Well, here we are, 26 days out from the release of Blood-Mage Rising, and other than the snippets I’ve used for Six Sentence Sunday, I haven’t shared much with you from it. So, in the spirit of hoping to whet your appetite for what’s to come next month, I present the prologue and part of the first chapter to Rising.
For the record, I highly recommend you read Blood Rage first, though it is not required to understand. If you have, know that parts of Rising will overlap with Rage. In case that interests you, here are the buy links!
Evernight Publishing Amazon UK Amazon BookStrand All Romance E-Books B&N
Without further ado, here we go.
In the eighty years since the Great Awakening, humans and non-humans have lived side by side, relatively at peace. In an attack that leaves his wife dead, Jordan MacNaught is caught up in the start of a war meant to turn the other races against the vampires. He knows beyond a doubt the vampires of yesteryear are not involved in the attacks. They’re all dead, except for him.
Jordan asks for Chris Javert’s help in hunting those who murdered his wife. She’s no stranger to hunting vampires. After all, she nearly destroyed Jordan when she ended the reign of his Aristocrats in Europe two hundred years ago.
Despite doubts about Jordan’s innocence, Chris joins forces with him, the man who once tried to kill her, to save the inter-species pace from the new Aristocrats before war consumes them all.
Ares dumped the third body on the sidewalk. Music from the nightclub a block away pulsed through the balmy night. Even though he was so close to a large number of people, the vicinity immediately around him was deserted. He’d broken the streetlamp above two days earlier, and, as expected, the city hadn’t gotten around to fixing it yet, giving him the cover of darkness.
The woman – he never caught her name – stared up at him, shock still clear in her dark brown, cow-like eyes. She’d been a fighter, that one. Bruises covered her wrists and ankles, the wounds so rare to find on a vampire. The quad responsible for her capture and death had been brutal with her.
Ares didn’t approve of rape, not even in the war he wanted, but he gave his people a free hand, as long as they accomplished the goals he set before them. The quad here in Tampa seemed to glory in the torture side of things.
Aware he wouldn’t have long before someone came upon the scene, he crouched and studied all three bodies. Though most of the injuries varied from corpse to corpse, they shared two specific ones. The death blow on each came in the form of near decapitation, heads held to the bodies by only small slivers of flesh.
Ares smiled, looking at the second wound in common each of the three bodies carried: a quadruple claw gouge from right hip to left shoulder. He touched the ragged flesh ever so gently on the third victim. It sent a message. It invoked the memory of the original group of Aristocrats and their reign of terror in London. He’d usurped the name for hisfollowers. By invoking that legacy, the other races were much more likely to believe what he needed them to.
On high alert from the risk of dumping the bodies himself rather than allowing the quad to do it, his senses warned him a half-second before he heard soft footfall. Glancing up, he saw a figure step out of the alley behind the nightclub and turn in his direction. He stood, brushed himself off, and smiled.
Let the games begin.
From VampiresForever.bnha.org – WhenConsideringConversion:
If you’re mage-born, you shouldn’t even be looking at this list. The Circle outlawed blood-mages two thousand years ago, and they won’t bend the rules for you.
If you choose to disregard the above, know an execution order for you and whatever stupid sap converts you will be issued as soon as the Council and/or the Circle gets wind of it.
Chris gauged the early morning sky as she pulled off the highway at the exit for Fort Myers and Lehigh. She still had a couple of hours before it grew too bright for her to be outside. Her phone rang in the cup holder located between the driver and passenger seat of her Ford F-350.
She didn’t recognize the South Florida number. Utilizing her Bluetooth, she answered. “Hello?”
The rich, melodic voice with faint traces of an Arabic accent identified the caller immediately. Chris grinned. “Xanthea, my God. You’re local?”
“Only for a few hours. Are you available to speak with me?”
“A few hours? Um, yeah. Where are you?” Obviously Xan wasn’t in Egypt. What on earth brought her all this distance? She never travels.
“I just landed at the airport. Can you come here? My flight for Californialeaves in three hours.”
California? That’s odd. Though she knew Xan wouldn’t see the movement, Chris nodded. “Yeah. I just got back from Vegas a few hours ago.”
And what a difference a few hours made. Her world had been blown apart by the revelation of a string of murders. She still didn’t know how she felt about the entire situation, much less what she’d been asked to do about it.
Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully as she flipped the signal on and scooted across two lanes of traffic to get into the lane that squirted her over toward the airport. A horn blared in protest as she cut one of the million plus local blue-hairs off.
Xanthea tended to know everything. What were the odds that the ancient one “happened to drop by” just as the shit hit the fan? Very low, Chris decided.
“I will await you by the check-in counter for Delta.”
“See you in about twenty minutes.” Glancing around for any sign of the cops, she stepped on the accelerator. It wouldn’t do to keep Xan waiting. People turned up injured or dead when the ancient woman grew impatient.
Nineteen minutes later, Chris dashed across the road into the sheltering comfort of the concourse. The August sun at eight in the morning might not be deadly to her, but she still couldn’t dilly-dally. No vampire could, no matter what the hour or how young. Relieved when she stepped through the sliding glass doors, she peered around.
After only a second, she recognized the tall woman. Given Xan predated the Archaic period in Greek history, Chris wouldn’t be surprised if she learned one day that the Greeks had based the legends of the Amazons, in part, on her old friend. Xan stood a half-foot taller than her own five-foot ten frame, frozen forever somewhere in her mid-twenties, if one had to guess. Possibly younger, but no one who cared to live asked anything that personal of the ancient one.
Dressed in a black cotton abayawith a silk hijab of the same color loosely draped over her head, Xan’s alabaster skin looked luminescent. When her onyx eyes met Chris’s, a rare smile lit the woman’s face, and Xanthea glided across the busy terminal.
Chris felt underdressed beside the ancient one, wearing her standard in-public uniform of t-shirt, jeans and cowboy boots. In the paranoid days more than ten years after the attack on the World Trade Center, Xan garnered suspicious looks. She reeked of the Blood andwore Muslim attire. Chris picked up more than one stray thought through her telepathic gifts, and they weren’t charitable.
Xan stooped enough to press a soft kiss to her cheek and then inclined her head toward a bench that overlooked the runways. Knowing better than to initiate contact with the sometimes frightening vampire, Chris trailed in her wake and plopped down on the bench.
The other woman settled far more gracefully next to her and folded pale hands in her lap. Sunlight streamed over them both, beautiful but not deadly, thanks to modern science which had developed a coating for surfaces that blocked out the wave length that killed the vampires. All new public buildings used it, and as airports expanded or remodeled, they added it to their structures as well.
Silence stretched between them. For something to do, Chris propped her boots up on the low-lying window sill. Not far away, an American Airline jet taxied away from the loading ramp.
Finally, after three minutes passed with no indication of a break in the silence, Chris gave up trying to be patient. She wasn’t very good at it anyway. “So, what dragged you out of Cairo?”
“Email doesn’t have the same appeal as a face-to-face conversation, and we haven’t talked in quite some time.”
“Uh huh. Am I in trouble for something?” Very unlikely, but it seemed a good way to keep Xan talking. Chris needed to get home. This trip had taken away from her set-aside time to see her horses, and her task involving the bodies wasn’t going away.
“Not at all.” A feather light touch on her shoulder brought Chris’s face around, and she met Xan’s fathomless eyes. Very quietly, no doubt to avoid curious eavesdroppers, Xanthea said, “Are you aware that a new group calling themselves the Aristocrats is wandering about?”
Chris nodded. She didn’t mind that Xan didn’t revert to telepathy, despite the topic. Contact with the ancient mind creeped her out big time. The other woman didn’t feel remotely human, or even vampire.
Just hearing the name “Aristocrats” sent slivers of icy unease down her spine. Once before, there’d been a group by that name. They had terrorized the non-humans in London, and Englandin general, for more than fifty years.
“Anthony just told me a few hours ago. They found a couple of bodies in Tampaoutside a nightclub.”
The body count hovered near three hundred humans and non-humans across the globe, at least as far as she’d been told. One never knew how much Anthony might be keeping to himself. Only members of the Circle and a few members of the Council knew about the problem. Who knew where Xan came up with the information, given its hush-hush nature.
“What do you think of the resurgence?”
“It’s gotta stop before word gets out.” Given the ritualistic markings on the bodies, once word spread, the non-humans could turn on the vampires. Things were bad enough for the vamps without new suspicions cropping up. Not a week passed without at least one editorial or gossip rag posting inflammatory garbage. She’d been turning up more articles in her searches lately too. “I don’t think the old Aristocrats are involved.”
Xan sniffed and looked away. “I agree with that assessment. The scheme is far too widespread for the Bloody Baron.” Chris sank her teeth into her lower lip, containing the tremor that name sent through her body. She knew better than most just what the baron was capable of. “He is cold enough, but he’s never been interested in power over any but our own kind. He thinks the rest of the world is beneath his notice. Whoever is involved wants more than just control over the Blood.”
Chris sighed to herself, her momentary unease passing as Xan left behind the topic of the baron. Her friend’s presence so far from home, given the difficulties ancient vampires had in traveling long distances because of their daylight restrictions, spoke volumes about her mission.
“If anyone asks, I am not involved, Chris. If I wished to be involved with current events, I would be a member of the Circle.”
No doubt she’d lead the Circle, the shadowy body that served as the Blood’s ultimate authority, if she so desired. Thankfully for all of them, she didn’t. “Naturally. I don’t s’pose you’d care to cut to the chase, would you?”
A smile tilted the edges of Xan’s mouth up. “You’re such a sweet child. Direct and blunt, even in the face of someone who could eliminate you with a thought. That will serve you well in the days ahead.”
Chris shrugged. Her motto, show no fear, served her well with friends along with enemies. “Whatever. You wanna kill me, do it.”
“I’d miss you if you died.” In the course of their idle chitchat, their voices had risen to normal levels. With her next statement, Xanthea returned to the barely-audible whisper. “No one need know I spoke with you.”
The piercing gaze Xan leveled on her burned to her very soul, and Chris fidgeted on the uncomfortable metal bench. She nodded, just so the look would desist. It might not be magic, but damn, the woman could shrivel a body with that lethal expression.
“Good. If, or rather when, you find these Aristocrats, tread very carefully. You don’t know what you’re dealing with. No one does. Not yet.”
“Eh?” That was unusually obscure, even from Xan.
“More than that, I don’t care to say. It is premature. Simply walk carefully. Take every precaution. This may be a threat I failed to see coming.” She stood, brushed a speck of lint that had had the effrontery to fall on her abaya. Her voice, soft as it was, trembled. “I thought it couldn’t happen any more.”
Something was troubling her, Chris realized, for even that much emotion to show from the normally tranquil vampire. Concerned, she hopped to her feet and reached out, not quite touching her.
“There may come a time when I must become involved, but until more of their plan is revealed, I dare not. I don’t know what these people want, and that frightens me. I don’t know why these Aristocrats are on the move, what their end game is. Most of all, I don’t know why they’re revealing themselves now. I thought they were all gone.”
Chris couldn’t mistake the plaintive despondency that came through with the end of the little speech. Still, the “all gone” held her riveted, and excitement made her jump up. Maybe they were about to catch a lucky break. “You know who they are?”
Xanthea’s face cleared, assumed its usually pleasant expression, and she shook her head. “If I did, I would tell you.” She took Chris’s hands in her own, her skin cooler than a human’s but not abnormally cold. “If you believe me on nothing else, believe this: you must root these people out. All of them. Do whatever you must; work with whomever you have to. Don’t let them escape. I trust you, your judgment, on whom can help you best.”
Surprised by the calm, yet vehement words, Chris stared at her. Even Anthony, head of both the Circle and Council, hadn’t seemed this upset, and he’d been containing the disaster for several months. “But you won’t get involved?”
“I can’t. They may watch for that. Until we know who the actual puppet master is, I will not know whether my involvement will improve our chances or destroy them. I must know.” Xanthea’s grip loosened, and absently she tucked the hijab closer about her ebony hair. The cloth blended perfectly with the dark strands. “Tell me something. Do you still have the amethyst I asked you to hold onto some years back?
“That hideous thing? Yeah, of course.” Xan had given it to her about a century ago with instructions to keep it locked away. No explanation, but that wasn’t unusual. Since Chris owed the ancient one a great deal, including her sanity, she hadn’t even considered saying no at the time. “What would I do with it? I doubt anyone would buy it.”
The gem was badly flawed, with more than one crack. The inclusions rendered it almost worthless, even if cut down by a master jeweler. Still, it had meant something to Xan, so Chris had locked it away. It was currently in her safe at home.
Xanthea nodded, her expression distant. “You’d be surprised. Keep it safe, especially now.” Blinking out of whatever thoughts had distracted her, she smiled softly. “One last thing. Guard your dreams, my sweet Christine. I sense a second dream-walker somewhere in the world.”
That statement sent an invisible fist into Chris’s solar plexus. If she needed to breathe, she would have gasped. Blood drained from her face, and her eyes widened. “There are no other dream-walkers. They died out.”
“So it seemed. But I know what I sense. It’s possible a young mage-born is just coming into their power, and the timing is coincidence.” Xanthea frowned as she rested one hand on the glass. “But given the strength I sense, the sense of purpose that shakes the very essence of the world, I do not believe that to be the case.”
Chris cursed under her breath. The day just kept getting better. Every single race, human and non-human alike, feared the dream-walkers. Centuries ago, so legend had it, the dream-walkers could kill through the dream passage. Only others like them could hope to keep secrets when a dream-walker invaded a person’s dream. “What is the chance the person you sense is a blood-mage?”
It shouldn’t be possible, given the laws about mage-born conversions. Of course, that assumed one got caught breaking said law. Almost all who risked it paid the ultimate price.
The fingers in contact with the glass curled into a fist. “I wish I knew, Chris. If this dream-walker isn’t one of the Blood, then they are in possession of one of the strongest mage-born talents I have ever sensed.”
“Lovely.” Chris muttered the word and blew her bangs out of her eyes. Given Xan’s history, they were probably at the end of the conversation. “Anything else you’re willing to share?”
“No. I may know much of the hidden things in the world, but not all. If I learn of something which may be of use, without actively becoming involved, I will inform you.” The ancient glanced toward the security checkpoint, signaling the end of the conversation.
“Well, thanks.” Thanks for almost nothing, Chris thought. Sticking her hands in her back pockets, she kicked the toe of her left boot against the floor.
“Oh, before I forget?” A light touch brushed against her waist. Head cocked to the side, Chris glanced at Xanthea. “I don’t usually offer advice, but I will this time. Take assistance wherever you can get it. The situation is such that you cannot afford to be choosy about whom you work with. As the proverb states, ‘The enemy of your enemy is your friend’.”
Before Chris could even begin to think of a response to the statement, Xan turned and strode away, robes swirling softly around her ankles. The crowded line waiting at security melted away to allow the woman passage. She watched the TSA agent on duty blanch and give Xan only the most cursory study before waving her through the scanner that led to the gates.
Xan might not technically be a seer, but she was never wrong in her predictions.
Rubbing her newly throbbing temples, Chris slumped. “Why me? Why are they all coming to me?”
Since the universe didn’t see fit to answer, she slunk toward the exit to retrieve her truck. So much for her faint hope that she could go exercise her horses. If the murders dragged Xan out of Egypt, Chris couldn’t afford playtime before starting on her assignment. And maybe do a quick search on the internet to see if she could ferret out just why Xan was interested in that hideous amethyst. The woman never even wore jewelry.