Competition, news and teaser installment

Audiobook competition!

There’s a Urban Fantasy competiton that the Sleight of Hand audiobook is included in. First prize is 6 audiobooks and an ebook, and 23 other winners get an audiobook. You get an extra 3 entries to the competition if you introduce a friend! Give it a go!

More details on the site: http://www.audiobookaccess.com/uf2

 

Angel Stakes audiobook

Just waiting on corrections.

Progress on Bian’s Tale

Slow progress this week, but section 3 of 5 should be done in the next week.

New York episodes

This post ties up the interleaving. There are actually two chapters here: 7 and 9. The links for the other chapters are available on last week’s post.

Chapter 1
Julius and Livia
At St Judes. Introduction to Julius and Livia, the threat of Skylur’s arrival.

Chapter 2
Elodie
Greenpoint. Introduction to Elodie. Barlett abducted during meeting.

Chapter 3
Elodie
Greenpoint. Elodie background and illness. She speaks to Nathan.

Chapter 4
Julius and Livia
Brooklyn waterfront. Julius meets Livia and they go together to Manhattan to face Skylur.
Introduction to Keensleigh (Were alpha) and Hinton (Adept community leader).

Chapter 5
Elodie
Sunset Park – search of Barlett’s office, then disaster strikes.

Chapter 6
Julius and Livia
Meeting with Skylur at his office penthouse.

 

Chapter 7
Elodie – the first of this week’s chapters

Chapter 8
Julius and Livia
At the restaurant with Skylur.

 

Chapter 9

Julius and Livia – the second of this week’s chapters

 

<<****>>

Chapter 7

Elodie

Crown Heights, Brooklyn

The refuge is full, but very quiet. Desperation is not noisy.

Elodie is rocking to and fro. She didn’t mean to come here, but she got lost and everything is so frightening outside. The streets are loud. Tall buildings loom over her till she can barely breathe. Short buildings have steps that slip out onto the sidewalk to trip her. Cars shout at her. People stare, snatch things from her.

At least in here it’s quiet.

There’s a bed. She’s sitting on the edge.

Maybe she should lie down. She can remember someone—how long ago was it?—he said to her that she should rest. He was a nice man. Very gentle.

There’s something wrong with her head. She knows it wasn’t always like this. The nice man told her all about it. Said she should rest.

There is something that helps, but she can’t find it. Her hands check her pockets again.

She is so tired.

“My name is Elodie Villiers,” she says. “I am not mad.”

“It’s all right,” the girl sitting opposite her says. “No one is saying you’re mad.”

“It’s not all right,” Elodie replies. “I’m looking for someone. It’s very important. I had something that helped and I lost it. Something’s wrong. Wrong.”

She touches her head. She wants to hit her head until it works again, but she knows that doesn’t look right. She thinks she hit her head and it stopped working. So she can’t risk hitting it again. And anyway, if they see her hitting her head, they’ll stop her, and she won’t be able to get out of here to keep looking.

If only she had the thing that helped.

The girl sees her hands check her pockets.

“Did you have some pills? Did they help?” she asks.

“No. No pills. Don’t help. Pills make it difficult to think. Nate wanted me to take them.”

“Is it Nate you’re looking for?”

Elodie feels her eyes fill with tears. “No.” She can’t remember why she’s crying.

He said not to look back. She looked back and he wasn’t there. But it wasn’t her fault, and that wasn’t Nate. That was the man who was looking for vampires.

She mustn’t say that. She is not mad.

A cellphone chirps. The girl takes it out and glances at the screen, dismisses whatever message was there.

Her hand reaches out.

The girl nervously allows her to take the cell.

She frowns and grimaces, gives it back.

“Mine had a rabbit,” she says. “I must have lost it. I had to follow the rabbit.”

She is so tired.

Maybe she needs to sleep. She lies down. Her newspaper crinkles under her, but she’s too tired to push it away.

The girl murmurs something that sounds approving.

There are scribbles on the newspaper, just under her nose, scribbles in blue pen. She can read the newspaper’s printed words, but the blue writing is just too strange. Too close to focus. Almost like hieroglyphics. She knows about those. Old languages. But these are different. There’s a doodle as well. A drawing. Quite good. It’s a sea anchor, with a scroll that winds around it. The sort of thing where a motto would be written.

She’s seen that before.

It’s important.

“The man who wasn’t there,” she murmurs. It sounds like a song she heard, a long, long time ago. She tries singing. “We spoke of when and where. Of places they might fare...”

So, so tired.

 

“She’s asleep now,” Tiana whispers.

“Did you find out anything more about her?”

Tiana shakes her head.

“So all we really know is her name is Elodie Villiers.” The woman sighs. “Her clothes are good quality and reasonably new. Whatever happened to her must have been very sudden. Someone has to be looking for her.”

“I cleaned her coat and shoes,” Tiana says. “The coat’s hanging up, drying.”

“Thanks.” The woman wrinkles her nose. “She must have climbed into a dumpster. That newspaper stinks of it too. I’ll get rid of it.”

Tiana wants to leave it, but the other woman is one of the staff, and Tiana has just been helping out since Father Julius sent her here.

The woman eases the newspaper out from underneath Elodie Villiers and carries it off, kept well away from her, held between one finger and a thumb.

 

<<****>>

Chapter 9

Julius

Manhattan Island, restaurant.

The maître d’, unable to understand any of the Athanate conversation but sensitive to the tension at the table, visits to top up glasses and inquire about the quality of the meal.

Skylur assures him they are enjoying the food and wine.

Afterwards, Skylur switches effortlessly back to Athanate. “It would be false to deny our kin fear our bite at the beginning, Livia, or to claim we do not feed on their fear. Yet I do not agree with the proposition that it is simple practicality. That Panethus merely find it easier to feed on love. Our relationships carry a great cost, and it is partly that cost which the Hidden Path seek to avoid.”

Livia sneers. “Whatever the merit of the case we’re arguing, I will not put aside the name Basilikos just because the party now thinks calling itself the Hidden Path makes it more acceptable. Basilikos means what I believe, that we are superior.”

Julius knows he has to divert the conversation in safer directions. Skylur is Panethus. He’s the leader of Panethus, for heaven’s sake, and yet Livia seems intent on championing Basilikos. This is not some scholarly debate. Their lives hang in the balance.

“Really?” Skylur sips at his wine. His eyes leave Livia and focus on Julius. “Yet here you two are: Basilikos House Flavia and Panethus House di Firenze bound together and representing a community which contains all shades of creed and behavior.”

“Yes,” Julius says. His mouth feels dry. “Long Island is one example of how a tightly bound Athanate community may embrace different philosophies. Livia and I are polar opposites in our relationships with humans and the level of our engagement with human society, yet we co-operate and co-ordinate effectively. We even co-ordinate with our Were and Adept neighbors. We are the world in microcosm. A laboratory test for the future.”

A smile passes across Skylur’s face, like a wisp of cloud across the sun.

If Livia is iron hidden in velvet, then Skylur is steel hidden in silk, Julius thinks. More subtle, whatever Livia claimed earlier. Just as dangerous.

Livia laughs, and the sound makes ice in his belly.

“Listen to my little Ruben,” she says.

“Your marques are closer than two Houses who merely co-operate.” Skylur is still looking at Julius.

“Oh, much, much closer.” Livia’s voice drops. “I found my Ruben an orphan in the streets of Florence in 1416. His entire family had been killed; I never found out why. A dispute between guilds? The fighting between the Pazzi and the Medici? I don’t know. The Renaissance in Florence was, like most of human history, a dangerous time, and he was a beautiful child alone in a city full of monsters. I rescued him so that there would only be one monster he needed to fear.”

Julius is looking down. He can’t raise his eyes. He doesn’t dwell on that time, but the memories remain vivid.

That which forms you, must give you your shape. She had said that to him at the time. As you live, it lives with you. You must make peace with it.

“It sounds like you had pity,” Skylur says. “Pity from a Basilikos for a human?”

“Don’t paint me in your sympathetic colors, Altau. My intentions were entirely selfish.” Livia’s hand slides up Julius’ arm, to his shoulder, his neck. “Do you not sense it?” she says to Skylur.

I have made my peace with myself. Julius can feel the thud of his heart, the rush of his blood. He can feel her fingers slip into his hair. She has always loved playing with his hair.

Skylur does not reply, so Livia continues. “Julius was my toru, Altau. My branded property. My blood slave. That is why his marque is so close to mine.”

As I live, it lives with me. Julius can’t deny her. His trembling body reacts to her. He is completely hers, as long as he lives.

“Yet you freed him, set him up as an independent House,” Skylur says. “Allowed him to choose his own path. That speaks of an emotional bond.”

“Did I free him? Did I really?” Livia laughs, a low sound that speaks of hunting. “No Basilikos would ever do that. Can you sense it yet, Altau? Can you see what my Ruben is?”

Her fingers pinch and tug on his hair. Julius lifts his head obediently. He has to. His face is flushed, his heart racing.

Skylur is still looking at him. Those piercing eyes seem to be drilling into his head, but it’s Skylur’s other senses that will inform him.

He fears Livia. And he loves her. Always. These are the hard truths that form him.

“The Basilikos term…” Skylur hesitates. “Delectable?”

The word he uses is the old Athanate yeftikal.

“Yes,” Livia says. “The most precious of toru. Those who can feed us both fear and desire at the same time. Those who want us for what we are. This is my Julius, my Ruben, my toru yeftikal. Is he truly free? Could I ever let him go? Not while I live.”

Skylur’s face is unreadable, but Julius knows Livia has gone too far. It’s all true, but it’s not what they need to focus Skylur on. If they cannot comply with his expectations, he will simply execute them. They have no Athanate rights that he doesn’t hold.

He tries to quell the thunder in his heart, the pounding blood that advertises how scared and aroused Livia’s touch has made him.

Without knowing what he’s going to say, he sucks in a breath to start talking.

And one of the Altau security who had been waiting outside rushes in and hands Skylur a tablet computer.

Skylur’s eyes flick over the messages on the screen. He hands the tablet back.

“Enjoy the rest of the meal,” he says to Livia and Julius. “The cost will be met by House Altau of course.”

He folds his napkin and lays it alongside his plate.

“I suspect I’ll be too busy to resume our discussion tonight, and tomorrow is Christmas Day, so I imagine House di Firenze will have unavoidable commitments. We’ll meet again at 10 am on the following day, at the Warders’ former property in Williamsburg. You know the one I mean?”

There is only one house that the Warders owned on Long Island. Julius nods, while wondering why they should meet there. He knows nothing about the house outside of its location. Given their requirement to keep the Warders ignorant of their existence, of course the house and the block it’s in have been an exclusion zone for all the Long Island Athanate.

“The situation as I have found it here is untenable and full of risk,” Skylur says. He is looking at Julius. “Too exposed. Those of you that are deeply involved in human society must prepare to make your excuses and withdraw.”

Julius will have to leave the church. His stomach feels as if it’s gone into free fall. He can’t refuse. Skylur has absolute authority to make him do so. He starts thinking about what has to be done and the flood of problems stuns him.

Skylur is still talking. “I’ll pass my decision on all of the outcast Houses of Long Island when we meet again.”

Julius hates the Agiagraphos, hates most of Athanate history, and he knows what legal and historical precedents there are for Skylur’s decision. Entire Houses executed, kin included. That’s one extreme. Or just the leaders of the Houses executed. There is a difference, if not to him and Livia.

“House Flavia, House di Firenze.” Skylur stands. “Good night to you.”

They stand and murmur their farewells, then sink back into their seats as the door closes behind Skylur’s team.

Julius is still trembling.

“Livia, I was wrong,” Julius says, words tumbling over each other. “I said we couldn’t run, that I couldn’t run. But we have to. I have money, IDs for both of us. We can leave tonight. Scatter the Houses—”

“You said there was nowhere to go,” Livia interrupts.

“There is. Skylur told us, hidden in all the politics. He’s offering us a way out. He’s even given us a day’s start.”

“What on earth do you mean, Julius?”

“Ireland! He told us Ireland is a neutral territory now. And he’s just told us we have a day to get there. There are flights from JFK. We can be at the airport in an hour.”

His words dry up, and she’s sitting as if there is no urgency. He’s never seen the expression that’s now in her eyes. Almost…sad.

“My dear, sweet Ruben.” Her hand comes up and strokes his cheek gently. “No. You were right. You so often are, and I don’t listen well enough.”

“No, Livia.” He takes her hand and kisses it. He doesn’t care if the Bishop himself walks into the restaurant. That part of his life is over, whether he wants it or not. What he wants is Livia safe.

“Hush,” she says. “You were right before. Sanctuary is an illusion. We’d be running from ourselves and there’s no place to hide, no sanctuary for those that try that. I’ve spent too long with no judge of my actions but myself.”

His mouth works but no sounds come out.

Athanate do sometimes lose the will to live. They are overcome with a sense of fatalism, a premonition of death. The Athanate word for it has seeped into modern languages as fey. The one person Julius never expected to show any sign of it was Livia.

“I told him he wasn’t subtle,” she says. “But I was wrong on that too. He’s subtle enough to tell us there’s a hope of sanctuary, and even more subtle to challenge us not to take it. And I’m tired, my sweet, I’m so tired. J’y suis. J’y reste. Here I am, here I remain. And, you are safe. The other Houses are safe, whatever their creed. I feel they are safer here than if we tell them to scatter, or catch a flight to Dublin.”

“But you’re not!”

“I was never one who much valued being safe. The sower sows, and who knows where the seed will fall? Come, Ruben. There are other things we can spend the time on tonight. Take me home.”

 

 

 

 

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About Mark Henwick

I was born in Africa and left out in the sun too often. An early interest in philosophy and psychology was adequately exorcised by tending bars. And while trying to enroll in a class to read Science Fiction full time, I ended up taking an engineering degree which splendidly qualified me to move into marketing. That in turn spawned a late onset career in creative writing. When not working, I get high by the slightly less conventional means of a small light aircraft. My first book, 'Sleight of Hand' is available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/Sa0D3n

5 responses to “Competition, news and teaser installment”

  1. Michael Orton says :

    Now that relationship between J and L is a twist I was not expecting!

    I’m not sure I like where this is heading.
    Can L be permitted to survive?
    If not will J want to live on?

    There have to be casualties from time to time or the world degenerates into “how is the party going to survive this even more certain deathtrap than the previous one” and this world is supposed to be darker than that.

    Contrariwise, one must avoid “Red Shirt Syndrome”. If it became obvious that a character written into the plot thread in a certain way only exists to get killed before the end of the episode then once again the tension is destroyed.

    • Mark Henwick says :

      A fine line for me to negotiate (but not one I can discuss much here, at this stage in the story).

      The Athanate/Were/Adept world is darker than the usual Urban Fantasy. I’ll post separately on this at some other stage.

  2. Justin says :

    So many outcomes! I will fantasize, but hope you will catch me off guard.

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