TWO CHAPTERS today. These chapters are just teasers. Their real purpose is to keep me focused on writing progress.
Beta readers will be up to the half way point of Book 6, Inside Straight, later today. I’ve hit a bit of a difficult section and I’m interested to see what they make of it…
Among the Stars – I have broken Amazon support. They finally acknowledge that they allow other series to have the series title as part of the book names, but that mine has still been disallowed. They don’t know why. They have transferred me to ‘Tech Support’, which, from the way they refer to it, is situated on another planet entirely. Tech Support have failed to communicate with me at all. At this point, it’s sheer bloody-mindedness that keeps me going. The lack of a series name makes it extremely difficult to promote the second book. This has gone on so long that A Threat Among the Stars has basically failed – sales are very poor. I may try to revive it, but at this point, it’s all wasted effort.
Okay QUIZ TIME…
This will be very easy for some, especially those who live in Denver, or who’ve followed my posts for three years…
Winners of previous quizzes can of course send me a message, but are not allowed to take part publicly 🙂
What’s the building in the picture and what special significance does it have?
Prize: In Book 7: Either name a new character, or demand the return of a previous character to a significant role…
Previous teaser chapters (in order) are at:
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I had the absolute right to her Blood now and Amanda wanted mine, but her eukori was also linked tightly to her older kin, Scott, and I got the sense it might be the only thing that was keeping him alive.
I took a deep breath. I was the one trembling now.
“I guess…” I had to clear my throat and force my fangs to stay put by willpower. “I guess we have some other business to deal with first.”
“Yes. Scott,” Amanda said. “Please. He really doesn’t have much time. I’m sorry.”
Riding on Amanda’s connection, I mentally reached out to him and sensed his heartbeat, the flow of his Blood, the weak pulse of life throughout his body.
I was no healer like Bian, but I believed Amanda. He was slipping away. If she was determined to try this, I had to infuse Scott right now. Waiting for Diana or Bian to help would take too long.
“Nothing to be sorry about,” I said. It was crazy, but I had to attempt it. My oath bound me to Amanda as tightly as it bound her to me, and she needed me to try and save him.
Linked with me through eukori, Pia sensed my decision.
“I’ll guide you,” Pia said. She was the one of us that had real experience infusing humans to set off the change that would result in them becoming Athanate. On the other hand, we were going to throw out every tried and tested procedure she’d used in House Altau and rely on a blind roll of the dice.
We cleared the area around the sofa and I knelt down beside it.
Yelena tore Scott’s shirt away from his neck. “You have very pretty kin,” she murmured to Amanda, who gave a small smile in response. She clutched one of Scott’s hands.
Pia knelt at his head and put a hand on my shoulder.
I was a confused whirl of emotion inside. After getting so aroused at the thought of biting Amanda, I was still hungry for Blood. I had no idea what to do to infuse, and even more importantly, no idea of what would happen to Scott—who was now one of my House.
What if I killed him?
“Take it easy,” whispered Pia. “Just bite first.”
I licked his neck. The pulse was faint and erratic, but it still called to me.
Amanda’s scent filled my nose, overlaid with Scott’s own.
Despite my fears, my fangs burst from my jaw with such sweet anticipation that I groaned.
I sank my fangs into his neck, and the pleasure burned through me as I pulled on his Blood, sending it coursing down the taryma, the network of Athanate channels in my throat.
Even with my senses blurred with pleasure, I could feel my glands releasing bio-agents, flooding back through the taryma and out of my fangs. Nothing yet to do with changing him to Athanate, just a reflex to claim him for my House.
Pia began to stroke my back, calling my attention to her.
Eukori communicates sensations and emotions. It wasn’t easy for Pia to communicate clearly how my Athanate glands were supposed to produce the right bio-agents for infusion. Not even the Athanate had words that described what I needed to do in a way that told me how to do it. But generations of Athanates had learned by being guided through eukori, and that was how we were doing it too.
Pia’s sensations and memories flooded into me. It was like walking down a long, echoing corridor. Each sensation carried a shadow impression: another person’s memory, which in turn was overlaid by another, fainter memory, and another, all eventually fading away into whispering and darkness. All of them tried to guide me, evoking a state that my body could interpret and act on.
Sensation poured in.
I tasted unfamiliar flavors in my mouth, images, a deep stirring in my chest, cool breezes in the morning, doves flying up into clear blue skies, pale green shoots rising from ashes, a clockwork spring slowly tightening, feelings I had no words for battered me.
Was it the right response? The right bio-agents? The right strength?
“That’s good,” Pia said quietly in my ear. “Relax. You won’t harm him. He’s part of your House.”
I felt more bio-agents flooding exquisitely through my fangs.
Whatever it was I was doing, it was as pleasurable as taking Blood.
“Gently, gently.” Pia kept saying. She and Amanda were syncing with me, anchoring me to my task, keeping the sensations from sweeping me away.
In a minute or two, we could feel Scott’s reaction as well, as the infusion slithered through his body, reaching everywhere, seeping into his heart, his liver, his brain.
He went into shock; his heart failed and violent shudders ripped through his body, dislodging my fangs from his neck.
Amanda frantically supported him through her connection with his body, forcing his heart to work again.
Yelena joined us, sharing the load.
It was like teetering on a high wire suspended over a crevasse. One moment we leaned too far one way, the next, the other.
I felt the Adepts get tied in through their connection with Amanda. They were blind about what needed to be done, but they brought raw strength, freely given, that Amanda could use.
“Steady. Calm.” Pia’s trembling voice were in contrast to her words, but we steadied. Slowly, we steadied.
And Scott’s reactions subsided. His heart re-started on its own, even if it was beating erratically.
At Pia’s insistence, I bit him again. His throat was bloody and without Pia’s help I wouldn’t have been able to focus. Together, we were more careful now; bio-agents trickled into his body, spaced out with long pauses.
I lost sense of time.
Gradually, his immune defenses were turned into allies, until finally, his body was tricked into treating the bio-agents as part of itself and to stop fighting. Changes rippled through him, each small, but building on the previous.
An hour, maybe two. I was aware distantly that my knees hurt, but it felt as if I were floating in a pool until eventually, Pia whispered: “Enough.”
My fangs retracted. I carefully licked his neck clean, sealing his wounds before resting my head on his chest. I could hear the weak but steady thump of his heart. His flesh was hot to the touch.
There was a feel about him. Too subtle to pinpoint, but we’d started with a dying human kin and at some stage, although he was no longer fully human, neither did he seem so close to dying.
“Did it work?” I asked.
“Far too early to tell,” Pia said. “His body went right to the edge of death. It’s now definitely undergoing the fundamental change of crusis… but…”
An ordinary Athanate, an Aspirant, fit, healthy and well-prepared by his mentors, might spend weeks or months in crusis. Scott hadn’t been ready in any sense. He hadn’t been healthy. He hadn’t been prepared. No one knew what my infusion would do, even if he had been prepared. Scott might die from the crusis, whether or not my infusion was quicker and less dangerous. Or he might turn into a hybrid Athanate-Were. Or a plain werewolf.
We couldn’t tell.
“Thank you,” Amanda said. Her eyes were red, and she still held his hand.
I was going to tell her to thank me when it worked, but I bit down on the words before they emerged. She knew.
“He’s probably going to sleep for a day after that, and you should stay with him,” Pia said to Amanda. “If you need someone to help, or take over for a while, I’ll be somewhere in the house, no more than a minute away.”
Amanda smiled faintly in thanks.
I’d withdrawn my eukori a bit, but I could still feel the warmth of Pia’s offer, and a similarly warm acceptance of Amanda from Yelena.
From Amanda, I got just a sense of bone-deep exhaustion and gratitude.
Understanding a little of what she must have gone through during the drive down here blunted my immediate desire for her Blood. I was content that her neck could wait a while.
In fact, I felt better than content.
New members for my House. A possible first infusion.
I wanted to ride this sudden feeling of elation.
Bring on anything. I can handle it.
I got Pia to move Scott to a bedroom and told Amanda I wanted her to sleep for a day.
Which meant I needed to keep her other kin out of her hair.
“So,” I hissed amiably at the new Adepts members of my House, backing them into a corner in the main lounge. “What exactly do you boys think is happening in the Denver Adept community?”
I’d noticed something all day without being able to recognize it until they mentioned the sensation. It’d been there in the restlessness at Haven. In the hairs standing on the back of my neck as Keith drove me back. That itchy feeling. Someone looking over my shoulder, as Kane had put it.
It was the same feeling I’d had down in Albuquerque, when Chatima had called Tullah and me to visit her, from miles away, using her strong Adept powers.
“Don’t know it’s Denver’s community,” Kane said.
“Doesn’t feel right for Denver,” Flint agreed.
“You can tell?”
Flint shrugged. “It’s northern style. Modern. Not what we expected here.”
They could tell the difference between modern and traditional workings? Northern and southern? I put that away to investigate later.
“So someone followed you down?”
Kane shook his head. “Not followed. We’d have felt them. This is like… they flew here. Got ahead of us.”
“On a magic carpet?” Yelena said, leaning on my shoulder and raking the guys over with her eyes.
Kane snorted. “Delta, more like.”
“Which leads to the question, how did they know where to come?” I looked at Yelena. “Tracker on the car?”
“No,” Yelena said. “Is checked.”
“Then I think we’ll go ask. You boys can do magical direction finding, can’t you?”
Yelena’s blunt assessment of my plan to confront the group of Adepts who were so interested in us seemed to gather weight as she pulled over and stopped the car at Kane’s quiet request.
It had taken an hour of driving around, and we were in Denver’s RiNo area – River North.
People said that RiNo was Denver’s next big up-and-coming area, as the rebuilding in LoDo came to an end. It was being marketed as the ‘Art District’ by the developers. I thought of it as the bit between the Coors Field ball park and the Blue Moon brewery, nestling in the armpit made by the intersection of I-25 and I-70. It used to be a lot of dust, scruff and old warehouses with the South Platt River and the railway yards running through it.
I had to admit, things had moved since I’d last been this way. Long, low commercial buildings had pushed out the scruff, and pastel-colored apartment blocks had sprung up like mushrooms.
Snow was blowing in from the north west, and streamers of it slithered down from the tops of buildings, waving like white silk ribbons in the wind.
Yelena raised an eyebrow at Kane for further clarification, but it was Flint who spoke.
“Somewhere here,” he said, waving a hand to indicate the block. “Probably easier to walk now.”
Yelena’s downturned mouth told me what she thought of wandering around in the snow without a solid direction.
My itchy sense had gotten stronger in RiNo, but I was unable to tell anything about directions.
“What exactly are you sensing?” I asked. “How strong?”
“Comes and goes,” Kane replied. “Two or three of them? Fading in and out, like they keep being distracted.”
Tullah’s mother, Mary, had once told me sensing magic energy was like being on a huge trampoline. You could feel other users around you, especially powerful users. You might feel roughly where they were. Two or three, fading in and out, didn’t sound that dangerous.
Maybe if I still had Hana, my wolf spirit guide, I’d feel more. But she had gone, along with Tara.
Yet another thing I had to follow up, in my supposed quiet Christmas break—what had happened to me back in that fight against the Taos Adepts in New Mexico. What had caused Tara, my stillborn twin sister’s spirit, and Hana, my wolf spirit guide, to leave me?
Tullah and Kaothos had to be able to tell me, surely? Or Mary, Tullah’s mother.
The buzz I’d felt back at Manassah after infusing Scott had leaked away, leaving me down.
I couldn’t let any of that distract me at the moment. I had a job to do and Yelena was looking at me for the go-ahead.
Flint and Kane seemed tense, but not overly concerned, so I nodded and we got out.
The car doors closing sounded very loud. It was quiet, even given that it was Christmas Eve. There was no one else on this road. No moving cars, no pedestrians. Strange.
We were parked in front of a new building which advertised itself as Schown Apartments – A community of UPSCALE comfortable homes – HURRY! – LAST FEW still available.
Popular or not, with its hi-tech aluminium columns and bold glass front, the Schown building looked as if it was designed for summer. It gave the impression it didn’t like the snow much.
Kane and Flint turned left and walked slowly.
Yelena and I followed for about fifteen paces before I felt something change, as if my itch suddenly became a prickling over all my skin.
I looked back.
A shroud of snow billowed around the Schown building, so all that was visible was the gleaming top of the facade. The entrance, the pavement and our car had disappeared in a fine white mist.
Darkness moved where the pavement was, floating like a mirage, then resolving into a figure walking toward us.
A woman. Pale. Hair like ice. Even at this distance I could tell she had startling blue eyes. She was dressed in black, with an open leather duster and thin gloves, entirely unsuitable for the weather.
“Oh—” Kane started.
“Crap,” Flint finished.
There was a feeling in my head like I was breathing in cold smoke. The Adept version of eukori. I clamped down, imagining shiny metal shields around my head. The soft awareness of Yelena and my two Adepts behind me chopped off abruptly.
The woman walked like Rita, the were-cougar, did—all slink and dangerous purpose. She came to a stop in front of me.
“Amber Farrell, House Farrell, I believe.” Her voice was sharp, cutting the sentences up into isolated, breathy puffs. “I am Gwendolyn Enkeliekki, Hecate of the North.”
“Alias Wendy Witch,” Kane muttered. “Leader of the Michigan and Ontario Adepts.”
Her cold lips stretched. I couldn’t call it a smile exactly, but if she was upset by the nickname, she gave no hint. Her eyes never left mine. Their blue was so deep and sharp, like cold fire. Electric neon.
“Pleased to meet you…” I said. Hecate? A title of some kind. I wasn’t even going to try her surname. “Gwendolyn? Call me Amber.”
The prickling intensified.
I was aware of Yelena beside me, balancing on the balls of her feet. Flint and Kane pressing forward as if to protect me. The wind buffeting all of us, wrapping us in a whirl of snow, isolating us in a white vortex until it seemed as if the whole world was nothing but the five of us.
The Hecate had turned up the collar of her duster, her only concession to the cold. It flapped against her cheek, like a captive bird’s wing.
Her lips curved up. That was a smile.
Hairs stood up on the back of my neck.
“Shit—” That was Kane.
My thoughts exactly. She was doing something. I reached out, but tripped.
We all tripped, and fell into the icy heart of a blizzard.