One more week until Release Day!
Until the night he encounters a wounded mourning cloak—a demon that can walk through walls, dissolve into mist, and spear a man’s heart with a fingernail.
She calls him by name. She knows his past. She needs his help.
And she is his key to redemption.
Mourning Cloak is a science fantasy novella of about 22,000 words.
(Read the first excerpt here)
I snap awake in the dark. Pressure on my chest, pressure against my ears, pressure on my eyelids, squeezing them shut. I can’t see, I can’t hear, I can’t breathe.
My limbs won’t obey me.
Pop! Ears clear, chest heaves, eyelids fly open. The room takes a deep breath. I swear the walls expand outward in relief.
Then it hits me.
Magic. Someone’s worked magic.
Right next to my shop. My rooms. My bed.
I erupt from the sheets. Jab feet into slippers, grab the loaded bolt gun from the side table. A bedpost trips me up; I stumble and swear in the darkness. I find the doorknob—or it finds me when I run into the door. I wrestle with it and burst from the room, shambling and hairy-chested, muttering threats in a sleep-deep voice.
Sera used to say I was part bear. For a moment, she flits at the edge of my memory, her voice teasing at my ears, her hair in shades of bronze and gold sliding into view. I push her away.
But because I thought of her, I step into the small room that serves as my office and take the sword. I hold it by the sheath and manage to buckle it at my waist without touching its hilt.
That sword cost me more than money or blood. Every time I use it, it drains me even more.
But I need it. Just in case I have to kill the cloak.
I step over my powder line—oh so carefully, so it can ward my empty bed and financial papers and beverage bottles —and thrust open the outer door.
I was always a fool.
But no one –no one–worked magic that close to my shop and got away with it.
The banish light is off, the alley clothed in shadows. The residue of magic—cinnamon and burning—lingers. I taste it on the tip of my tongue. Too herbal for kana rats, not flowery enough for wither women. Not the ozone taste of eerie men, nor the sickly-sweet rot of the smaller demons.
But there is a taint of something dark in there—the hint of rain on the wind, the foreboding of a storm. Earth smells, like that of eilendi magic, but with an electric zing.
At least three kinds of magic happened here. I can be sure that only one of those was from my wards.
If Toro or one of his do-gooders has been here, if this is one of their maggoty notions of helping me… My fists clench, I half-raise the bolt gun as if an eilendi were about to jump out at me, spouting prayers and pious exhortations to return to the fold.
I had needed eilendi help before. I had vowed never to ask for it again.
Static raises my hair.
I growl out a pass code, then jab the button on the wall to force more current into the banish light. It stirs, flickers, settles into a sullen glow that oozes into the street.
There. Darkness within darkness. A shape, huddled against the wall.
I put my hand on a sword-hilt molded for my grip. A hum of recognition and pleasure threads from it and into me, but I ignore it. It’s not time for those games.
I walk over to the shape, turn it over with my foot.
The mourning cloak’s face is pale amidst midnight hair and black wing-cloak. Her hands are reddened, crooked into claws, one of her wings ripped to shreds. Pale amber blood seeps from the slash at her throat.
Good. She’s dead then.
Let the scavengers deal with her body. I shift my feet, ready to go back to my interrupted sleep.
Her eyes open. The black has receded, showing hints of white.
In fact, her eyes are not black at all, but a deep brown. A warm, human brown.
She keeps her burnt hands cradled against her abdomen. She cannot move, not like this, but her eyes say, Help me.
My hand tightens on the hilt, and the sword sings into eager, bloodthirsty life. Use me, wield me… together… red tides of blood… Warmth blazes down its length, draws a line against my thigh.
I should not have kept it.
But like I said, I am a fool. I’ll keep the sword, if only to show that it is no longer master of me.
“Call your own kind to take care of you, mourning cloak,” I say. My voice is rough with sleep and anger. Can she understand me, this demon in humanoid form? I could kill her now, but it would be a crueler end to leave her to the predators of the night.
Let the cloak suffer, as Sera had suffered.
Her lips move, shape themselves into impossible words. I stiffen, then stoop closer to her face. Her breath smells sickly-sweet, a mix of honey and blood.
“Kato Vorsok,” she says. “Kato Vorsok.” She repeats it like a litany, as if my almost-forgotten name, my deep dark secret, were no more than a nursery rhyme. “Kato Vorsok.”
Kill her,whispers the sword—or the part of me the sword brings to the fore. Be rid of the evidence. I glance around, as though passersby lurked in the alley to hear that Kettan the drink-mixer was once Kato Vorsok, Taurin’s Chosen.
No more. It is past. It is behind me. I am no longer a hero.
The mourning cloak suddenly arches her back, hisses in pain. Her eyes are almost normal, almost intelligent, almost aware. “Kato Vorsok,” she insists. The blurry buzz in her voice is gone, and she’s looking right at me.
She’s nearly human. She knows my name.
I growl, low and tortured in my throat, drop my hand from the hilt, cutting off the sword’s bloody croon from my head. I bend, swing the mourning cloak into my arms. She is light, as if made from cloth and skin, and her thin gold blood is sticky on my hands.
“Kato Vorsok?” A question. Hope in her eyes.
One cannot run from the past. It always finds you. Catches you up. Trips you in places you least expect it to.
“Yes,” I say, and carry her into my house.