Home > Falling Blind (Sentinel Wars #7)

Falling Blind (Sentinel Wars #7)
Author: Shannon K. Butcher

Chapter 1

Kansas City, Missouri, October 29

There was not enough brain bleach in the world to scrub away the things Rory Rainey had seen. Her visions were getting worse, and if she didn’t find the person who could make them stop, she was going to go bat shit crazy.

As frequently as the mental images were slamming into her lately, that inevitable insanity conclusion wasn’t far away.

Rory kept her head down and her gaze firmly on the sidewalk in front of her. While her eyes saw only dirt and concrete dimly lit by streetlights, her mind saw much, much more. A riot of TV shows and video screens blazed in her head, one image superimposed upon the next, until it was all merely a blobby glow of color and light. Nearby, someone was staring down at a newborn baby. Someone else was reading a book, but there was too much visual chaos in Rory’s head to make out the words. Brief glimpses of the same nearby sections of street fired in her mind, repeating over and over as the few people still out at the late hour drove by. As she moved down the street, she got close enough to a couple having sex in one of the surrounding buildings to catch what they were seeing. The man was all fleshy and sweating, his face red with effort. The harnesses and implements twisting the woman into a vaguely pretzel-like shape made Rory speed her pace until that sight faded.

Ugh. Not enough brain bleach in the world.

She was in a bad part of town hit hard by the recession. The streets were lined with abandoned storefronts and condemned buildings. It was late and cold, and there was little foot traffic for her to collide with as she made her way to the homeless shelter she often visited. She didn’t need the shelter—she had her own home. Nana’s home. But that shelter was one of the places where she’d noticed the visions recede.

Little, fleeting moments of peace had come to her there. What she saw was real and hers alone, making it quiet and oh, so precious. At first she’d thought that she was getting better, that the space between mental barrages was getting longer. But then she left the shelter and the visions were there, waiting for her.

Her fumbling, painful experiments had led her to believe that someone inside that shelter was blocking her curse. If she could only figure out who they were and make them teach her how they did it, she’d be free.

But her potential savior had left, and Rory had never been able to track them down. Once in a while, her visions would fade and she’d know she was close, but she’d never figured out who was to thank for that reprieve.

A flash of hot pink hair and chain-clad leather burst in her mind, making her stumble in shock. Rory’s hair was hot pink, and while she wasn’t the only one who had that artificial feature, chances were slim there was another woman with her hair and jacket nearby.

Someone was watching her.

Rory tried to sort through the jumbled images to focus on who was behind her, but there were so many flashes, and most of them were so bright, she could hardly see the ground in front of her feet. There were too many people still awake in the city, too many sights slamming into her for her to latch on to a single one for very long.

And just because someone looked at her was no reason to wig out. Lots of people looked at her. That was one of the side effects of having hair louder than a freight train.

Still, her instincts were screaming at her, and she’d learned the hard way that she should trust them. As she continued walking, the hair on the back of her neck rose up in warning. Being out at night was dangerous. There were monsters everywhere, and for reasons she refused to think about, they wanted her.

Rory hurried her pace, anxiety driving her forward. She cut through an alley to get off the street and shorten her walk. The shelter wasn’t far now, and while the remodeling wasn’t finished, the doors were open, and they were letting people inside to escape the cold.

Bright pink consumed her vision, blocking out the wet pavement at her feet.

That was her hair—her back—and whoever was watching her had followed her down the alley. Definitely not some random pedestrian.

Well, hell. Now she had to do something. No way could she just keep walking, playing the role of prey. She’d never been much of an actress.

Rory stopped dead in her tracks, gripped the gun in her purse, squared her shoulders in a way that shouted she was not some fragile victim, and turned to face whoever was following her. She really didn’t want to have to shoot someone, but after what Matt had done to her, she had learned to be more proactively defensive in her thinking. Two days and nights spent in a flooded basement filled with tentacled demons that lived on human flesh and blood had a way of curing a girl’s poor decision-making habits.

Anxiety tightened her grip, but she kept her breathing even, struggling to see the alley looming in front of her over the splashy colors and lights in her head. She saw no one, only a slight flicker of motion she couldn’t even trust to be real.

“I saw you,” she yelled into the night, her breath misting in the cold air.

Another fleeting glimpse of pink came to her, again showing her the back of her own head.

There was no way someone could have slipped past her. Even with her crazy visions, she wasn’t that blind—at least not yet. If the visions got any worse . . .

She wouldn’t think about that now. She had to stay positive and convinced that there was a cure for her faulty wiring.

A low hiss rattled out from behind her.

Fear streaked along her veins, and she whirled around to face the threat, gun raised and level.

A demon stood there, black and shiny, easily blending into the wet pavement. Larger than a big dog, its forelegs were too long for its heavily muscled body, pushing it nearly upright. There wasn’t a single hair on the creature, but something thick and oily seeped from its skin, leaving smears behind with every step. Its face was disturbingly human, with eyes that glowed a bright, sickly green.

Rory took a step back, unable to control the impulse to flee. The demon’s pointed ears twitched as if it heard something, and a second later, in the midst of flashing sights that were not her own, she saw the back of her head again. Only this time it was much, much closer.

There was still someone behind her. Or something.

She steadied her gun and aimed at the demon in front of her while she spared a quick glance over her shoulder. Sure enough, the demon’s bigger, uglier twin was right there behind her, its bright eyes flaring with hunger.

Rory knew better than to hesitate. This was a kill or be eaten kind of situation if ever there was one—something she was way too familiar with these days.

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