A Weather Warden Novel
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New York Times bestselling author of the Morganville Vampires novels
Weather Warden Joanne Baldwin, her husband, the djinn David, and the Earth herself have been poisoned by a substance that destroys the magic that keeps the world alive. The poison is destabilizing the entire balance of power, bestowing magic upon those who have never had it, and removing it form those who need it. It's just a matter of time before the delicate balance of nature explodes into chaos-and doom.
What Has Come Before
My name is Joanne Baldwin, and I used to control the weather as a Weather Warden. These days, I can also control the forces of the earth, such as volcanoes and earthquakes, and the forces of fire. Don't ask—it's a long story. Just go with it, okay?
Controlling all those awesome forces sounds like fun, eh? No. Not when it makes you a target for every psycho world-killing danger that comes along.
Good thing I've got my friends at my back—Lewis Orwell, the most powerful Warden on the planet; Cherise, my best (and not supernatural) friend; a wide cast of sometimes dangerous allies who've got their own missions and agendas that don't always match up with mine.
And I've got David, my true love. He's also a supernatural Djinn, the fairy-tale-three-wishes kind, and he's now coruler of the Djinn on Earth.
But not even the most powerful friends in the world can help when real devastation hits. And it hit me and David, dead center, in our final battle with my old mentor and enemy…and it took our power away.
For me, that's an inconvenience.
For David, it's fatal.
I have to find a way to fix this before it's too late to save my beloved—and maybe even humanity, because Mother Nature is waking up…and she's pissed.
It was the name Wardens—and Djinn—gave to a section of the world that had been scorched by something unnatural; a place where the basic energy that coursed through the world, the pulsebeat of the Earth, no longer existed.
A black corner looked fine, but to anyone with sensitivity to power, it was desolate and sterile. Wardens—those who controlled the basic powers of nature—suffered when they were trapped inside one of these dead zones. Still, we got off better than the Djinn.
We'd been trapped in the massive black corner, sailing hard for the horizon, for days, and it was taking its toll at an increasingly horrible rate.
It was so hard, watching them suffer. It was slow, and painful, and terrifying to watch, and as our cruise ship sailed ever so slowly through the dark, empty seas, trying to get outside the supernatural blast radius, I began to wonder whether we would make it at all. The New Djinn—the Djinn who'd been born human and had become Djinn during some large-scale disasters—were in a lot of pain, and slipping away.
Still, they fared better than the Old Djinn. Original, eternal, with no real ties to humanity at all—they declined far faster. In a very real sense, they couldn't exist on their own, without a direct connection to power—a connection that was nowhere to be found now, even though we were many miles out from the site of the disastrous ending to our fight with my old enemy. He'd opened a gateway to another dimension, and what had come through had almost destroyed me and David; it had definitely blasted the entire area for hundreds of miles in all directions.
I couldn't imagine what the consequences of that were going to be. It was a terrible disaster, and I felt responsible. Hell, who was I kidding? I was responsible, beyond any shadow of a doubt. I was recovering from the aftereffects of the long battle and the injuries I'd gathered along the way, but that was secondary to the guilt I felt about how I'd handled things.
I should have been better. If I'd been better, none of this would have happened. I wouldn't be watching my friends and allies suffer. I wouldn't be watching helplessly as the best of them, the ones who'd given the most, lost pieces of themselves.
Dying in slow motion.
Lewis Orwell, the head of the Wardens, my old friend, the strongest human being I'd ever met…Lewis had developed a perpetual, deep-chested cough that sounded wet and thick. Pneumonia, maybe. He looked as if he hadn't rested in weeks, and he probably hadn't. His reserves were used up, his body beginning to shut down in protest.
And still he was up in the middle of the night, sitting with the Djinn. Offering them what little comfort he could. There weren't so many of them…not now. We'd seen three of them die in the past twenty-four hours. The ones who were left were sinking fast.
Djinn were exotic and beautiful and unbelievably powerful. Seeing them laid so low was heart-wrenching. I didn't know how Lewis could stand it, really. The misery hit me in a thick, sticky wave as I limped into the small infirmary, and I had to stop in the doorway and breathe in and out slowly to calm myself. No sense in going overwrought into this mess. It wouldn't help anyone.
Lewis was sitting in a chair next to a bed that held a small, still human form the size of a child. Venna—who'd always borne an uncanny resemblance to the famous Alice, of Lewis Carroll renown—was still a pretty thing, with fine blond hair and big blue eyes. The supernatural shine that usually seemed a few shades too vivid for human eyes was missing now. She looked sick and afraid, and it hurt me deeply.
I sank down on the other side of her bed and took her hand. Her gaze, which had been fixed on the ceiling, slowly moved to rest on me. She felt cold. Her fingers flexed just a little on mine, and I felt rather than saw the faintest ghost of a smile.
"Hey, kid," I said, and smoothed her hair back from her face. "How are you?"
It was self-evident how she was doing, but I didn't know what else to say. Nothing I could do was going to help. Like Lewis, I was utterly helpless. Useless.
"Okay," she whispered. It seemed to be a great effort for her to form the word, and I saw a shudder go through her small body. I tucked the blanket closer around her, although I knew it wasn't going to help. The chill that had sunk into her couldn't be banished by warm covers and hugs and hot toddies.
We'd tried putting the Djinn on the deck of the ship, hoping the sunlight would help revive them, but it had seemed to make things worse. Venna—who had been alive as long as the Earth, as far as I could tell—had cried from the sheer, desperate agony of being in the sun and not being able to absorb its energy.
It had been awful, and here, inside, she didn't seem as distressed. That was something, at least.
We were no longer trying to save them. We were just managing their decline.
Venna's china blue eyes drifted shut, though it wasn't exactly a natural sleep; she was conserving what energy remained to her. The Old Djinn burned it faster than the New Djinn, it seemed. We'd already lost the only other Old Djinn on board—a closemouthed sort I'd never gotten to know by name.
And, in truth, I loved Venna. I cared about her deeply—in the way you'd care for a beautiful, exotic, very dangerous animal who'd allowed you to become its friend. I'd never thought of her as fragile; I'd seen her slam tanker trucks aside with a wave, and fight monsters without getting so much as a hangnail.
It was hard to see her look so helpless.
Lewis looked almost as bad—worn down and fighting to keep himself together. I met his eyes, which were bloodshot and fever bright. "Go to bed," I told him. "I'll stay with them for a while."
"And do what?" he snapped, which hurt; I saw the flare of panic in his face, quickly tamped down. He hadn't meant to say it, though of course he'd been thinking it. They were all thinking it. "Sorry, Jo. I mean—"
"I know what you mean," I said softly. "But the fact is that you're just as handicapped as I am right now, and you're punishing yourself by wearing yourself down to nothing. Lewis, you can't. You can't. When we get out of this, the Wardens will need you more than ever. You can't be running on fumes when the rest of them need you. This is going to get a lot worse. We both know it."
I could see that he wanted to tell me not to preach to him, but he bit his tongue this time. He knew I was right (not that it would stop him from arguing), and on some level, he was aware that he was hurting himself as punishment. Like me, he felt that he deserved it.
He looked down at Venna. I saw it in his face, all that weariness, that guilt, and a fair amount of bitter self-loathing.
"Lewis." I drew his gaze and held it again. "Go to bed. Go."
He finally nodded, rose—had to steady himself against the wall—and left. I looked around the room, with its sterile high-tech beds and medical facilities that could do nothing about the problem we were facing. Every bed was filled by a Djinn.
And every Djinn was, to a greater or lesser extent, dying.
The Djinn Rahel—a New Djinn, and one of the oldest friends I had among their kind—turned her head slightly to look toward me. Rahel had always seemed invincible, like Venna—polished, wildly beautiful, with her elaborately cornrowed ebony hair and lustrous dark skin, and eyes that glowed as if backlit by amber.
Now she seemed so diminished. So fragile. Her eyes were still amber, but pale, faded, and…frightened. She didn't speak. She didn't have to. I patted Venna's hand, then got up and went to Rahel's side. I put the back of my hand against her forehead. She felt hot and dry, consumed by some bonfire inside.
"Well," she whispered with a shadow of her old, cocky charm, "isn't this peculiar? The lamb caring for the wolf."
"You've never been the wolf, Rahel."
"Ah, sistah, you don't know me at all." She heaved a slow, whispering sigh. "I have played at being a friend to you, but I'm nothing but a wolf. We all are, even your sweet David. Djinn are born because we are too ruthless to accept our own deaths as humans do. It suits us ill to face such an end as this."
"It's not the end."
"I think it could be," she said, and closed her eyes. "I think it will be. And so I will tell you something I've never told you, Joanne Baldwin."
I swallowed hard. "What?"
Her lips took on the ghost of a smile. "I am glad that we have been friends. You remind me of someone I knew long ago. My cousin, in breathing days. You have her soul. And I am glad to have looked on that brightness again."
"Stop it," I said, my voice was unsteady. "Just stop it. You're not going to die, Rahel. You can't."
"All things can. All things should, in the end." She didn't sound angry about it, or sad, or afraid. She just sounded resigned. "The world is changing. That is not a bad thing, you know. Just different."
Maybe she had the perspective of millennia, but I didn't, and I was sick and tired of things being changed. I wanted it all to go back to the way it was.
I wanted peace.
But I didn't say anything else to her, and she lapsed into a quiet, waiting stillness, conserving her energy. The room was eerily silent, all those immortal creatures counting the minutes until they ceased.
And it was my fault.
I put my head down on the crisp, clean sheets next to Rahel's hand, and silently wept.
I felt a hand touch my hair, and thought at first that it was Rahel. But no; her hand was still exactly where it had been, limp and unmoving on the covers. I took in a deep breath and sat up, swiping at my eyes and sniffling.
David looked down at me, and for a moment we didn't say anything at all. He looked almost as bad as the Djinn lying in the beds, although he'd been spared that particular fate; his was slower, more insidious.
There was still a connection between us despite the hit we'd taken when Bad Bob had done his worst at the end. Our powers were gone, and David was trapped in mortal flesh, but on some level he was able to bleed off just a little power from me. Enough to survive, at least temporarily.
The difference was that when we sailed out of the black corner, the Djinn would get better. David wouldn't get his powers back that way. Neither of us would. And if he couldn't reconnect to the aetheric, he would get weaker.
I read the misery and concern in his eyes, and took his hand in mine. Touching flesh would have to do; we couldn't touch in all those familiar supernatural ways. It felt oddly remote and clumsy.
"You okay?" he asked me.
I nodded. "As long as you're here. You?"
That won me a faint smile from him, and a widening of those honey brown eyes. He was still beautiful, even contained in human form. He'd lost that glowing, powerful edge, but what was left was pure David. As time went on, I had the sense that I was seeing the David he'd once been—a friend, a lover, a warrior in days that had come and gone well before any history we knew.
Not a good Djinn, but a good man.
Still, he hadn't been just a man in so, so long. And I wondered whether he could go back to being just that, just human, without dying inside of regrets.
David's smile faded as he looked at Rahel, replaced by that intense focus I knew so well. He didn't speak, but I knew how deeply he was feeling his own helplessness. I was feeling exactly the same thing. I leaned my cheek against his warm, strong hand, and his thumb gently stroked my cheekbone.
"Lewis left you alone here?"
Yeah, there was no part of that that didn't sound accusatory toward Lewis. "I made him leave. He was exhausted," I said. "And there's nothing he can do except what I'm doing. What you're doing."
"Stand here and watch my brothers and sisters die?" He paused, shut his eyes for a second, and then said, "That sounded bitter, didn't it?" I measured off an inch of air between my thumb and forefinger. He sighed. "I feel that there ought to be something. Something we can think of, do, try."
"We have, we did, and we will. But we're not exactly at the top of our game, honey."
"I don't know what this game is," David said softly. "I don't like the rules. And I don't like the stakes."
"Well, at least you have a good partner," I said. "Later, we can kick ass at table tennis, too."
He bent and kissed me—not a long kiss, not a passionate one, but one of those sweet and lingering sorts of promises that comes from deep, deep down. Passion we had, but we also had something else. Something more.
Something that mattered to me more than my own life. I'm not going to lose him too, I told myself. I wondered whether that panic and determination showed in my face. I hoped not.
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