Total Eclipse


Chapter One

Black corner.

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.

Djinn died.

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