In Three-Quarter Time

Our first day of spring.

By this date next year, Sorcha Alden’s story will out there.

That’s a scary thought—relaxing my control-freak grip enough to set this story free.

I know the time has come, to let go, to look forward, to share the magic of the Equinox Gala…

When the doors swung open, hundreds of candles adorned the walls like burning gemstones. Raimond grasped Sorcha’s hand and raised it to eye level. Stretching out at full arm’s length he presented her in the center of the dazzling ballroom. They turned in a circle, acknowledging the guests around the dance floor and many more ringing the upstairs gallery.

“May I have the honor of your first dance, Lady Sorcha?”

“Yes Duke, but the honor is all mine.”  

“And the music?”

“The waltz, please.”

“The waltz it is.” Raimond turned toward the orchestra director. “S’il vous plait…”

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Where The Power Hides

In the muggy air of a cavern under the Old U.S. Mint, Sorcha’s long curls puffed with freedom as if held up by a devilish breeze.

“Let’s get started.” Ivori rubbed her palms together. Her eyes flashed orange as she mumbled peculiar lyrics in a foreign tongue. Smokeless fire erupted in a circle of rocks.

“What, exactly, are we summoning here?” Lock asked.

“Not what. Who,” Ivori answered, “All of us are searching for someone. Picture that person in your mind.”

Draven groaned and let blond wisps cover his face. “My Gwyenvere.”

Sorcha slipped back to a night in Nepal, the eve of a tragedy.

Lock flashed his brilliant violet eyes, but remained silent.

“I know it’s painful.” Ivori played an invisible piano with one hand while pouring the contents of a sachet in a perfect circle with the other. “No need to speak names aloud.”

“Is that—” Draven choked and held his nose. “Bone?”

“Teeth, actually.” Ivori emptied a vial of black syrup in the center of the circle. “From a shark who is still very much alive.”

“What a comfort.” Lock followed Ivori’s pointing finger to a metal box. “May I help?”

“Just with the latch.” She watched him spin the mechanism until the lid sprung open. A twisted, rusty arrow lay next to a perfectly polished dagger and a sapphire candle.

Sorcha rolled her eyes.

“Oh, it gets weirder even before I cut you…and myself.” Ivori deflected angry stares. “First, everyone needs to clear their minds and envision the moment when you were strongest.”

“My apologies—no.” Draven bolted up. “This sounds preposterous.”

“I want to hear her plan.” Sorcha yanked him back down. “We’ve had no luck doing this on our own.”

Ivori dipped the blue candle’s wick in the fire and set it on the altar. “If you can evoke your soul at its most powerful—the instant when you embodied the best of all your dreams—that force can summon anyone across all realms of the universe. I think.”

“You think?” Sorcha threw her hands in the air.

“So,” Lock said, “I just picture that occasion in my head?”

“Project the vision in front of you, like a personal widescreen. Once you’ve got it, raise your hand.” Ivori looked from face to face and waved the candle over the puddle of syrup, directing the liquid outward into the circle of bone. The mixture ignited flames that crawled until the ring was complete. Ivori looked up to see three raised hands.

“All ready.” Draven faked a smile.

“Perfect.” Ivori grabbed the dagger and raced around the fire pit. “This next part goes pretty quick. Don’t do anything until I tell you to, but keep concentrating.”

Draven and Lock each hissed when she sliced their palms. Sorcha didn’t flinch when Ivori cut both her hands at once.

“Now.” Ivori ran back behind the fire. “Men, squeeze a few drops into this circle.”

The moment Draven and Lock’s blood mingled, they were knocked back onto the benches.

 Ivori sliced her own flesh over the flames and snapped her eyes to Sorcha. “Your turn.”

When Sorcha’s blood touched the ring, the ground began to quake.

“Men, be ready to join hands with her when this metal pierces wood.” Ivori raised the twisted arrow over her head and drove it toward the altar. “Now!”

The three slammed their hands together and the jolt started with the men. The blood of two ancient dynasties filled the air with black and gold sparks.

Sorcha looked to the weapon in Ivori’s hand and then into the girl’s inky black eyes. A low growl escaped her lips. Force leapt from her chest, rippled the air and plunged into the earth under their feet.

Each vampire’s perfect vision swirled overhead until their solid bodies flickered and finally distorted.

Draven’s shift solidified first. His modern suit became a classic, midnight tuxedo. His fingers gripped an open box. A ruby ring glittered in the velvet center.

Lock’s appearance dissolved next. Instead of the black t-shirt and jeans he arrived in, he now wore his full military uniform. Royal insignia lined his shoulders and medals covered his chest.

Sorcha dropped her gaze and changed last. Her eyes blazed with blue fire and her long hair became a chin-length, bob. Her porcelain skin melted away, replaced by the snarling face of a tiger.

Ivori flung her arms out and threw back her head to a cacophony of drunken notes. “By the power of a lone trumpeter’s call, the roar of a warrior’s charge, and the murmurs of saints and phantoms that bow to our sovereign—I summon all the lost souls home!”

 

 

 Read Part 1..

Snapshots Of A Stray Parade

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 The painting in the photo is by artist, Dorothy Collier. You can find her work at http://www.dorothycollier.com

This was my favorite find on a recent New Orleans adventure…now beautifully framed and hanging on my wall.

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Snapshots Of A Stray Parade

 

The streets allowed a ghostly grey limousine to invade their labyrinth. The car swung wide around tight corners, slowing every time a pack of vibrant revelers crossed its path. Shiny tires crunched to a stop in a parking lot on the neighborhood’s edge.

“Are you sure this is the place?” Sorcha rapped on the smoked glass until it disappeared. “I said I missed the French Quarter, but actually being here makes me…”

“For years, not a soul on earth could pry you out of this district.” The blond man squinted at a handwritten note. “Ivori and Charmaine are waiting in the lobby.” 

“Feels lonely.” Sorcha gazed down the tapered alley at snapshots of a stray parade. “Or empty? Might just be me.”

“It’s positively hollow.” He tossed the crinkled paper to the only other person in the car. “I’ve deciphered that scribble correctly, Lock?”

“Indeed you have, sir.” Lock kicked the car door open and grabbed for Sorcha’s hand. “Leave that dreadful device here.”

“It’s brand new.” Sorcha pulled her phone away from Lock, just to have it plucked away again. “Seriously, Draven?”

Draven flung Sorcha’s phone to the farthest corner of the car. “Doesn’t the incessant, social connection exhaust you?”

“Nothing feels like the old days, except the weather.” Sorcha peeled off her sweater and glared into the dark limousine before tossing the garment. “But, what if?”

“Anyone you’re looking for…” Lock pulled her away. “Has no need for that.”

The trio crossed the gravel lot, rounded a saltwater pool and stopped in the middle of a checkerboard floor. They found two girls drumming their fingers on a mahogany desk. Disguised in the realm of the concierge, a hidden door admitted them to tunnels below the building.

“It’s a sauna down here.” Sorcha swept the hair off her neck and twisted it into a loose knot.

“When you mentioned an Equinox reunion, Ivori, I assumed you meant something spectacular.” Draven touched the muddy wall and cringed. “Or at least, uplifting.”

“Nights of grand balls and original dresses are history.” Ivori walked into the pitch black. “Y’all took your sweet time getting here.”

“We were in opposite corners of the earth.” Lock’s frown was unveiled when Charmaine struck a match and lit her torch.  “I was hoping for an enchanted courtyard.”

“Me.” Sorcha raised her hand. “The cathedral bell tower.”

“This will be better.” Ivori stopped so short, everyone crashed into her back. “None of your supernatural eyes saw the big door?”

Charmaine pulled chalk from her pocket and began to write. She waited for each letter to disappear before she scripted the next. When the jumble was finished, a steel barrier slid open. Ivori strutted past and snapped her fingers.

“Aren’t you coming with?” Sorcha tugged on Charmaine’s sleeve.

“I’m playing gatekeeper tonight.” Charmaine handed her the torch. “I need to be here when the spell is complete.”

“Just lovely.” Draven growled when Ivori disappeared into the maze of shadows.

“Let’s humor her.” Lock tucked dark hair behind his ear and urged them forward.

“Bar noise, coffee-shop racket.” Draven pointed to the corridor’s grimy ceiling. “Is that traffic?”

“We’re under Decatur Street,” Ivori said, “Clueless fool.”

“Your creepy friend has grown nastier over the years.”

“Draven, calling her my friend is a bit—” Sorcha howled and dropped to her knees.

“That would be the railroad tracks.” Ivori scampered back and yanked Sorcha to her feet. “Suck it up.”

Sorcha took a deep breath and slammed across the barrier. She turned back to see Lock and Draven stroll past the same spot, unaffected. “What the hell?”

“That steel is the boundary of your city, girl. Not theirs.” Ivori dragged her forward. “Now that we’re on the fringe, maybe we can send some messages.”

“Infernal drumming.” Sorcha clamped her hands over her ears.

“That, even I can hear.” Draven clenched his jaw. “Can we get to the bloody point before we all go deaf?”

“It’s the river,” Ivori said, “Just swallow to equalize the pressure—like in your private jet.”

 The tunnel flared into chamber with solid walls and a tile floor. Crude benches surrounded a round fire pit.

“This is unexpected.” Draven ran his fingers over glittering gems set at regular intervals in cut stone.

“Sit down, it’s nearly midnight. The currents are whispering.” Ivori loomed over the fire pit and emptied her deep pockets. She arranged an array of sachets, vials and boxes onto a low altar. “Sorcha, center bench.”

Draven whispered in Sorcha’s ear. “Creepy enough?”

Sorcha choked back a giggle and Lock smacked her shoulder.

Ivori glared at them until the room was dead still. She tipped her head side to side in the heavy air and motioned to Sorcha’s hair. “Take it down, glamour girl. That’s where all your power hides.”

 

To be continued…

Where The Power Hides

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The Grand Plan

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The afternoon alarm rattles the roots of my teeth. I flail for my phone to end the noise, but throwing it across the room isn’t an option. Without that little GPS, the escape plan doesn’t have a prayer of success. My hand brushes across a cut above my eye…the dawn of an ugly scar. Somehow, I managed to fight off last nights’ attacker, but it was the last straw.

The final sign—time to move on.

Years ago, I arrived in the Crescent City for a long weekend. Seduced by a thinly veiled promise of magic, I never left. The quest for a spell to make me like the ancient guardians, immune, immortal, forever beautiful…remains unfulfilled.

Tonight’s the night. It’s been lurking on the horizon. Despite every cell in my body screaming in protest, I’m breaking off this love affair with a city that’s been nothing but pain and heartbreak. The heat and the storms are scary enough. Now, even the monsters need to watch their backs on the street.

The clock ticking in my stuffy apartment echoes the hammering pulse in my ears. One peek through the crooked shutters reveals heat rising from the cobbled streets like roiling fog. I twist damp strands of hair and pin them high off my neck.

Get out now, leave everything behind.

My eyes scan the apartment and land on a mahogany armoire with dangling doors. A flash of color from the top shelf sends me rummaging for jewelry. Natural clumsiness knocks everything else down on my head. Carrying stuff could drag me down, but leaving these masks is a crime. Each one is a piece of local art bought for a specific holiday. Jammed in the back, the blue mask calls my name. I climb over the pile of costumes to grab sapphire beads and tassels. 

Just this one…to remember it all, and hold on to the fringe of my shattered dreams.

 

To be continued…

 

From the cutting room floor…

The original prologue for Monsters and Angels…long since rewritten and blended into the story…

Holy men, healers and horn players—unlikely allies in society, yet brothers in the unique glory of Crescent City royalty. Villains, artists and creatures of the night flipped their collars up and bowed their heads to Mother Nature, driven into hiding by rare frost in the Deep South.

All, except one.

Raimond ignored the glare of the bar lights and the bite of the wind. His commanding stride propelled him to a decaying house just past the point where the sidewalk turned dangerously dark.

Dangling gutters and crippled railings blended one home into the next for blocks at a time. He found the decline of the area tragic, yet the beauty remained visible in lace ironwork and stained glass… if one looked past the ruined surface, into the elegant disrepair.

Black doctor’s bag in hand, Raimond rapped an ancient knocker against the warped oak door. Tonight’s mission would be specific, an act of compassion in sharp contrast to the excess and debauchery that made the city famous. This visit served as the first step in his recommitment to an oath taken decades ago; complacency and apathy had derailed him for long enough.

If he was completely honest with himself, his actions were selfish. After all, the endurance of his own kind was directly linked to humanity’s survival. He took a wistful look at the crisp, full moon before he entered the sagging house, once the most glamorous jewel in the neighborhood.

 

Casting Call

 

 

 

Sometimes, I forget how it happened…the rush of being swept away by characters that didn’t exist until the moment they stepped out of the smoke and took the stage.

Three years ago this month, in a January darkened by the aftermath of a different storm, the first story was born.

It was intense, exhausting, addictive, and I’ve discovered…incredibly elusive. The newest cast members have a mind of their own.

While I wait, my mind wanders…to stained glass windows and dangling shutters that framed strange faces…along alleys lined with crooked doorways, when haunting footsteps echoed next to mine. Back to the shadowy labyrinth where I met the monsters…

A doomed commander, blessed with the heart of a savior,

A blood slave, hiding her exotic appetite,

A perfect prince, arrogant and viciously flawed,

A trained healer, born to be a killer,

A legendary warrior, incapable of simple trust,

A second son, unwilling to be held hostage,

A brilliant politician, searching for courage to love,

A city behind walls, glittering and moody, ravaged and reborn,

And a fledgling nurse with the soul of an angel, carrying a spirit fierce enough to make them all family.

La nuit sans fin…