Revenant Chapters 1 & 2, First Revision
*Although I’d started this book once already, I revised the first chapter–breaking it into two, here. Later I stripped nearly all of this information out, but you can still see a bit of the information from the original version and the final version here.
It had been a year of storms—social, political, and literal. Civil war in Syria, suicide bombers, in Turkey, economic protests everywhere, domestic terrorism at the Boston Marathon, wildfires followed by floods in Colorado and hurricanes and tornadoes in other parts of the US after epic disasters the previous year, the discovery—or not—of the Higgs Boson, the confirmation of a new Pope, revolution in Egypt, and nuclear threat in North Korea, Greece declared bankruptcy and other nations declared austerity measures that met with outrage and riots from citizens. Outbreaks of whooping cough, cholera, and flu devestated populations while politicians postured and pointed fingers. It was wasn’t much of a surprise that the Grey—the indeterminate realm of mist and magic between the normal and the paranormal—had also been disturbed and aboil.
That particular morning it had been surging and sparking like a distant storm front all morning. I expected something bizarre or freakish to happen, because that’s how these things usually go when the Grey is on the boil, so I wasn’t even startled by my visitor. I was expecting something much more spectacular and almost dismissed her when she showed up.
The phone had just started ringing when a brown haired woman appeared in my office—she hadn’t walked in, she was just there, instant and complete. She looked normal, but she had no aura at all other than a clinging train of Grey mist, like her own personal cloud. She stood next to the client chair as if she couldn’t see it. As the phone rang, she leaned forward a little, staring at me, but saying nothing. She looked lively enough—pretty, petite, around thirty years old, and in excellent physical condition—but she wasn’t acting like a real person. I felt it safe to assume she wasn’t actually there and ignored her to pick up the phone.
“Harper Blaine,” I said.
“I need you to find my brother. I need to talk to him.” The woman on the phone sounded calm and collected, but there was an undertone of tension in the speed of her words.
The woman in my office kept an intense gaze on me as I replied. “All right. What’s his name?”
“It’s Jay, your finacé.”
I’m not, in fact, engaged, but it was an interesting statement and I thought I’d play along and see what else the woman had to say. I turned my shoulder to the apparition. “Go on.”
The woman-who-wasn’t-there walked to the other side of my desk to remain in my view without raising a sound from the creaky old wooden floor. Her expression hadn’t changed. “I don’t know where he is—he’s being very careful—but I thought you might have a way to get in contact, which I don’t. Our father kidnapped my daughter. I want her back and I believe Jay is the only person who can manage that.”
“Have you called the police or the FBI?”
The apparition turned her head and scowled at the wall. “No. I’m not in the US. The local police are very serious about protecting children, but they wouldn’t be much help in this case—it would be taken out of their hands within minutes—and if I call any US governmental body, Dad will know what we’re doing as quickly as if I’d just called him myself. You must know this—you know about our father, about what he does for the government, what Jay used to do. He said you knew all about it, probably knew more than he did, really.”
“Jay did?” And then the penny dropped. “Oh!” Jay must have been my boyfriend, Quinton, who was officially the late James Jason “J.J” Purlis. He seemed to have more aliases than a career criminal—which I suppose isn’t too unsual for an ex-spy who’d been hiding from the system for years. I knew he had a sister who lived somewhere in Europe, which was also were Quinton and his notorious father were currently playing a deadly game of cat-and-mouse.
Quinton’s sister was silent a second then said, “You weren’t sure who I was talking about, were you.” The ghostly woman beside my desk glowed a little brighter for a moment.
“Not at first. He goes by another name, here.”
“I should have guessed that. I’m not… at my best. It’s almost midnight here and it’s been a thoroughly demon-blasted day. Let me start over.”
“Hang on. Let me see if I’ve got the gist and you can correct me. James McHenry Purlis kidnapped your daughter, who is also his granddaughter. This happened sometime today and because he is who and what he is, you don’t feel you have recourse to any official channels to retrieve her. You’re hoping that your brother has other resources that will be more effective. Is that right?”
“It’s… very close. I believe Jay will know how to find Dad and how to get Soraia back from him unharmed because I suspect the reason Dad took her has something to do with Jay’s reason for chasing him down.” She sounded tired and had started combating that by speaking with increasing care and forced clarity. The ghostly woman dimmed to a more normal appearance.
“That’s highly likely,” I agreed. “Your father is very focused on that goal right now.”
“I do not care about my father’s politics or his projects—I’ve stayed out of his business and expected him to stay out of mine my whole life. I’m very angry with him for dragging me into this and I want my daughter back unharmed.”
“What’s her name? What’s yours for that matter? Jay mentioned you, but never by name.”
“I’m sorry—I should have said. I’m Sam—Samantha Elizabeth Rebelo—my daugher is Soraia Quinn Rebelo. She’s six years old. She’s been missing about ten hours now. I took her to school after my father left here, but he got to her before I could pick her up. She’s a very good girl, and she knows better than to go anywhere with strangers, but since the man who took her was her grandfather, she may not have thought to fight back or make a scene. She’s only met him twice, though, so I’m not sure and I hope he didn’t harm her, because that is something I won’t let pass.”
The woman-who-wasn’t-there faded a little, as if the light around her was dimming. “Aren’t you equally upset about the kidnapping part?”
“That goes without saying. But it’s one thing to snatch a child for leverage and do her no harm and another entirely to hurt her in the process. Even worse if his intentions are evil from the beginning—and I suspect they are.”
“What makes you think so? Did he say anything about his plans?”
“No, but he had a man and a woman with him when he came to visit this morning. He didn’t give their names or even refer to them; they never spoke and they kept their distance, but something about them was disturbing, like seeing the shadow of a monster from the corner of your eye.”
I knew that feeling intimately. “I understand.” The appariton nodded and faded further, becoming a bit translucent.
“I thought you would. I think Dad may have turned the wrong corner in his mind and gone a little insane at last. He’s always been a little scary—if charming about it—but not really a nice man. Now he seems on the edge of some horrible action, like he’s leaning into the abyss. He mustn’t take my daughter with him. So. You’ll get in touch with Jay?”
I was chilled by her words. I had an idea of what Purlis was capable of and he didn’t have much compunction about putting other people in danger, but I didn’t know what he could get from snatching his own granddaughter. He didn’t take such actions at random, so there was a reason he’d taken Soraia and not Sam or her son or some total stranger. I did not like the thoughts that tried to push into the front of my mind—ideas about the power of family ties and family blood. I tried to sound reassuring, but I had so little hope to offer. “I will send the message to Jay, but I can’t guarantee how quickly he’ll respond. I don’t know where he is or when he’ll be able to retrieve the message.”
“I’ll see what I can do at this end until he calls.” The ghostly woman deteriorated further, becoming transparent before my eyes. My skin felt itchy, as if a current had passed over all the fine hairs of my body.
“Does he know how to get in touch with you? Where do you live?”
“Oh. We live in Carcavelos. It’s a beach town just west of Lisbon. In Portugal.”
I wrote all the information down and took her phone numbers and address as well as asking her to spell her daughter’s name. “Now, I’m afraid I need you to confirm your identity. What can you tell me that Jay would recognize as something only you know?”
She laughed and I heard a baby start to fuss in the background. “Oh, Martim is getting hungry. Tell Jay that Grandfather used the green lantern in the cave. I think he’ll understand that.” My ethereal visitor dwindled away, leaving only a vague woman-shape in the swirl of Grey mist that had clung to her and the electric sensation on my skin.
“All right. What about your husband? How is he taking all this?”
“He doesn’t know. He’s on a business trip to the Azores. He’ll be back in a week. He left yesterday morning. I don’t believe my father’s timing was a coincidence.”
“I’d have to agree with you. He’s a devious man.”
“He’s an unparalleled bastard. I’d say he was unprincipled, but that’s not true. His principles are simply beyond most of humanity’s moral horizons. Do you know what was the frosting on this cupcake of crap? He sent a note. A sort of thank you card for ‘lending’ him Soraia. Which implies that he intends to bring her back, but he didn’t say in what condition and he’s always been the sort of person who ‘borrows’ things in mint condition and brings them back broken.” She sounded just like her brother now, even though her voice was higher and had a veneer of foreign accent over her native East Coast inflection. She started to say something and was drowned out by the sudden squeal of an infant. “Oh, God… Martim is upset. I can’t put him off for long—he’s stubborn like everyone in this family.”
“Is he Soraia’s brother?” I asked. Even the wisp of Grey stuff that had clung to the apparition dissolved and sank to the floor, vanishing like water vapor in the sun.
“Yes. Twenty months. Hungry all the time he isn’t either asleep or getting into something. I should have been paying more attention to Soraia and whatever my father was up to, but I let myself be distracted with Martim…. Durma menino,” she began sing-songing, “dormir agora, ou o Coca vai vir e te comer!”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that,” I said. I caught myself rubbing my arms as if I could smooth the static-charge of the Grey off my skin, but it remained, all the hairs still standing on end.
“No, I’m sorry. I was singing to the baby. I was telling him to go to sleep or the Coca will come and eat him. The Coca is a dragon—just a bogeyman, really. I’m so tired… I shouldn’t say such mean things to him. Scar him for life.” A wild wail interrupted us. “I’d better feed him or he’ll never get back to sleep.”
“You could use some too. I’ll get the message out to Jay and hope he replies by the time you wake up.”
“I don’t know if I can sleep, imagining whatever crazy thing my father may be up to. If he hurts my little girl, I’ll kill him.”
“It won’t come to that if I can help it. I’ll let you know what reply I get as soon as it arrives.”
“Thank you. I hope we’ll meet soon. Jay is crazy about you.” She hung up before I could ask her when she’d last talked to her brother. Chances were good it was more recently than I had.
I typed up some notes quickly, then bolted out of the office, setting the alarm and locking the door, before heading to the Public Library. All the way there, I had the sensation of something crawling or sparking just under my skin, which still hadn’t abated.
It was nearly four in the afternoon, but the library hadn’t cut its hours again yet, so I was able to get in the doors and use one of their computers to log into an anonymous account and posted to a FaceBook page. I’d found an illustration of the comic book superhero The Green Lantern and added the statement “LOST IN THE CAVE! CAN OUR HERO FIND HIS WAY OUT?” in all caps over it on my post. I don’t use social media much except as a research tool—it’s amazing the information people put on totally insecure, publically searchable sites when their ego is involved—and it’s occasionally useful to have access to it without leaving a trail. The account I used wasn’t mine, but one of several Quinton and I had set up from various computers so we could leave notes online without exposing who we were or what we were doing. Like our pager code—since Quinton refuses to use a cell phone—it seemed random and meaningless, but seen by the right person, the all-caps message meant there was an emergency and he needed to contact me immediately. The rest of the information might or might not help tell him figure out what was going on and who the note concerned. I shivered at the thought of a child who was probably as stubborn, smart, and prone to getting into trouble as her uncle was, in Purlis’s clutches and hoped Quinton would find the message soon….
I went back to my office and packed up my things. I took about thirty minutes sending all my electronic files to a secure server the way Quinton had instructed me and leaving nothing important resident on my office computer. I cleared up the electronic traces of my activity and left the office with the alarm armed and nothing in the trash but some used tissues and a form letter. I wasn’t sure when I’d be back in the room, but I didn’t want it to look like I was conspicuously absent from it. If my post had the effect I expected, I would have to go with no time for preparations and no easy to follow traces left behind. I’d done most of the prep in advance, but there were still things to do as well as cases to put in order.
I spent an hour and a half with Nan Grover, going over some reports on pre-trial investigations and post-trial clean-up and then dropped into the After Dark club under Pioneer Square to chat with some vampires—and it’s one place I can be sure there are no government spies hanging around.
The late September sun wasn’t quite set yet so the bloodsucking fraternity was mostly represented by the assistants, dhampirs, demi-vampires, and various dependents who do the daylight work in return for whatever magical sustenence the befanged pass on. I’m not privy to the Byzantine workings of vampire relationships or their medium of exchange and I don’t have any desire to be. But I am considered a sort of “friend of the community,” which has some perks. Like being able to walk right into a bar full of vampires and not be looked upon as a menu item or entertainment, as well as the ability to sit down at the table reserved for the head vampire and his immediate friends and have a cozy chat with his sister. As always, the presence of the vampiricly-inclined made me a queasy, but since none of the big dogs were in the yard, yet the effect was easily ignored, although the lighting in the Grey was a grim shade of crimson even when they weren’t around.
“Hello, Sarah. May I join you?” I asked the pretty brunette seated alone at the head table. I could remember her as a watery collegiate Goth girl who had only just escaped from an abusive relationship with her life. She was healthy and happy now in the company of better bloodsuckers.
“Harper! Sure,” she replied, sliding a bit to the side on the upholstered bench to invite me to take a seat beside her. There was only one other person at the table and I recognized him as a sort of demi-vampire body guard who didn’t talk much. I gave him a polite nod as I slid in beside Sarah.
“Oh, are you cold?” she asked.
I noticed that I was rubbing my arms again and stopped, forcing my hands down into my lap. “No. Just a bit itchy.”
“It’s nothing. I see you’re still among the breathing,” I said.
“For now. I’m in no rush to change, though I suppose it’s inevitable. What can I do for you?” It was interesting that she made the assumption I wanted something, since most of the time it had been me doing work for the vampires and their kin.
“I need a very large favor.”
“See, I knew you weren’t here for the ambience. Or the menu. So, sure—whatever you want.”
“You may want to wait until you hear it.”
“I owe you a lot of big favors, really. So fire away, but don’t expect me to say no.”
I felt odd and it wasn’t just the weird tingling of my skin. “Do you remember my ferret?”
She crinkled her nose into an expression of adoration. Sarah had loved my pet on first sight. “Chaos? How is the little cutie pie?”
“She’s fine, but I may need to leave town very quickly in a few days and I don’t want anyone to realize I’m gone too quickly, so… could I bring her to you to look after until I get back?”
“That would be cool. I can do that. Is this going to be a long absence?”
“I’m not sure. It’s a family thing and it could get complicated.”
“Your family or his?”
“Oh. Is that the thing Carlos was so upset about?”
“Carlos doesn’t get upset.”
“You’d be surprised. Whatever it was your boyfriend’s dad was up to, it really pissed Carlos off and then he got a bit on the obsessive side about it.”
Now that I could believe. The necromancer was usually inscrutable until he was furious or focused on something that would spell pain and destruction for somoene. I paused before I replied. “I don’t know. But I imagine I’ll find out very soon.”
“I’m not sure how this is connected to other events in which Carlos has an interest, but it’s unlikely to be a coincidence, so I’ll need to talk to him, also. Do you think he’ll show up here tonight?”
“He’s been busy and we haven’t seen much of him, lately. But I do have my ways of making sure he shows up….” Sarah winked and pulled her cell phone out of her purse. She waggled it at me and grinned.
As she dialed and waited for a connection, I glanced around the club. I hadn’t been in it in a while, but it doesn’t change much. Tonight, as with so many nights this year in so many places, the room was busy in the Grey. Normally the presence of vampires has a damping effect on local magical fluctuations since they have such a deep and pervasive connection to death that most other influences are pushed aside. But tonight the room flickered with a gyre of colored sparks and whirling lines of magical energy of all sorts. In one corner I saw a vine of bright green light, blossoming with uncanny eyes.
“Excuse me a moment,” I said to Sarah and got up to inspect what looked a lot like Carlos’s seraphi guardi—a sort of sentry eye that grew in the hedges along his front walk, the blinking globes “borrowed” from the Guardian Beast. I hadn’t been to his home again and wasn’t sure if the strange creature had survived the transition between the previous Guardian and the current one, but I supposed it had….
As I drew close, it cringed back and began shrinking into the crack in the floor from which it had grown. Apparently the seraphi guardi, or whoever it was standing guard duty for, didn’t want me to get too close a look, which was all the better reason to catch it before it slunk back into its hole in the old stonework of the basement space. I snatched a thread of colored energy from the wild stream and flung it like a noose over the thing’s bulging eye-flower.
It yanked backward with surprising strength and I skidded on the waxed marble floor until I dug in my boot heels and tugged back. “Oh, no you don’t,” I muttered, the tingling sensation on my skin turning into a sharp burn. I winced and dragged it loose.
The vampires of Seattle—those that remain after the various faction wars and personal plots that had tangled me into their business and wiped out an entire species—are used to seeing me do things that look ridiculous, creepy, or just plain strange. They barely bat eyes anymore and only a few stared as I wrangled the struggling thing to a standstill.
Once I had it tied, it began to dwindle and fade, but I reached into the depths of its tangled energy and found one particularly hot kernel that powered it. I pinched it into my hand and bundled the magical creature into a knot around it so I could pull it from the wall without killing the thing. I carried it back and put it on the table near Sarah. The thing tried to slither away or sink into the table surface, but I kept a hold of the stem near the eye and no matter how it tried, it couldn’t pull away without losing its blossom, which was also the thing’s head for all intents and purposes. Few creatures—even rather stupid ones like the seraphi guardi—are willing to die just to avoid a conversation with me.
Sarah looked at me, puzzled, as she excused herself from her phone conversation for a moment. “You have…something? It looks like a bundle of weeds and cobwebs.”
“I have an errant seraphi guardi. Ask Carlos if there are any recent escapees from his garden.”
She listened to the phone. “He says no, most of his hedge died.”
“Tell him I’ve caught one growing up the inside of old dumbwaiter shaft in the club. I don’t know how long it’ll last and he may want to study it before it decomposes.”
Sarah listened a moment, then put the phone onto the table top. “He’ll be here in a few minutes. I can’t see whatever it is at all.”
“You can see more than most normal people. There’s not a lot to it but the energy webs it’s grown from and some plant matter for similarity. These aren’t naturally occuring and I had the impression that Carlos had… created them himself. So why there would be one he didn’t plant growing in the After Dark is an interesting puzzle. And a disturbing one.”
“Someone else made it and put it here… why?”
“To spy. They can’t do anything else but watch and send signals—they don’t have any ability to hear that I’m aware of either. Whoever or whatever it’s tied to must know I found it by now, though. And here I though this place was free of spies. Keep an eye on the room and see if anyone tries to slip away while I take care of this… creature.” I narrowed my gaze and studied the seraphi guardi. “Who’s your twisted little gardner, hm?”
It of course didn’t reply, having no mouth, but writhed as if it were in pain.
I can’t work magic, but I can physically touch the energy by which others work magic. My abilities, however, are limited and the struggling, fading seraphi guardi had yielded no more information to me and was almost gone by the time Carlos arrived in about twenty minutes, as large and glowering as ever, cloaked in a dense cloud of death magic and blood. He came straight to the table and leaned over it, peering at my hands where I held the dwindling threads of the creature.
“Interesting. May I?” he asked, making a motion to take the thing from me.
I handed it over.
Carlos took it gently, working the strands of the spell that held the creature together between his fingers as if he were spinning invisible silk. He pulled the spell apart, spreading it wide, like an unfolded yard of delicate Grey lace. His expression grew darker and he growled in annoyance. “Too clever for his own good.”
“Is this… something of Papa Purlis’s work?”
“I hope not. But I fear it is. This has a strand I recognize, but not the power, so I’m guessing this is the work of an apprentice. It only looks like my seraphi guardi because it has a similar function, but the build of the work is different—using this living vine as the scaffold, but not providing sustenance beyond the spell itself. Overreaching and sloppy. No ability to hear or fight back….” He curled his lip and I felt a new chill sweep over me. Carlos’s disdain is not as uncomfortable as his ire, but it’s dreadful enough for my taste.
“At least it didn’t eavesdrop on our conversation. So, who’s behind it, then?” I asked.
“An old, old… friend.”
I raised my eyebrow.
“He was not, then, one of the Kostní Mágové. I hope he is not now, but this has his… touch in it. I can’t believe he’s still alive, though I suppose…” He stopped and shook his head. “Speculation is wasteful. What called your attention to this interloper?”
“It was green,” I managed to say. I had to turn my head aside from his gaze, the intensity of his stare made the hot sensation that had been fading from my skin flare anew as my stomach lurched and turned over. I could feel him turn his own head aside, cooling his glare as the effect eased.
“My apologies, Blaine. Have you been in the company of wraiths or liches?” he asked, flicking a strand of ghost stuff off of my arm.
The non-sequitir threw me for a second, until I thought he must be asking why I was feeling more ill than usual in his presence. “No, just what I suspect is the ghost of someone who isn’t dead.”
“Which I think is the crisis projection of Quinton’s sister. She called me this afternoon. Her father has kidnapped her daughter and she wants Quinton—or Jay as she calls him—to get the child back.”
“You are certain the story is true? That the woman is his sister?”
“Almost. The apparition seemed genuine and she gave me information that should be significat to Quinton. I’m waiting on confirmation from him. He’s in Europe at the moment, but I don’t know where.”
“This sickening little charm to find you by magic was probably intended for him.” Carlos swept his hands over me, collecting the last of the charm and then shredded the remains of the watcher spell. With an angry flick of his hands, he flung the strands of energy back into the foaming Grey that boiled through the room. He put his hands over his eyes for a moment and then put his palms down on the table top very slowly. “Is she—or was the girl taken in Portugal?”
I blinked in surprise. “Yes. In a little beach town near Lisbon called Carcavelos. She lives there. What makes you ask?”
“Because this particular master cannot leave Portugal. If he has set someone to watch us, and tied a strand of magic to the apparition of your lover’s sister, whatever is about to happen will take place in Portugal. And it involves your father-in-law.”
I wished I hadn’t been thinking the same thing. “I hope to receive a reply from Quinton soon, but I guess, we’d better make preparations to get to Europe.”
“Without attracting the attention of your father-in-law, who continues attempting to trap your mate.”
“That sneaking in without attracting attention stuff going to be a little difficult since Purlis is part of the government and obviously keeping tabs on us in ways I hadn’t counted on. He’ll know the minute my passport crosses a TSA check point.”
“Then we won’t cross one.”
“These are my old enemies, in my old home. You’ll need my help. And there is a small matter of the death of my assistant last year, a debt for which James McHenry Purlis has yet to pay.”
There wasn’t any point in pretending I didn’t understand what he meant or that there was much alternative. “Just don’t kill him before we get that little girl back,” I said. “Quinton’s sister would not forgive me.”
Carlos laughed and ice pierced me to the core. “Who said I mean to kill him…?”
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