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What bring thee to they faerie tale?
...on writing, excerpts, & events...


Sunday, April 20, 2008
New Release - THE HOLLOWING

http://www.cerridwenpress.com/covers/TheHollowing.jpg" align="left">

AUTHOR: N. D. Hansen-Hill
GENRE: Fantasy/Time Travel
PUBLISHER: Cerridwen Press
ISBN: 978-1-60202-061-0
RATING:PG

BLURB: Shawn Walsh's problems don't arise from his own troubled past but from someone else's. Fires, floods, battles, bone-rattling quakes — he's frequently an unwilling and horrified participant in events long gone. For when The Hollowing claims him, his present dissolves.

Unfortunately, his problems have everything to do with family and his rather questionable heritage — with a birthright he'd rather know nothing about. Lost and tossed about by destiny, trapped and extorted by those long deceased, he's tired of playing a victim.

And he refuses to give up hope. There is still a chance he'll be able to resolve his issues without dying, given the right place… And enough time.

http://www.cerridwenpress.com/productpage.asp?ISBN=9781419916465"> lang="EN-AU" style="COLOR: black;FONT-FAMILY: 'Times New Roman';">BOOK LINK:>>http://www.cerridwenpress.com/productpage.asp?ISBN=9781419916465<<

AUTHOR WEBSITES: N'>http://www.ndhansen-hill.com/">N. D. Hansen-Hill| Melody'>http://www.melodyknight.com/">Melody Knight

EXCERPT:

Open the door.

But he couldn’t. His arm was rigid, his fingers clenched.

And he couldn’t make himself touch the knob.

Safe. Stay where you’re safe…

There was something waiting for him on the stairs. His impression of darkness—of The Hollowing—hadn’t been exaggerated. He stood there, shaking, and listened. Beyond the wooden partition the thick silence was giving way.

Breaking down the barriers.

Little whispers, small thuds, soft rustling cascades of movement.

Rats. Only rats.

Thuds and thunks. Rattles and clatters. And then a sound Shawn couldn’t attribute to anything else—the squeak and echo of a heavy tread on wood.

Someone was ascending the stairs.

Shawn was holding his breath so he could listen. He didn’t even realize it until his heart started throbbing in his ears. He stood there stiffly and listened to it coming.

The door’s unlocked. An invitation if ever there was one.

The knob was ice-cold beneath his fingers. The chill spread up his arm but he didn’t let it sway him. He squinted his eyes and yanked open the door.

The noise swept through him, carrying with it a rancid stink and a flurry of movement. He couldn’t see anything but darkness and there was noise all around him.

It was a fire. The crackling flames leapt up, roaring, popping, hissing. Screaming sizzles, mini explosions, whines of venting gas.

And then it was merely screams. Shouts that escalated to howls and shrieks. Terror. That’s what this was—terror. Old emotions, dredged up and waiting. The stink of must mingled with the rancid odor of burning hair. Shawn dropped to his knees, sick and sweating.

He fell down the stairs, hitting the landing with a gigantic crash. He couldn’t hear it though—couldn’t hear anything over the cacophony in his ears. In a half roll, half dive he splatted to the bottom floor and crawled, then pushed himself to his feet and staggered for the outer door.

It was closed. Locked. He yanked on the knob, fumbled with the lock but it wouldn’t give. He couldn’t get the hinges loose on the door. The pins were as tight as the lock. No way out.

He ran to the window and slammed the glass with a chair. Glass gave, bars didn’t. He rattled and shook and pounded.

Phone.

He yanked out his cell phone. It was dead.

Like me.

Around him the air seethed. It was transmitting itself to the furnishings. Chairs scraped, dust spiraled, papers flew.

Shawn barely noticed over the smoke pouring into his eyes.

There was only one way out. The upstairs room with its cool moonlight and empty spaces. Shawn flattened his hands over his ears, squinted his eyes and headed for the steps. His flesh was burning as he crawled, clambered and wriggled up the stairs.

At the top he slammed back the door and dove…

Onto a pyre of flame.

Posted by N. D. Hansen-Hill 2008-04-20 00:34:42


Sunday, April 6, 2008
New Release: OF DRAGONS

AUTHOR: Melody Knight

GENRE: Mainstream Romance Sci-Fi/Fantasy

PUBLISHER: Red Rose Publishing

ISBN: 978-1-60435-077-7

RATING: Sexual content, Violence

BLURB: Ryon Colley can't understand what's happening to his life. This morning, he was a policeman investigating a potential hazard: a sparking, flashing, rainbow-spitting light show in the sky overhead. The source of the odd light appeared to be an unruly-haired blonde hellion, who couldn't figure out what normal was. Her radiant display scared him, but his physical reaction to it scares him more. By lunchtime he's gone from having coarse brown hair, to sporting a head full of blond locks—and from facing felons, to fending off thousands of voracious dragonflies.
Glynt has been sent to Earth to guard the dimensional gateways, but her arrival spawns nothing but trouble. Quite accidentally, she's summoned swarms of dragonflies, and lured in captors determined to return her—clearly a mischief maker—to her own world. Only Ryon—her gilded hero and the object of her newfound dreams—can rescue her from certain death.

BUY LINK

AUTHOR WEBSITES: N. D. Hansen-Hill| Melody Knight

EXCERPT: She was nearly dressed when she heard them. The vibration rattled the shiny Christmas ornaments on her dressing table, making the glass ping harshly against the table top.

No!

Her fingers clasped the adamantine dragonfly encircling her neck, as terror quickened her heartbeat. Chills raced down her limbs in spiky little arrays. That sound—that horrifying, buzzing thunder—was one she recognized, deep inside. The fear of them—and their appetites—had been bred into her through a hundred generations.

Glynt ran. Panicked, she fled the bedroom with its flimsy-looking glass and raced for the balcony doors. They were thick fire doors—surely, they could resist the impact?

Ten thousand dragonfly wings…

The daylight went. The thickness of the horde—the sheer mass—was blotting out the sun. Desperate, near-petrified, she yanked the curtains closed.

The ramming slam of ten thousand exoskeletonned bodies splintered the glass, but it didn’t stop the beating—that horrific, mechanical swish of their wings. They were driving themselves at the doors, at the glass, frenzied. Day sounds were lost in the ceaseless roar of overlying wing beats.

In the bedroom, the glass imploded. Shatters of refracted light caught her eye, as they showered the door jamb.

As they blasted through, onto the carpet.

I didn’t close the door.

Her eyes widened in horror, and she raced for the exit. She was nearly to the front door when it began vibrating. They were in the hall, in hunting mode, and desperate to get to her.

Hide.

Where?! Frantic, she ran back to the curtained windows, in hopes of fooling Them. She was out of her element, and hidey holes were nowhere to be found. She cowered down, wrapped herself in curtain fabric, and scrunched into her smallest form. Already, she knew it wouldn’t help—couldn’t help. They were lured. Starving. Driven. Those multifaceted eyes would find her.

Ever hungry, they’d hunt her…on the wing.

Posted by N. D. Hansen-Hill 2008-04-06 01:25:11


Thursday, September 6, 2007
So much has happened! #23 away!

GrayBeginnings has just been signed by Cerridwen Press! That'smy third book with them, and I'm really thrilled. GB's about a dowser witha "gift" that goes way beyond the norm. It's horror/action/suspense, and chases TheHollowing for a 2008 release.

Other books being released in 2008: In Flames, a paranormal romance being published by Linden Bay Romance, will be out January 1st. In February, my paranormal (and quite scary) suspense ErRatic will be released by Five Star, to be followed in March-April by The Hollowing. That's a pretty full lineup so far. I've never had a book launch, but I may schedule a few for next year!

Other things: I'm working on the third book in The Elf Chronicles. This one's YA, and I'm aiming for Random House. I'm also working at the other end of the spectrum on an erotic novella. I've never written one before, and I find it easier to write 50,000 words of fantasy than 25,000 of erotica. Working hard this month, though.Both projects need to be completed soon.

With that note, I'll get back to work!

Cheers and best wishes,

ND | Melody

Read it today at Fictionwise!

Posted by N. D. Hansen-Hill 2007-09-06 16:31:54


Saturday, June 16, 2007
22 Published/Contracted + News

I promised myself that I'd finish writing everything half-finished on my desktop, and get everything submitted to publishers in 2007 - New Year's resolution, and all that. Well, I've done it. Part of it, anyway. I've finished books 26, 27, and 28, and have added to 29 and 30. Goals: to have 29 and 30 finished by the end of July!

Books 25 - 28 are romances (romantic suspense, SF/fantasy romance). I wrote them under the pseudonym "Melody Knight". In Trysts and In Flames, the first two, are contracted. In Trysts was released as an ebook in December of last year, and is only just on Amazon this month in paperback (yay!). In Flames (the sequel) is in the editing stage and scheduled for an August/September release. GlassWorks and Of Dragons are under consideration by a publisher.

BloodWorks and Relic are being considered by one of the BIG publishing houses, but I hope they decide soon because there's a queue (believe it or not!) of publishers waiting for the full manuscripts after reading partial + synopsis. BoneSong and Gray Beginnings, my only other two unpublished books, are in the "publishing ether" - still on a first submission, but no word back.

ErRatic was contracted by Five Star at the end of last year, and is scheduled for a February 2008 release. The Hollowing (excerpt) is being published by Cerridwen Press as part of their mainstream SF line. Yes, Folks, CP DOES have SF without romance in it. Gilded Folly is already with them, and it's about as romantic as a snotzil or a mictlampa. Gilded Folly is available in e-, but the paperback is being released soon, I've been told, to watch Amazon!

Two books left to finish - one a paranormal romance, and the other one of my action SF archaeology thrillers. I set this one at least in part in New Zealand, and since I'm studying archaeology, I'm really getting into it.

That's catch-up for the moment. I'll blog more often now. I actually didn't realise I hadn't. This "Favorites" link was in the wrong folder - my fault, but oops!

I'll leave you with a short excerpt - from Gilded Folly, in honour of its soon-to-come paperback release!

Cheers, ND

Nobility can only be appreciated when there’s someone to watch…

A lot like heroics, Wick mused morosely. Your own glorious actions could sustain you in goosebumps for upwards of two minutes, but after that, they fell sadly flat.

So far, nothing about his mission had turned out noble except his ideals. He’d undergone the Expulsion in front of Fitz, and screamed his brains out in front of the others. When he’d been attempting to defend his friends from Rom, they’d accused him of wrongdoing, and now that he was attempting to convince them he was capable of that very thing it had backfired. He’d toppled onto the hot sand and acted like a flaresczo, yowling and screeching. Of course, after that little performance no one would have considered him either dire or dastardly.

Dacey wouldn’t even have wasted a bullet on me if she’d had a choice.

His expression, already pained, grew mulish. He didn’t want their help now, which must be why they refused to leave him alone. Dacey was obviously determined to chase him across half the desert, if that’s what it took to appease her guilt.

There’s no glory in gory. He was filthy, his leg was coated in crusty blood that kept sluggishly drooling over his foot, and the effort of sustaining his mini windstorm was using up the last of his resources.

I’ll have nothing left to fight him.

That’s okay, he thought morosely. I don’t really want to fight Rom anyway. I just don’t want him fighting anyone else…

He could picture the end of this misadventure now, and it was so clear in his mind’s eye that it appeared almost real. He was lying there in the infernally hot sand, a wizened-up alien husk with caved-in cheeks and skin scored by wind-driven sand. His drying, vermin-nibbled carcass would rapidly become leathery jerky, jiggly under every Hades-like gust, until the sand buried and metamorphosed him to rock in geological time.

Wick’s pride was rubbed raw and the skin which wasn’t scored was puckered and fried by the hot sun. The indignity of the situation stung him, and he could imagine the ridicule it would stir in the others. Even now, he could envision Dacey standing over him, laughing at the curled-up remains of his withered form. “He’s so ugly he’s cute!” He remembered her saying that about a puppy once – an ugly, slobbering beast with way too much skin. That’s how he’d look once the desert had finished drying him out—excess skin pork-rind-fried onto moistureless muscle.

Wick sighed. I can see it all now…

Then he could feel it, and he realised someone was sheltering him – shading his face from the sun. There was a cold feel as his forearm was swabbed, then a small sting as Fitz inserted a needle. “It’ll be okay, Wick,” he was saying calmly.

Dacey was holding his head in her lap, and he could smell the woman sweat on her person. It mingled with the scent of the handkerchief she’d moistened and was using to sponge his face. Not at all unpleasant…

He floated there briefly, between wakefulness and dreams, and cursed himself for a fool.

No matter who or what he was, these people had been—were—his friends. He mustn’t forget that, or lose himself in dreams or tortured imaginings, present or past. To alienate himself, on the basis of his origins—or theirs—was little more than gross prejudice; something they didn’t deserve. His smile attempted to convey his change of heart, from wicked to wise. “Thank you,” he said, nobly.

Dacey’s fingers twitched, and Fitz became very busy adjusting the IV.

“Water?” Dacey asked, reaching for the drink bottle.

At a nod from Fitz, she tilted Wick’s head and gave him some water. After a few moments’ nonstop slurping, Wick spoke again. This time, he thought carefully before he formed the words. “You’ve pursued me for my own good,” he began, his eyes glinting. “Followed me on a dangerous mission into unknown country...” He was warming to his theme.

“Wick, if this is your way of convincing us to keep going, it’s not working.” Fitz sounded completely out of patience. He didn’t know whether Dacey’s warning “Shhh!” was directed more at him or Wick.

“I can think of a dozen reasons to give up,” Wick went on, “and only one good one not to: Rom.”

“Wick, in case you haven’t noticed, you have a bullet hole in your leg.” Fitz was getting louder by the second.

“I can live with holes in my leg, but Rom can’t live with holes in his heart.”

From Cerridwen Press

Posted by N. D. Hansen-Hill 2007-06-16 15:27:58


Sunday, July 16, 2006
Finished #25, WIP madness, + GILDED FOLLY (chapter 2)!

It's been a while since I blogged. I've been so busy working on finishing book #25, and final exams, that I've really blown the blogging.

First off: finished #25! It's a romantic suspense, called "Of Trysts & Treasure". It's with a publisher now, but time will only tell whether a contract is forthcoming or not. I may have to do major revisions (that's what happens when a SF/fantasy/horror author ventures into a new genre).

Soooo, I finished Trysts, and am now working on books 26, 27, 28, 29, 30. One's an archaeology thriller, with paranormal overtones, about a 3500-year-old Egyptian artefact which ends up in NZ. It has no business being here - the fact that it is here completely changes the face of Australasion archaeology. Doesn't sound like much, does it, except my three archaeologists are a dowser (with a gift for finding artefacts), a clairvoyant (whose hands-on approach to the field yields visuals of past settings and incidents), and a medium (who can talk to the owner of the artefact).
The next one's just barely there, but it's about a woman who can walk through an art gallery and alter works of art to craft work, with just a touch. They say the soul of the artist resides in his/her work, in the truly greats. This woman can set that soul free. She leaves nice technique, but something missing in her wake.
Then we have a fantasy about a female from another world who can manipulate light. We have light shows and insect attacks (so far!). A few heroics, too, with people clambering up fire escapes and across balconies.
There's the sequel to Trysts, but this time, the focus is on the last book's best friend - her accomplice in crime, as it were. Someone's trying to terrorise her by mimicking her dead lover's habits, and setting her possessions alight.
Then, there's the one about glass rhabdomancy - a dowser who can read events in glass, simply by reassembly - rather like the 3D world hidden in Magic Eye images.

I'm attempting to write a thousand words on each of these a day. Phew!

Talk to you soon! As always, I'll leave you with an excerpt...

Regards,
ND
N. D. Hansen-Hill
EXCERPTS
http://ndhansen-hill.com
EBOOKS http://www.fictionwise.com/ebooks/NDHansen-Hillebooks.htm
PAPERBACKS www.lulu.com/NDHansen-Hill
GILDED FOLLY http://www.cerridwenpress.com/productpage.asp?ISBN=1-4199-0409-4
(entry in) THE COMPLETE WRITER'S JOURNAL http://www.redenginepress.com/

GILDED FOLLY
Chapter Two

Not goo. It was his first rational thought. That was dirt, and scalped grass beneath him. His fingers twitched, grasping the soil.

Real...

He sucked in air desperately—choked, coughed, and vomited. His throat was so swollen he was nearly asphyxiated once more, and his hands latched onto his neck as he wheezed for air.

He lay there limply then, taking shallow breaths of bat-tainted air.

"Rom!"

With a shaking hand, Rom pried open an eyelid once more, and saw Wick’s anxious face above him, etched in moonshadow. "Hi, Wick," he tried to say, but his mouth and throat were too swollen. It came out as a sharp croak.

He croaked again when a bat tumbled onto his chest.

Wick didn’t waste any more time. He took Rom’s arms and hauled him upwards, then bent to catch him over one shoulder. "Can you breathe?" he asked worriedly. He felt, rather than saw, Rom’s nod. Relieved, he gave a small smile. "Bats’re a nice touch," Wick muttered, a hint of amusement in his voice.

Rom flinched, the spasm making him cough once more. He knows.

He can’t know. How could he? How could Wick know something Rom wasn’t sure of himself? It was his last conscious thought.

*

Wick stumbled back the way he’d come. Rom’s breathing did one of those harsh, shuddery wheezes, and he picked up speed. Rom was in a bad way.

Jeremy was around here somewhere, if he hadn’t been spooked by the bats. Wick guessed he was still hanging in close by, searching for Rom—even if it meant wading butt-deep through bats.

Wick broke into a slippery, uneven jog. He dodged dense pockets of mosquitoes and swoops by low-flying mammals, all the while searching for Jeremy’s silhouette. He was so busy watching around him, that he missed what was under his feet.

Jeremy was just getting up when Wick rammed into him.

They did a spectacular topple. Rom went flying over Jeremy’s head. Wick flipped and landed on top of him. Jeremy was back where he’d started—on the ground—only, this time, he was facedown in the mud.

*

An impatient hand yanked Jeremy’s hair, tugging his nostrils clear, and he roused himself. Someone grasped under his arm now, hoisting him up. Jeremy was barely to his knees when his helper froze. The other man was so tense his fingers gripped like iron, digging into Jeremy’s armpit.

Jeremy’s caked eyelids shot open, and he tore at the iron grip.

Wick’s.

"Let go!" he yelped.

No response. At this rate, Wick’s damned fingers would puncture the flesh. Jeremy had always thought of himself as strong, but he had nothing on Wick. He swore, all the while pounding on that helpful hand.

But Wick didn’t seem to notice. He shuddered with the impact, but stayed there, frozen in place. He was staring—oblivious to bats and battering alike—at something in the distance. He was so tense he was shaking, and when Jeremy finally tore himself free, Wick remained oblivious.

It was then, when his own eyes had cleared enough to focus, that Jeremy noticed Wick’s expression. It was one he’d never seen before, and at first he couldn’t place it. Aversion? Revulsion?

No, Jeremy realised, and he tensed, much as Wick had. That peculiar grimace reflected an uncommon emotion...something the modern world rarely saw.

Horror...

Jeremy followed Wick’s line of sight but he never had the chance to see what was scaring him. Wick exploded into action with a suddenness which sent Jeremy toppling once more. When he looked up this time, Wick was kneeling, shaking Rom so hard the man’s teeth were rattling.

"What’re you doing?!" Jeremy yelled.

"Clearing his airway!" Wick puffed, vigorously shaking Rom again. There was more than a hint of panic in Wick’s shadowed expression. "They’re here!" he shouted harshly, in Rom’s face. "Rastic plikva!" Shake. "You have to stop!"

In the dim light, Rom’s swollen face looked like a pulpy raspberry, and his breathing was coming in shallow rasps.

Jeremy dove at Wick. "You’re killing him!" he bellowed.

Rom flopped to one side, doubled-up now in those choking gasps. It sent Wick’s panic up another notch, and his temper wasn’t far behind. "Rastic quoring!" he swore, landing a punch on Jeremy’s jaw. "I’m—saving—his—goddamn—life!"

Jeremy returned the favour with a kick, which sent Wick flying. Then he sat up, and rubbed his aching jaw. "By shaking his fool head off?!"

Wick was fuming but silent as he hoisted Rom back onto his shoulder. When he finally spoke, his words were stilted, his expression wary. "Go home," he warned. "This place is no longer safe."

Jeremy had the impression he was referring to more than the bats and mosquitoes.

Crazy. Insane. But no more insane than what followed. Wick’s eyes swept their surroundings once more. Whatever he was looking for, it wasn’t bats. Apparently, though, the worrisome thing was gone, because he relaxed a little, drooping slightly under Rom’s weight. There was even a glint of amusement in his eyes as he extended his hand to Jeremy. "Farewell, my Friend," he said, his tone almost formal.

Jeremy looked at him incredulously. "You’ve lost it," he said flatly.

Wick nodded, again with that odd formality which was so foreign. Then he turned to go, hesitating only briefly as though there was something else he wanted to say.

The moment passed. Wick shrugged, and started to walk away.

Jeremy was still so angry he didn’t know how to respond. "That’s it?" he managed.

Wick staggered slightly, then admitted, with a side glance at Rom, "For him." There was no amusement in his voice now, only regret. "And almost certainly for me."

The moonlight etched planes in his face Jeremy had never noticed before. For a moment, he had the impression he was looking at a stranger. Before Jeremy could figure out what to say, Wick had gone, vanishing—with Rom—into the bat-fraught night.

*

Jeremy stood there, momentarily stunned. Gooseflesh crawled up his spine once more, and he let it come—there was no one here to see it. He was feeling the same reluctance to call out now as he’d felt when the luminescent runner had passed him on the street.

It’s Wick.

He couldn’t be afraid of Wick. This was no stranger. They’d known each other since college—ten years now.

He felt like a fool for letting himself get spooked. Given the circumstances, it was no wonder if Wick was acting strange.

The bat rain had stopped, and the bats which were still able to fly were leaving nearly as swiftly as they’d come.

Some of Jeremy’s tension faded. They’d all been a little weirded out by the bat migration. Wick’s madness had been born of panic, and the spookiness edging the bat deluge had dredged up Jeremy’s concerns.

At least they ate the mosquitoes...

Jeremy was suddenly certain he had only to go back to Rom’s house to find him—and get him the medical help he needed.

He sniggered a little at his own foolishness, and Wick’s bizarre reaction. It didn’t stop him from pausing, though, to stare intently into the darkness, his eyes following the direction Wick’s had taken.

Where he almost immediately spotted the glowing bat. It was haloed, in a weird glittery underlighting, and as it crawled across the ground it left a trail of sparkling glimmers.

Jeremy’s eyes widened in horror. The bulging, ratlike eyes were glinting. Every twitch of the ears, every shuffling movement of those creeping wings was highlighted.

It was heading his way.

Jeremy took an involuntary step backwards, slipped, tripped and over-compensated, then ended up sprawled on his back. Beneath him, wings squirmed, claws ripped, and small teeth gnawed at his clothing.

Worst of all, though, was the Glowing Avenger. It was coming towards him; an immutable force over which he had no control. It didn’t matter that his size dwarfed the bat’s, or that he could easily have meted out the same kind of crushing blow the bats were getting under his rear. This bat was different. That wicked light, highlighting all those features humans associate with evil, and it was coming for him...

Delivering a letter. He sat there stupidly, and stared at the bat’s leavings. The thing was trailing glitter, but when it rose on its spindly limbs, its personal underlighting faded, as it left a crumpled—and radiant—envelope behind. With shaking hands, Jeremy bypassed the bat, and swiftly snatched up the paper.

Instinct told him to drop it. The moment his fingers brushed the glitzy surface, his breath caught in his throat.

Leave it...

Instead, he scooted back away from the bat, and straightened the crumpled sheet against his knee.

Some new gimmick, he thought, mentally making light of it. Paper you can read in the dark.

Except there was nothing to read. It was blank, save for the watermark. Jeremy flicked on his lighter, to see it better, only to find the watermark had disappeared. When he flicked off the light, it reappeared, embedded in the paper—a glistening and eerie purple, backlighted by the glitzy luminescence.

When he reached Rom’s house, the lights were still out. Jeremy paused outside the door. A little nervously, he flicked on his lighter again. The flame danced in the window glass, and he dropped it, startled by the reflected glare.

Still jumpy, Dipshit...

No Rom, and Jeremy’s phone returned no answer at Wick’s house either. He hesitated, then sat outside on the porch, uncertain what to do. He tried Wick’s cellphone again, but no luck.

Wick’s smart. Panicked or not, he’d have hauled Rom off to a hospital.

Jeremy couldn’t settle. He rang the police about the bats, and phoned a few hospitals trying to locate Rom. After the third call, he decided he was acting like a fool, and rang Wick again instead. "Call me," he commanded the answering machine.

He sat on Rom’s porch a few minutes longer, on the off-chance that Rom or Wick would turn up. He hadn’t slept yet, and he was dog tired. Settling back in Rom’s favourite lounge chair, he unconsciously fingered the letter.

Unbelievable. He rubbed a finger across it, enjoying the rough texture. Glints of gold flickered through his jacket flap, and he froze, distracted. What is it about gold?

It’s not your letter...

No, it belongs to a creeping bat. I’m just holding it for him...

Jeremy gave in to temptation and pulled the envelope out of his pocket. He stared at the contents, then dropped the paper, stunned. The metallic flecks shone as brightly as ever.

But that glowing watermark—that iridescent purple face—had moved.

*

Wick sat in the dark, knees up, face buried in his folded arms.

In hiding...

Cursing himself for a coward, he pushed himself to his feet, and wandered over to the window, to stare warily into the darkness beyond. The moon had waned, hours since. There was too much blackness without, and too much uncertainty within.

In the background, Rom’s breathing was a harsh rattle.

"Plikva!" Wick murmured.

All those years of watching, and hiding in the open. Better than this...this sequestered darkness.

He’d never met Her, but in the impassioned stupidity of overzealous duty, he’d made the mistake of meeting Rom. Worse still, in his eagerness to camouflage his business, he’d made it a point to insinuate himself into Rom’s. What had begun as a casual acquaintance had been mutated somehow by shared experience and laughter. Suspicion had given way to a grudging trust, which had built over the years into something stronger. Brotherhood, with its requisite commitment. The kind of bond Wick wasn’t supposed to feel for his enemies.

Wick didn’t even know when his mission had changed—when his task had evolved from saving her from Rom to saving Rom from himself. When one hunter had resolved to free the other from his trap...

I’m a fool.

Only now Rom was sicker than Wick had ever seen him. He’d touched the paper, and it was killing him: the chemical signal to his neurological pathways. That glittering sheet was gone, but the toxin had already infiltrated his skin. He was drowning in histamine, and writhing in withdrawal. Wick didn’t think he had a chance of surviving both.

I need to find it. The paper wasn’t on him, but Wick didn’t want to leave it for anyone else.

So foolish, Wickenham, to look for the trigger to a loaded gun.

I’ll stop him. Keep him from chasing his nightmares until he’s strong enough to fight back. Determined, Wick went over to Rom’s flailing form and lifted him up off the boxes.

Jeremy will help...

Or die trying. Stupid, to bring him into this. More stupid, perhaps, than fighting Fate. Wick could acknowledge his errors, even as he moved to compound them. The problem was, his loyalties had changed, years before. The victim of this particular drama—the one he’d been sworn to protect—was neither hapless nor helpless—or, at least, no more so than Rom. Those mosquitoes hadn’t been a natural phenomenon.

And self-preservation had stirred Rom into a supernatural response, while his unwillingness had caused him to forfeit control.

Now, they’d be hunting him. Rom’s reaction had been both unexpected and overblown.

Bats, Wick thought, amusement momentarily brightening his expression. He rolled his eyes and sighed loudly. Talk about black humour. Rom had exhibited the very thing he’d been sent here to eliminate.

In that moment, Wick couldn’t wait to tell him. It was the kind of joke Rom would have appreciated.

And, if Wick guessed right, Rom’s awakening might be confused, but for the first time in years, his sleeping self would be alert.

Romulus would be a whole person. No more schizoid episodes. No more hiding in his dreams.

His own worst enemy.

*

Jeremy held the paper a while longer—reluctant to tuck it away. The feel of it beneath his fingers was oddly satisfying, and it bothered him that he couldn’t figure out why. It bothered him even more that he was focussing so much on a stupid sheet of paper when Rom was still in trouble.

You can’t be certain of that, his conscience assured him, as he stroked the paper soothingly. He watched the flashes of light—like mini fireworks—no, sparklers—dancing in the darkness. Why the hell would anyone crumple it?

He ran a finger over the creases and shook his head admiringly. Even the dents looked good. Dammit if he wouldn’t incorporate some of these refinements into his artwork. He knew he was more of an opportunist than an artist, but a man can change.

That weird watermark had startled him at first, but it was obviously some new optical effect, illusory in its novelty. He stared at the woman’s face, enjoying the way her eyes met his. The next stage in optics...

He was still stretched out on Rom’s chaise lounge, and he lay there, relaxed and supremely content. The envelope was crunched securely in his pocket, but the letter was on his chest, one hand holding it protectively; a stupid, and somewhat vacant, smile on his face. He had to rouse himself to look at the figure which stepped noiselessly onto the porch.

It was almost enough to startle him out of his reverie. He stared at her, then lifted the paper and stared at her again.

No doubt about it. The reality was devoid of opalescent greens and purples, of course, but it was, nevertheless, her.

All kinds of thoughts flitted through his head—wonder at how she’d wandered from illusion into reality; curiosity over why she’d had her face embedded in the paper; confusion about why she was here in the middle of the night on Rom’s porch. His brain didn’t seem to be able to wrap itself around any of the words, though. The only thing he managed—alone with that exquisite in the middle of the night—was a lamely mumbled, "Bat had it."

She smiled at him then, or at least, he thought she did. His brain was so foggy it was hard for him to get past her presence.

When her gloved hand touched the paper, though, he frowned and grumbled. When she tried to withdraw it from his grasp he wrapped his arms around it protectively.

She was insistent, and in the end, he had no choice. His lassitude wasn’t up to her persistence. She plucked it away like a prize flower, shedding sparkling petals across his chest.

"Steal away like a thief," he murmured angrily.

Her eyes flashed then, and he guessed she wanted to retort in kind. Something held her back, though, and he suspected it was reluctance, to leave anything with him: her thoughts, her touch, the sound of her voice. He was to be left with no sense of her self; with nothing but foggy memory.

He saw her go, yet it seemed but an instant before she was there again. Eyes closed, he grinned, and blindly groped for her form.

Her form booted the chaise lounge and toppled it onto its side.

"Paws off, Fool." Wick. There was a moment of pained silence, then, "If you couldn’t guess from my looks, all you had to do was ask." Wick’s voice was thick with amused disgust. "No wonder you have so much trouble with your art." Grimacing, Wick hoisted Rom a little higher, pushed off from the wall, and staggered in through the front door.

Jeremy wandered in after him, slammed the door awkwardly, then stood there, wobbling, pondering Rom’s raspy breathing. "Needs a doctor," he offered sagely. He tried flicking on the light, remembered the electricity was out, and leaned against the wall, crossing arms that for some reason, no longer folded properly. "Lights," he mumbled stupidly. "Hallooo!" he shouted to Wick. "You still here?"

Wick was momentarily silent. Then there was a squeak of the sofa springs and he was in Jeremy’s face. He sniffed loudly. "You been drinking?" he asked, confused. Not like Jeremy to drink away his worries.

"Drinking in the night," Jeremy told him poetically, with an elegant sweep of his arm which clipped Wick across the nose. Jeremy sat down on a chair, forgot there wasn’t one, and thudded loudly on the floor.

No booze on his breath, and Jeremy hadn’t done drugs since college. "You on anything?" Wick asked him suspiciously.

"The floor," Jeremy replied promptly.

Wick frowned. He squatted down and gripped Jeremy’s shirt. Concussion. "How’s your head?" he asked worriedly.

Jeremy sniggered. "Dark in here," he said practically.

"Yeah," Wick muttered. "Call it a precaution. They’ll have it back on by tomorrow."

Jeremy took a long moment to absorb that, while Wick’s deft fingers checked his scalp for bumps or bruises. Becoming impatient, he shrugged Wick off and complained, "Damn dark."

Apparently, he hadn’t absorbed it after all.

Absorbed. Wick’s eyes widened. "Did you find anything after we left?" he asked Jeremy urgently.

Jeremy’s eyes took on a crafty glint. "Bats," he hissed slyly, then spoiled it by laughing.

"Anything else?" Wick gripped his shirt again. "Jeremy, listen. It’s important! Did you find something...maybe some paper?" Wick’s sharp eyes had no trouble perceiving Jeremy’s crestfallen expression.

"She took it," he told Wick angrily. He gazed up, at a spot two feet over Wick’s head and grouched, "Ripped it right out of my hands."

"She?" Wick prompted.

Jeremy rolled his eyes at Wick’s abysmal stupidity. "Yes," he confirmed loudly. "Duh-h."

Wick’s lips twitched. "Do you know who she was? Have you seen her before?"

"Sure."

Rom’s breathing had become a shuddery whine.

"Where, Jer?!" Wick asked urgently. "Where’d she go?"

"My dreams," Jeremy replied wistfully.

Wick released him abruptly and stood up, running a hand nervously through his hair. Then, he stooped down and turned over Jeremy’s hands, to look at his palms.

If he’d had any doubts, they were gone in that instant. Jeremy’s palms were glowing, much as Rom’s were: a pallid, luminescent gold.

*

Moments later, Wick grunted as he hoisted Jeremy into a chair. Jer was snoring loudly, his mouth gaping open and drool running down his chin. When Wick lifted him, he nearly snorted himself awake, chuckled, mumbled something about "ought to see me with my chisel", chuckled again, then went back to drooling.

Wick studied him worriedly. He’ll be all right...

It wouldn’t have the same effect on Jeremy as it’d had on Rom.

No worse than a hangover. Different physiologies, different molecuflora. Tomorrow Jeremy would be sluggish, and carry only dim memories of tonight’s events.

It was a comfortable conclusion, and one Wick could walk away with—if he could convince himself it was the truth. Involving Jeremy was only going to take the man down. That much was evident in what had already happened. Jer didn’t need that.

No friend would do that to another...

And Wick hadn’t used him for years. So long, in fact, that he’d gotten out of the habit.

Jeremy had been an asset ten years past, when Wick’d had a cover to establish. Rom, that innocently lethal newcomer, had gravitated into Jeremy’s orbit. Rom’s blend of naiveté and dark wisdom had been mixed, even then, with a healthy sense of the ridiculous, which had lured people to him. He could laugh at himself, and laugh at them, and no one ever took offence. There was no harm in it...in him.

If they only knew...

If Rom could but have seen it, his situation was the most ridiculous of all: lofty principles and lethal purpose. A self-directed tool, Wick thought bitterly, who would toss his life away for a wisp of paper.

But Jeremy’s popularity, and his wide circle of friends, had given Rom credibility. That would never have been Rom’s intention, of course—he’d have baulked at the idea of using someone else, merely to establish himself. Not so Wick. Rom might have no idea who he really was, or what he was designed for, but Wick did. Wick’s principles weren’t as lofty as Rom’s, but they were a lot more honest, because they were founded in truth.

Truth? If Rom was a lofty-principled assassin with no idea of his own status, and misplaced confidence in his own ethics, what was Wick McClintock? An accidental friend? An Assassin-Buster with a heart of gold?

I’m a realist...

"There are no realists in the Land of Lies." It was something he’d heard long ago, and it came back to haunt him now. There could be no realists because there was no truth. The reality Wick had been trained for listed Rom as an enemy, and Jeremy as a useful nonentity, but there’d been no truer friends to him, over the years.

It’s all a lie. Jeremy might not die from the poison, but death by letter would have been a convenient garrotte for all those loose ends: Rom, any unwanted witnesses...and me.

It was difficult to accept. For over ten years, Wick, too, had been playing a role, that had become more a part of him than he’d ever realised. Underlying his daily activities, however, he’d been proud of his nobility of purpose—of his determination to save her life, and—later—Rom’s.

Now it all seemed like so much hogwash: dirty, confused, and stinking with shit.

Wick stood there, irresolute. For a man with a multitude of friends, he was suddenly feeling more alone than he had for the last ten years. Back then, he’d had a Cause to support him, but now he needed another kind of support entirely.

Play the game...

It was, really, the only choice he had left.

He picked up the phone and called for an ambulance.

*

"What the hell happened?!" Wick could hear Douglas Fitzgibbon’s voice all the way out in the waiting room. Late as it was, the ER was still pretty crowded. Had the man no discretion? Wick vowed to give him hell, then realised he’d never get the chance. He wouldn’t see him again after tonight.

Wick slumped against the chair back, feeling the weight of his decision. With panic no longer driving him, he could only view his planned departure with regret.

Nothing will ever be the same. He didn’t want to think about how much he’d miss it.

There was another loud grumble. It was late enough that Fitz didn’t care. He’d always joked about what he’d do to them if any of ’em showed their faces in his ER. Apparently, he wasn’t joking now.

Wick twitched nervously. His uneasiness was showing, and he wondered whether Rom was in a bad way. Had he waited too long?

I didn’t save you to kill you, Rom, he thought morosely.

But he’d known Fitz was on duty tonight. He’d wanted to outlast him; to wait until his shift was over, and avoid the kind of scene which might lead to questions.

So when you walked away, hauling Rom’s sorry ass, nobody would take much notice.

Someone must have given Fitz an explanation, and Wick guessed it was Jenny. He’d known her since college, too. Just his luck she’d been working reception. She’d wanted him to stay, and have Fitz look at his bat scratches.

Wick thought it was ridiculous, and he’d be damned if he’d let Fitz look at his scratches or anything else. But the Rom Protection Plan called for proximity. As soon as Rom got his brains back, they’d whoosh out the door.

"Is he still here?!" Fitz’ voice roared.

My cue to leave, Wick thought, all his plans vanishing in a moment of panic. His carefully-acquired camouflage was failing him. He was too exhausted, too worried, and too scared to cope with Fitz’ questions.

And too damn confused. Rom could sort this one out on his own.

Wick sprang out of the chair, and sprinted for the doors. They’d whisked closed behind him before he acknowledged he was an idiot. He’d ridden over here in the front of the ambulance. He had no car, and no money. His wallet was lying somewhere at the bottom of a pond, and he wasn’t exactly dressed for hitching—not with a nose swollen from Jeremy’s poetic fist-flinging, mosquito bites dotting his skin, bat lacerations lining his limbs, and damp clothes from his little swim. There were dead mosquitoes in his hair and splatted across his face, and he’d already guessed from the twitching noses in the waiting area that he was wearing bat guano down his back.

Resignedly, Wick sighed and headed across the parking lot, his shoes squelching in complaint. Now that he was alone, with no one to protect, the night seemed a lot more threatening.

Definitely easier to be staunch in company...

And the hunters were out. Hard to discount the spectral forms he’d seen in the park. Wick hastened his step. It was all he could do to hold himself to a walk. His pounding heart was insisting he run.

You can’t be sure...

It had been too dark, and the air too thick with insects; the moon obscured by bats.

And you were freaked out of your mind. Addled by Rom’s display; confused by what it signified.

Doubt slowed his steps. All he’d had was a glimpse, really—half-obscured in a pocket of smoke. A distant view of sunken tissues strained over bone.

Had he really seen it, or was this, simply, what he’d feared to see—one of the spectres which had haunted his memories these many years?

Ghouls...in any world.

Had his imagination been triggered by Rom’s unexpected display, so he was designing demons from wraiths of smoke?

I’ve lived here too long, Wick accepted morosely. He’d grown accustomed to safety and freedom from fear. His, he now recognised, was a negligent acceptance of self-determination. Plunging back into the woes of his abandoned world had never been part of his plans.

He’d nearly convinced himself he’d been imagining things by the time he’d made it halfway home. Duty wouldn’t let him rest, though. He needed to know whether he’d been fathoming phantoms. Rom’s life could depend on it. Reluctantly, he turned his weary steps back toward the park.

*

Once there, Wick moved silently between the trees. The scent of newly mown grass wafted his way from the grass verge beyond, and mingled with the sharper tang of the pine needles beneath his feet. He hugged the darker patches of night, reluctant to be doing this at all.

If I had any sense, I’d wait until daybreak...

But, of course, he couldn’t, because then he’d wonder. Procrastination would only carry his fear through tomorrow. He wanted to be rid of it tonight.

He glanced at his watch, sighed and shrugged. All right, today, then. It was two am and all was not well in the depths of the forest...

His lips quirked with amusement. It had been so long since he’d needed to be wary like this that it could all have been a bad dream.

Maybe it is.

He pinched his skin and sighed. Awake enough, then. Too bad he couldn’t be like Rom who vented his angst in dreams he could never remember.

You don’t want to be like Rom right now, Wick. If that demon was real, he’s a wanted man.

The idea sent a shudder down his spine.

A lone bat strayed through the low branches and Wick jumped. Any movement was suspect. Had something chased the bat from its perch? He squatted down, his back pressed against the coarse bark of a Monterey pine. The solidity of it gave him an illusion of safety. The night remained still, as though holding its breath.

Sucking in the sound and holding it hostage...

It was like a black hole in his surroundings: sucking in sound, and light, and life.

When the night quickened once more, and the insect chorus returned to clicked and chirped mating signals, Wick moved on, nesting his feet in the thick needle beds so he wouldn’t accidentally tread upon a branch.

He never saw It come. It was camouflaged in the nightsound clutter, which took him by surprise. The night suddenly darkened, and the stars were blotted out.

He was slammed back, against a tree. Slammed and pounded to centre the blood beneath the skin. Wick kicked and punched and pounded back, but he was blinded by smoke. It rose around him, while bony fingers raked at his clothes. His eyes ran, his lungs screamed, and a howl was choked off in his throat.

He was falling now, dimly aware of pine needles jabbing his skin. Awareness faded quickly, displaced by the lassitude which was filling him. He knew he should fight the feeling; knew what it signified, but all he wanted to do was sleep.

It was the Hambre Muerte, the Death Gorge.

No!

Tradition demanded he lie here and die now, grateful for the mercy of last-moment oblivion. It was the way these things were done...

No! Not here! Wick’s fingers were already growing numb. He gritted his teeth, forcing the digits to close on a pointed branch. Then he jabbed it, into the bony head. There was a satisfying crunch and thud.

The Mictlampa ripped back, with an audible slurp, its jagged teeth torn away from Wick’s muscle. Its moment was past, and instead of a wily predator, it was confused and disoriented—flailing and blind.

Tastes of a leech, and eating habits to match...

Wick lay there limply, worried about the demon’s reputation for persistence, and worrying more about its companions. Was it alone?

He recalled another sorry fact from his past. Micts never travel alone...

He wriggled his fingers, clenched his fists, bent his toes, and jiggled his limbs—determined to lose the lassitude. The blood scent would bring the others in.

No way! He crunched the bloodsucker with his foot, right in the face. The creature flopped back, writhing in agony, all the while making a low-pitched grunting sound.

Wick pushed himself up to a sitting position, grabbed another branch, and whopped the thing again.

The beast was knocked back, onto the pine needle carpet. Silent now, it did what tradition claimed: melted away, into the undergrowth. At least, Wick was sure that was what it had intended. Its actual disappearance looked a lot more like a wobbling retreat.

Wick sat there, in bloodied triumph, listening to the crunch and thud as it ran into branches, shrubs, trees. He wondered if, ten years ago, he would’ve had the balls to offer a challenge.

Too indoctrinated.

He savoured his victory a few minutes longer. That’s what he told himself, anyway, but himself knew he was actually waiting for his heart to stop that erratic flopping in his chest. He leaned back, impatient, but unwilling to risk his life on a quick escape.

If I pass out here, I’ll never get up again...

When the stars reappeared in the sky, he tugged himself up the rest of the way, using the trunk for support. Cursing and swearing, he staggered back the way he’d come.

*

An hour later, he’d covered about a fifth of the way back to the hospital. Rom couldn’t be alone—not now. Wick trudged along, resentful but resigned. He could think of a dozen places he’d rather be, and ten dozen things he’d rather be doing.

If Rom hadn’t decided to go into crazy-man mode...

Not his fault. As soon as you heard about the letter, you knew.

"Heard about the letter"? Gooseflesh raced down his back. From whom? How had he known?

More importantly, who’d sent it?

This is not the way these things were done. Rom could be expected to be determined, but not insane. Hell—the man was barely rational.

That glittery substance coating his hands? Wick was only glad he hadn’t been stupid enough to touch it.

Not like Rom...

He was hit by a sudden longing to gloat. For once, he’d been brainier than Romulus. It was damned unfortunate that the only one worth gloating to—the only one who’d understand—was presently out of his mind.

Wick sighed and attempted to put such unworthy thoughts aside. Pity. I ought to be pitying the poor fool...

The fact remained: someone had sent him a lethal package. Given his programming, who would bother? He was already programmed to inflict damage—why drive him insane en route?

Someone had taken the time, to physically deliver the damned thing. Could they want her that badly now? After all this time?

His duty wriggled before him and he frowned, uncertain. Mosquitoes were no defence against the Micts. A damned lame offence, too, he thought, scratching resentfully.

Maybe she had another weapon in her arsenal that he didn’t know about. Hell, he didn’t seem to know very much these days. Everyone seemed to have acquired some special skill since they’d arrived: her, with her insect horde; Rom, with his bat brigade. Only one of them had remained, more or less, the same—except, perhaps, for attitude. Me. It made him feel like a useless defender, more likely to become victim than saviour.

You, too, have a use, Wick, he thought groggily: sacrifice. Feed you to the Micts so the others can make their getaway.

Plikva!

He’d barely left Rom’s neighbourhood when they had him cornered. Wick knew there was no way out.

Phil pulled over the police car with a quick howl of the siren.

Well, he showed me, Wick thought wearily. Irritated, he ignored them and kept on walking.

Phil blocked his path. Arms crossed, he said angrily, "Did you ever think Fitz might be worried—?!"

"—ya thoughtless bastard," Wick finished for him.

Dacey’s lips twitched. "Worried enough to get the rest of us out of bed," she said pointedly.

"Tsk, tsk," Wick retorted sarcastically, but he couldn’t quite conceal his surprise. He’d had a lot on his mind, and the idea of causing them worry hadn’t occurred to him. As far as he could recall, no one had ever worried about him before.

He wasn’t sure he liked it. It made him feel as though he were in the wrong. He frowned, uncertain how to respond, and annoyed because his thought processes were running at quarter speed. Dacey’s expression suggested she required more of an explanation, though, so Wick made an effort. "Didn’t really think about it," he said lamely. His voice was hoarse with exhaustion.

"Didn’t think at all," Phil retorted. He studied Wick for a moment, taking in the white look. He was a mess—masses of swollen mosquito bites under a coating of mud. "You okay?" he asked gruffly.

"Sure," Wick said, squirmingly uncomfortable with Phil’s appraisal. He didn’t know how to handle the man’s concern.

Dacey’s eyes met Phil’s. Good ol’ Wick didn’t even know how far gone he was. Fitz had been right. He was in shock. "Fitz wants to talk to you," she said diplomatically. She had a feeling Wick would object to anything else.

"No way," Wick said. "Got plans."

Just then, his keen ears picked up a sound in the distance. Wick’s skin paled further, taking out even the ruddy colour of the bites. He turned milky white, sick with fear.

"Wick!" Dacey said, worried.

"What?" Wick asked distractedly. During the last half-hour he’d been thinking a lot about Rom, and the danger he was facing. Wondering how the hell Wick McClintock was going to protect him from the Micts—and how to protect him from himself.

Now something else occurred to Wick. Protecting Rom might not be his only concern.

The Micts don’t know...

They wouldn’t know it was Rom, at the park. It hadn’t been Rom who’d stood there, silhouetted against the night.

Whose scent was thick on the air...

Whose blood they’d sampled beneath the trees.

So it might not be Rom they’d be hunting.

Wick’s legs started shaking and his stomach tied up in knots. Embarrassed over his weakness, he tried to brace himself on the streetlight.

Only to have Dacey grab his arm, and pull it over her shoulder. Phil came up on his other side, so the two of them had his weight.

Embarrassment. Something else he’d never experienced.

Just then, the high-pitched whistle sounded again, and the bite in his leg began to throb. Wick’s keen eyes picked up a shifting in the blackness—coils of seething movement, traversing the ground.

Coming...for him. Blood was running down his leg again. He could feel the warm trickle as it pooled in his shoe, then leaked onto the sidewalk.

"Holy shit!" Phil exclaimed.

Wick didn’t blame him. The blackness was traversing the ground—obsidian fog. They’d picked up his scent in the park; now they were hunting his blood. The blackness was closing in.

"Run—" he warned them.

He realised too late the blackness came not from without, but within. No way to stop it now. Wick’s eyes rolled up in his head, and he sagged into their arms.

*

GILDED FOLLY http://www.cerridwenpress.com/productpage.asp?ISBN=1-4199-0409-4

Posted by N. D. Hansen-Hill 2006-07-16 02:15:59


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