd been looking for the driver. That was his story, and he stuck to it through police, FBI, and the press. He was the hero of the hour; he kept his job.

Everyone decided that Kylie must have been drugged by the would-be killer—who'd miscalculated the dose, causing her to pass out in the arcade rather than outside the mall. Photos of her were all over the back of the van; it was fairly easy to guess she'd been intended as the killer's next victim.

McKinnon said nothing about seeing her walk out of the mall. It hadn't been her, after all. It had been Amy.

If the world was wider—and stranger, and oddly safer—than he'd once thought, maybe that was no bad thing.

"I have made this place safe for your kind." 

Teenagers had always gathered in malls. And if the teenagers looked stranger—and less human—every year, who would really notice?

If the teenagers were less human, what did it really matter?

The overamplified sound of rock echoed through the video arcade, and in it McKinnon heard the sound of distant laughter.


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