Thursday, December 16, 2010

Advent Calender Day 16: The Bloody Book

At the end of Broken Angel (in Possession) I really didn't want to say goodbye to Blaze and Asha. They'd had twenty-four hours of madness together and I wanted desperately to discover what happened next. The result is the Blood Book, actually titled Blood Moon.

Blood Moon picks up immediately after Broken Angel. Asha and Blaze are still on the run and Blaze at least, doesn't have a clue what's going on or who to trust. It takes him a good long while to figure it out-- nearly a whole book of gothic urban fantasy style excitement in fact.

Enjoy the excerpt.

Sneak Peak at Blood Moon
(Copyright 2010 Madelynne Ellis. All Rights Reserved)

Blaze leapt off the far end of the bridge. He didn’t look back but dived for cover amongst a pile of abandoned furniture stacked next to an overflowing bin. The stench of rotten fish assailed his nostrils; he turned his head away from the refuse and huddled behind an overturned sofa riddled with protruding springs.

There was no point in arguing with her. When it came to a fight, Asha was a veteran. He’d experienced the thrill of gang violence on numerous occasions, but mob dynamics and one on one with a flock of youkai were entirely different things. Asha didn’t feel remorse over every blow. When he’d skirmished, he’d bloodied a few noses. Asha generally lopped off the whole head.

Having caught his breath, Blaze drew the knife Asha had given him earlier that morning. Just holding it left him feeling cold. He’d driven a halberd into Talon’s chest in order to escape his clutches and had watched the life drain from his body, sensed the man’s heart stop. He carried that guilt with him, and yet Vervain said Talon still lived. That knowledge didn’t bring him any relief. It just made him wonder how he could have so comprehensively failed. But everything was crazy at the moment with the sounds and symbols of dead languages scarring the landscape.
A horrid screech tore through the sky. The sound reverberated off the side of the building making his ears ache. Blaze shrank back against the damp upholstery, his palm clasped to the demon mark on his chest. Through a tear in the sofa base he could see Asha. Safely off the bridge, she stood poised on the quayside, as lovely and coldly perfect, as she’d been when he’d awoken last night to find her tending his wounds. Although she’d abandoned her fellow demon-hunters to become his guardian, at this moment her Talon mask remained firmly in place.

With her stark alabaster-white skin, long raven tresses and her fanciful outfit of velvet and lace, she looked like the beloved concubine of some business magnate from the Heights—an expensive toy cast aside on the riverbank. While in truth, she was an angel of darkness: a passionate and lethal herald of all that had befallen him. Somehow since last night—and he didn’t pretend to understand it—their fates had become entwined. Without her, he didn’t doubt that he’d already be dead.

“Asha,” he whispered, but the encouragement was drowned out by a second unholy screech.

A triple shadow rose before her. It approached in a wedge of flesh, scales and fur.

Asha remained perfectly still. Not even the breeze stirred the fabric of her funereal garb. In the space of a blink, she moved. Blaze caught the flash of reflective steel as the first of the youkai lost an arm. It fell squalling to the ground as an amalgam of flesh and quills. Not quite youkai, not entirely human either. The second, she split across the middle, her sword swinging in a single vicious arc. Blood splashed her face and clothing. It soaked into her skirts. The vibrant red running into the weave and transforming the brocade: a new pattern to mark the passing of another foe.

Blaze winced at each gristly smack. His bare back itched as if the skin were about to split. He rubbed it uncomfortably up against the protruding sofa arm, only for the recently inked tattoo upon his stomach to glow bright green.

Frantically, he tried to hitch his leather trousers over the light, but his fingers locked into arthritic claws. “No,” he sobbed. Heat pulsed through his body, and he began to shake.

Another caw sounded over the canal, and Blaze screamed as the sigil tattooed upon his stomach countered his body’s urge to transform. His skin stretched, but it didn’t rip to enable feathery appendages to sprout from his back.

Damn. She hadn’t cured him. He was still polymorphic, just stuck in human form.

Through a veil of tears, as he lay stretched flat on his back against the dirty cobbles, Blaze watched Asha back towards him. She spun, whisper fast. Calm. Precise. Lethal. Her blade flashed, and left streamers of coppery dust behind in its wake.

The third demon gave a baleful squawk, and stretched his feathers. Tawny wings frantically flapped, each beat sending a tide of litter rustling towards him. The youkai tried to soar, seeking freedom amongst the clouds. Asha held it skewered upon the end of her sword, until it burst. Its final form dispersed as a shower of coppery dust.

Then calmly, she returned to the water’s edge and stabbed through the heart the first demon, who still lay hollering at the loss of its limb.

“It’s done,” she called to Blaze, her voice emotionless.

Still performing as one of Talon’s dolls, still a perfect demon-slaying marionette. He wondered how soon she’d realise the truth of him and drive her sword-tip through his heart.

He didn’t answer her call; just lay clutching his stomach staring dazedly at the sky. Slowly, the pain ebbed away. Blaze wiped the sweat from his face and cautiously pushed himself to his feet.

The remains of the youkai lay in two neat powdery piles on the ground. The essence of the third remained suspended in the air as a cloud of coppery particles. The dust would eventually fall, likely onto cotton sheets. The city’s alchemists always knew where to find Blood Rain.

“Are you all right?” Asha asked.

Blaze brushed a soggy piece of newspaper from his shoulder and nodded. He’d worry over his body’s reaction to the calls of the other youkai later. Maybe it was just coincidence the two events had happened together.

Asha gave a crisp nod, then gracefully dipped onto one knee and scooped up a handful of the demon dust. She let it slowly sift between her gloved fingers before running her tongue over what remained upon the middle digit.

“Should you be doing that?” Blaze asked. There was a reason the stuff was illegal. It was highly addictive. A teaspoon’s worth purportedly enough to make a love slave of anyone.

Asha’s eyebrows twitched and the tiniest hint of amusement lit up her face. She turned her wrist and offered up her remaining fingers for him to suck clean.

Blaze took a wary step back.

“What are you worried about? Do you think I’ll be so overcome with lust I’ll have to pin you to that sofa and tear your clothes off? Credit me with some resilience, Blaze.”

Still hesitant, Blaze folded his arms across his chest and hugged his biceps. If he’d had boots on, he’d have stomped the damn demon dust into the cracks between the cobblestones, so that it couldn’t hurt anyone. The only thing Blood Rain had ever done was turn sensible men into sex-craved lunatics. “Asha,” he pleaded. How could a demon hunter be so blasé about tasting the stuff?

And yes, that’s exactly what he feared. Wasn’t that how this trouble had started in the first place? She’d licked his wounds clean and got high on the taste.

With a terse smile, she blew the remainder of the dust from her palm. “They were foot soldiers, not out for us specifically, just looking for an easy meal.”

“You can tell all that from one taste?”

“Believe me, Talon made sure I was a connoisseur. The high ups taste different. They smell different too.” She leaned in close and sniffed him. “None of them smell or taste like you.”

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