Hi, folks! January through March, I’ll be posting an excerpt each month from my upcoming release RISING DARKNESS (Berkley, April 2).
RISING DARKNESS is the first of two Game of Shadows novels. The second one is entitled FALLING LIGHT, and it has a scheduled release date of February 2014. These stories are very different from my Elder Races series. They have a strong urban fantasy feeling to them. (In fact RT Book Reviews will be posting their review in the Urban Fantasy section of their magazine.) They are based on an alternative Earth, and they have four points of view, including the antagonist. Also unlike the Elder Races series RISING DARKNESS does have a cliff hanger–the storyline will be concluded in the second novel FALLING LIGHT.
For January’s excerpt, I want to introduce you to the hero Michael.
Be sure to check below the excerpt for details of the cover flat contest!
* * *
Michael had been in a rage for as long as he could remember, long before he understood the reasons for it.
As a small boy, over thirty years ago, he had been prone to screaming fits and spells of inconsolable sobbing that had lasted hours. Once it had lasted days. In his memory of that time, his parents were vague, ineffectual shadows, pantomiming concern and alarm. That one time had involved doctors, along with a hypodermic needle.
He hadn’t liked shots. Five adults had been needed to hold him pinned down. After that he had gone through a period of medication and therapy. The medicine taught him a valuable lesson. It made him feel odd and fuzzy. He realized he would have to curb his behavior if he wanted to be free of it, so he learned how to be cunning.
He colored a lot of pictures and studied the therapist as much as she studied him. As soon as he figured her out, he told her everything she wanted to hear. Eventually the sessions stopped, and so did the medication.
Still, he remained a stormy, headstrong, brilliant child. Despite all of their early literacy efforts, his parents could not interest him in reading until he saw an evening news segment on the First Persian Gulf War. Rapt, he watched unblinking until the news program was over, and then he demanded that his father read every article in the newspaper on the subject. Within a few years, his reading comprehension approached the college level.
School was pastel. It didn’t make much of an impression on him. The other children were pastel too. He didn’t have friends. He had followers. By observation and raw gut instinct he knew what the teachers thought of him, that they were both intrigued by him and also worried about his future.
He didn’t care. They were pastel. Nothing external was ever quite as real as what shouted inside of him.
He was well on his way to developing into an adult sociopath. His dreams of release from pastel rules were as yet unformed but increasingly dangerous. He had already been in several fights with other children, and he had discovered that he liked violence.
And he was good at it.
One day when he was eight, an old woman appeared at the fence of his schoolyard playground.
Michael was as aware of her presence as he was aware of everything else around him, but he ignored her while he organized his group of followers for a strenuous bout of playground mischief.
Then the most extraordinary thing happened.
Boy, the old woman said.
That was all. But she said it INSIDE HIS HEAD.
He turned to stare at her.
The old bat looked exceedingly pastel. She looked like just a nondescript woman with a cheerful apple-dumpling face who had paused to watch children run and play during a school break.
His eyes narrowing, he walked toward her, school, stranger-danger, followers and mischief, all else forgotten. Several of the other kids called his name, and some kind of missile thumped him on the shoulder. He ignored everything else and stopped about fifteen yards away from the six-foot chain-link fence. All the while, the old woman watched him with bright, black raisin eyes.
“How did you do that?” he asked.
Shrieking children ran between them, playing a game of tag, but she still heard him in spite of the noise. Her face crinkled into a friendly smile. It’s a secret, she said. I know a lot of secrets.
His breath left him. He stared at her in wonder. She might be old and wrinkled, but she was definitely not pastel. He took another quick, impetuous step toward her. “Teach me!”
Her smile wrinkles deepened although she never stopped watching him. Those bright eyes of hers were alight with amusement and something sharper. I might, she said, her mental voice casual. Or I might not. It all depends.
Never before in his short, pampered life had he been stared at as if he had been weighed and found wanting, but that was how the old woman stared at him now. He scowled, not liking the sensation. “It depends on what?”
On whether or not you know any manners, young man, she told him. And whether or not you’re still salvageable.
He had never seen eyes as old as hers. He was too young and ignorant to understand how deadly they were. All he knew was that this strange conversation was more real than anything else that he could remember.
He ran to the fence, clutched metal links in both hands and looked up at her. “I’m sorry,” he said. The unaccustomed words stuck in his throat, but he forced them out anyway. “I’m sorry I was rude. Please, would you teach me how you did that?”
Her face softened and she touched his clenched fists with gnarled fingers as she spoke aloud for the first time. “Well said. And I might teach you, but it still depends on one more thing.”
He shook his head in confusion. It was so odd. From a distance she had seemed so small, barely taller than he was. Now that he was right up next to her she seemed to tower over him.
“Anything,” he promised. He had been so young.
She bent forward and locked gazes with him. He realized that he had been wrong about her eyes too. They weren’t like friendly little raisins. They were hot and full of burning power like black suns.
“You must keep it a secret,” she whispered. “Or I will have to kill you.”
Terror thrilled him. Never, in reality or his wildest imagination, had an adult spoken to him like that. And she might even mean it.
(Whereas the man he had grown into knew very well that she had.)
He pushed against the fence. “I promise. I won’t tell anyone.”
“Ever,” said the old woman.
He nodded. “Ever.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Cross your heart and hope to die.”
Those words. She meant them. Wow, this was so cool. He held her gaze and grinned. He crossed his heart and hoped to die.
The old woman smiled her approval. “Atta boy.”
She told him to be quiet and wait, and he did, though it was one of the hardest things he’d ever done.
He was rewarded for his patience two weeks later. Walking home from school, he saw a U-Haul van parked in front of a small house located a couple of doors down from where he lived.
Curious, he wandered over to watch half a dozen men unloading furniture, appliances and boxes. There were no toys, no bikes, nothing weird or spooky, just ordinary furniture. Pastel. He had started to turn away when he heard a thin, elderly female voice from within the house call out to the men.
A sharp, delicious shiver, like the flat of a cold blade, ran over his skin.
He hadn’t heard that voice for very long, but he would recognize it anywhere.
He knocked on her door. She gave him a cookie. To the hired movers they looked like a pleasant, ordinary old woman making friends with a well-mannered, curious neighborhood boy.
A week later the old woman met his parents. Soon after that he was taking piano lessons from her on Tuesdays and Thursdays. His family didn’t own a piano, so he also went over to her house on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays so he could practice on hers.
His parents were amazed and delighted at the strength of his artistic dedication. It seemed to be just the key they needed to settle him down. When his mentor invited him for summer vacations, they agreed with a poorly concealed relief.
In the meantime, Michael grew from a troubled little boy with messy, uncontrollable emotions into something quiet, controlled, and infinitely more deadly.
He learned who he was.
More importantly, he learned why he was the way he was.
“You lost the other half of yourself,” his mentor told him. “It happened a very long time ago. So long ago, in fact, that I am surprised there is any sanity left in you at all. You must remember who you are. You must remember everything you can, and rediscover your skills and your purpose. I can help you do that.”
As he learned meditation and discipline, he grew to understand what his mentor meant. He felt that raging part of him like a beast that was too lightly restrained. He harnessed that energy as he grew older, turning all of his focus onto it, and scarlet threads of memory began to unfurl into the past.
Past before his birth in this lifetime.
Past into distant history, so very long ago.
And he began to remember what he had lost. Who he had lost.
The other half of himself.
An unshakable determination settled into him. If she still existed in any way, he would find her again.
He would find her.
* * *
COVER FLAT CONTEST
Comment below for a chance to win one of two signed cover flats–DRAGON BOUND or RISING DARKNESS! (Unfortunately WordPress isn’t letting me upload a photo of them at the moment, so I will post the photo separately on Twitter and Facebook.) I’ll pick the two winners on Friday January 11th at 3 PM Mountain Daylight Time (5 pm EST). This contest is international!