Quick roundup first.
Vampires of the Caribbean went up to #1 in the Zon for anthologies in UF. Thank you all! I hope you liked Enzili, and I would love to get your feedback in reviews (Amazon or Goodreads) or messages here, Facebook or to the usual email.
Angel Stakes audiobook – I’m still waiting for the *last* audio file before I can press the button to send everything into ACX/Audible’s internal processing. The technical problems with the studio (not with our actual recording) have been terrible on this project, but the actual work is the best yet that Julia has done. This is an *awesome* audiobook, I’m just so frustrated that unrelated bits keep delaying it.
Writing progress on Bian’s Tale and Bite Back 6 (Inner Game? Inside Straight?) – slow. This was a disrupted week, what with the book launch, my wife’s birthday and the first episode of Iron Fist airing. I really enjoyed Iron Fist Ep1. I was always going to love seeing Jess as Colleen Wing, of course, but I actually thought the whole episode was very well done.
Long Island Athanate
I really have to reorganise the blog to make this episodic story easier to access. I will be publishing this as a novella once it’s complete. There are a couple more chapters to run…
I started this at what became chapter 1 as an unrelated scene with characters that don’t appear in the Bite Back series, but affected by what was going on in the Athanate world. It was just a little Christmas present for readers. It was popular, so I wrote another scene… Then I started to put it together with some doodles that I wrote on my visit to Brooklyn last fall. I thought it should be entirely stand-alone, then I realised that there’s too much back-story if I did that. I only write these scenes on Friday evening or Saturday, so there’s a limit to the planning and plotting and ‘crafting’ of it. And so on. Anyway, I hope you’re still enjoying it, and it serves to keep my mind fresh and my writing skills exercised, so I’ll continue posting novellas in episodes on this blog. We’ll have to see what comes next; there was no definitive preference expressed by lots of readers for what I should write next in this fashion. Maybe I’ll do a little survey. Tell me what you individually want, and we’ll see if there’s a consensus…
Warder’s Court, South Prospect, Brooklyn
“Here.” Skylur’s voice comes through a doorway to the right.
They go in. It’s a living room, running the whole depth of the house. It’s furnished like a show home, with wide white sofas and seats, a slate-topped coffee table which matches the stone used for the porch outside, an ornate fireplace with a panoramic Dutch painting above it, a cream carpet. Brass standing lamps and uplighters are all switched off.
What light there is comes from the far end, where patio windows form the entire back wall. Skylur is standing there, looking out at the huge, snow-covered garden. He’s wearing the same black cloak as his security wear, and holds his hands behind his back.
It’s cold and silent. A scent of air-freshener contends with a slightly musty air. The house tells Julius that no one lives here.
“Welcome to the Warder’s Court,” Skylur says.
Julius shivers. Court. The Warders were formed from old Dutch Athanate Houses. Their traditions would have meant that this place was kept deliberately separated from where they lived, and used solely for its purpose. This was their…what was the word? Oordeelstoel. Seat of judgment. The place for trials. And executions.
Skylur seems to be reading his mind. “Just to think,” he says. “From their records, there must be fifty bodies somewhere under that snow.”
Worse than reading his mind. Taking a perverse delight in his despair.
“So,” Skylur turns on his heel. “I have to reach a decision today about the Houses who are sheltering illegitimately in my domain. From our discussions, you have a sense of the problems. The core of it is that there are Houses here whose creed is anathema to me. Even were that not an issue personally, my position as leader of the Panethus creed makes what I do here a political issue. My decision could lead to division in the Panethus party and provide political gain to the Hidden Path party.”
He has not even invited them to sit.
“The basis for a decision is clear in the Agiagraphos. Even the rules of the Assembly are not in your favor.”
Livia interrupts him. “You mean for those Houses that are not categorized as Panethus?”
She’s trying to get mercy for half of them at least. It’s an obvious point. Julius stopped himself saying it because he didn’t want to move to expose Livia, or the other Long Island Basilikos Houses. Which he must remember to call Hidden Path when he speaks to Skylur.
But Skylur is not easily contained. “Not necessarily,” he replies. “None of the Houses are formally members of Panethus, and those that might be acceptable on grounds of creed and behavior have strong links into the others. The two of you being an example. You tangle yourselves together.”
There’s the sound of the front door opening, engine noises from the street, footsteps. A door to another room is opened to let people in, and then closed.
Skylur ignores it. Julius can see an earbud in his left ear. Either he’s being told what’s happening, or he doesn’t care.
“My decision today will have a profound effect on my position, and through that, it will have a profound effect on Emergence,” Skylur says, and makes a small gesture to encompass everything. “The most important event in Athanate history might hang on what we do here.”
Livia sits down on one of the sofas, leans back and crosses her legs.
But Skylur’s eyes remain on Julius.
“So…if I appear weak, I take political damage,” he says. “What arguments can you give me to counter that?”
“For a start, that by the Agiagraphos, the fact that we have lived here in Long Island for nearly three centuries gives us the rights to call Long Island our domain, despite it nominally belonging to the Warders, and before them the Houses of the New Holland association.”
“A good argument against the Warders,” concedes Skylur.
Of course the Warders have been disbanded and dispersed across the globe. Julius needs arguments against House Altau, and there are none. He changes tack. There are positive arguments he can make.
“As I’ve stated, we are a microcosm of the world here in Long Island, and we manage to live together with minimal problems, Panethus and Hidden Path, side by side.”
Julius knows the key weakness of this argument is that whereas they live harmoniously with other Athanate, it’s not with the knowledge of humans, other than kin or toru. He tries to make this a strength: “We are an orderly community of Athanate. We’ve survived, observing the rules and with no lapses of security. All in keeping with the Agiagraphos.”
“You’re proud of your record with security?” Skylur asks.
Julius senses a trap. Skylur is intend on overturning the Agiagraphos and deliberately revealing the Athanate to humans. But surely he won’t hold it against the Long Island Athanate that they observed the rule about keeping humanity unaware of them?
Livia senses it too. He can feel her tense.
Skylur is waiting, one eyebrow raised slightly.
“Yes,” Julius says. “One of our best points.”
“Really? Did Diakon Gracchus suggest you use that argument?”
The trap has opened in front of him.
The going may be treacherous, the Altau security said when they kidnapped Gracchus.
Oh, hell! What did you do, Gracchus? What have you been hiding?
The house is cold. He feels the sweat freezing on his brow.
“Yes,” he admits, his voice quiet.
Skylur’s gaze is like knives, pinning him where he stands.
Livia stands up and gets in front of him.
“What are you saying, Altau?” she says.
“That you should not be so proud of your security. I am interested to see how you manage the situation that has arisen over the last few days.”
Skylur pulls the earbud out, and takes a matching miniature mike from his pocket.
“Bring them in,” he says and puts the comms equipment on the coffee table.
Julius’ stomach is sinking and sinking.
The Altau security detail that kidnapped Gracchus bring him in. Behind him are two other people, a man in an old coat and a woman.
The woman who was sitting near me in church just half an hour ago.
Julius flares his nostrils, reaches with all his senses.
Was he too distracted in the church? Did he miss something?
The man has no marque. Neither does the woman. Both of them are human, and they’re neither kin nor toru.
They both looked dazed, and the woman is leaning on one of the Altau for support.
Before he can ask what they’re doing here, the woman catches sight of Livia.
She steps forward, swaying a little, and goes down on her knees.
“Garheem,” she says. Her voice is scratchy, but the words are clear. “Garheem, Ykos Flavia.”
It hits Julius like a blow to the stomach. Greetings, House Flavia. In Athanate. It’s the wrong greeting; an informal greeting rather than the one she should use when meeting the Mistress of an Athanate House for the first time, but all that is a screaming irrelevance in comparison to the fact that a human who is tied to no Athanate House is kneeling here speaking Athanate to Livia.
Warder’s Court, South Prospect, Brooklyn
My name is Elodie Villiers. I am not mad. I need to trust me.
They seem shaken, the men and women standing in this cold, empty house while she kneels and speaks the words of greeting she’s learned.
The world had been a blur this morning, sitting in St. Jude’s, trying to make sense of all the unintelligible crap in her head while ignoring the splitting headache. Someone had told her it was important, that place, that church. The man had said a church was important, but then when she turned to look at him, he wasn’t there. She’d recognized which church from a drawing on a newspaper she saw in a dumpster. And on the side of a coffee mug.
She needed to be there, in the church. It was important, but she couldn’t remember why.
I am not mad.
And then she’d heard them. The priest and the big man. Talking.
Not English, though they’d said some things in English. Not Latin, though the big man had started in Latin.
No, they’d spoken in Athanate.
The language the federal agent wanted her to forget she’d ever seen. The language she hunted down through the internet. To here, in Long Island. A living language that was older than Mycenaean Greek and Scythian and Dravidian and Sanskrit.
Impossible, Nate had said.
A symptom of your condition, the specialist said. The pressure on the brain. Causing a form of auditory hallucination.
Take the tablets. Rest.
She’d heard them speaking in St. Jude’s. She’d mouthed the words they spoke. But when she’d opened her eyes, they weren’t there. And a man in a black coat had come to take her away and bring her here.
Here…where they look startled and do not answer her greeting.
Her head is throbbing so she can barely think.
There’s a reason she came searching for them.
I am not mad.
It feels like rocks colliding in her head. Things are falling back into place again.
That’s Barlett behind her. The Athanate took him when they had their last meeting.
They hold his life in their hands because of her. And either these people can cure her, or it’s all craziness from the growth in her head, and she should have taken the tablets.
Nothing left to lose.
She takes a deep breath and speaks to the woman she believes to be the head of a group of vampires, living hidden in the communities of Long Island. Madness. Madness. She speaks in what she believes is Athanate, even though she knows she doesn’t speak it well.
“House Flavia. My name is Elodie Villiers. No House. I call sanctuary of you. I beg. I offer Blood and life. I offer loyalty and obedience. I honor obligations and responsibilities of the House. I submit to rule of the House.”
She thinks those are the right words.
The moment stretches, becomes an age without measure, and no one moves.
Then the woman, House Flavia, steps forward and kneels in front of her.
“That is the petition for sanctuary,” she says in Athanate, “and an offer of your Blood oath.”
Elodie sighs, and sways. I am not mad.
House Flavia takes her hands, steadies her. “But only an Athanate may make that request of another.”
Elodie feels herself crumple from the inside. She sags, sitting back on her heels. The headache reaches a new level of pain she didn’t believe possible.
“Whatever I can offer, I offer,” she mumbles.
Maybe there is nothing. Learning bits of a language does not mean an understanding of culture. She knows they do not allow humans outside of their community to know about them. Why did she think being able to speak a bit of Athanate would make a difference?
“I plead for life of me and life of this man. He only doing what I asked,” she says. What can she offer? “I tell you how I found you.”
The words are becoming indistinct. Her mouth is feeling numb. It’s difficult to focus her eyes.
It’s too late. Not even Athanate can fix this.
The priest kneels beside her and catches her as she slumps.
Maybe he’ll give her the last rites.
“Say after me,” House Flavia says. “I give truth for truth.”
Elodie whispers the words. Everything seems far away. Even the pain is less now. It’s all happening to someone else.
“Faith for faith.”
“Life for life.”
As if down a corridor, Elodie hears the words: “I claim this woman, Elodie Villiers. I grant the rights and privileges within my gift.”
She knows she’s not meant to repeat that. There’s another phrase.
What is it?
“My Blood is yours,” she says.
And she hears a reply, just before the crushing darkness falls: “It is done.”