The snippets continue. There will be one chapter posted after this. For those just joining us, I’m doing a chapter a day for a week from my upcoming novel, Hard Magic. Book one of the Grimnoir Chronicles.
For those of you just joining us, here are the links to the earlier chapters.
After the last one is posted, I would really like to get your opinions.
As always, I hope you enjoy.
I swing as hard as I can, and I try to swing right through the ball. The harder you grip the bat, the more magic power you use all at once, the more you can swing through the ball, and the farther the ball will go. I swing big, with everything I’ve got, muscle and magic. So now they’re talking about banning us Actives from baseball because we’re not fair, not sporting? Hell, I hit big or I miss big. I am what I am and I live as big as I can.
George “Babe” Ruth, interview after hitting his 200th season home run, 1930
New York, New York
Billionaire industrialist Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant had many offices, but the one that had the best view was on top of the relatively new Chrysler Building. Not only did he like this particular office because it enabled him to look out over the city, which he considered his personal fiefdom, but he also found the building aesthetically pleasing. It was pointy.
His favorite pointy building had been the tallest building in the world, briefly, before the Empire State Building had been completed. He had a suite there as well, but preferred this location because from this position he could watch his fleet of trans-Atlantic passenger dirigibles docking at the Empire State, or his cargo airships landing at the industrial pads closer to the ocean. It made him feel like a child with a model train set.
Cornelius stepped away from the window as a servant brought him the morning paper. He took his place in a comfortable recliner and opened first to the obituaries, as was his daily custom, to see if anyone he disliked had died, but sadly the announcements held no joy.
On the bright side, that meant that his most hated enemy was still suffering and wasting away under the curse of the Pale Horse. His spies had confirmed that he had taken gravely ill, and he had not been seen in public in almost two years. The thought made Cornelius smile as he turned the pages. He still owed that foul Harkeness a favor, but whatever it was would be worth it.
The Times spoke of more war in Asia as the Imperium annexed another bunch of islands he’d never heard of, Herbert Hoover looked like he was going to be trounced by Governor Roosevelt (not that Cornelius minded, since he had donated plenty of money to both sides), and more general lawlessness and moral decay around the country. Most of the news was old hat for a man who had informants everywhere, but one item caught his attention.
“Well, I’ll be…” he muttered around his morning cigar as he studied the photograph. It was a grainy shot of one of the Imperium’s new tri-hulled, super-dirigibles, taken over some Dutch colony. It would look like a big blurry blob to most viewers, but he recognized the design because it had originated amongst the Cogs employed in his engineering department at UBF.
He disliked Cogs, just as he disliked all magical people, himself and immediate family excluded, but he had grown fabulously wealthy from their brilliance. Every Cog was already a genius in their own way, absolutely fanatically brilliant at something, but then they could occasionally use their Power to push them over the top, to achieve the most brilliant of all creative achievements. The Imperium’s new Kaga class flying battleship was a perfect example.
Nine-hundred feet long, with three separate hydrogen-filled hulls, each hull cordoned off into ten separate armored chambers, the Kagas were the biggest thing to ever take to the sky. Hydrogen was far more dangerous than helium, but provided more lift. The Imperials had asked for hydrogen in the specifications for an unknown reason, probably since the main source for helium in the world was unavailable to them in Texas, but with the redundant mechanical and magical provisions, the Kagas would be virtually indestructible, with armaments that outclassed the best dreadnoughts of the Great War, but with four times the speed, its own parasite air force, and a virtually unlimited range.
The picture was a bit different than the blueprints he had seen, more bulbous. The Imperials had added a few things that he did not recognize, but that did not concern him. UBF had been paid to provide the hull and engine design. His eldest son had arranged the deal while serving as the ambassador to Japan, may God rest his soul.
The government had forbidden the sale of super-science to the Imperium as part of the embargo, but Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant knew that laws were to keep the lower classes in line. Whereas, he did what he wanted, but did so in secret to avoid the hassle of know-nothing’s petty harassments. The embargo forbid UBF from the construction of any warships for a foreign power. Cornelius was currently overseeing the construction of the Emperor’s personal flagship at the UBF plant, but since it was officially a diplomatic and scientific vessel, it was perfectly legal. The warships, like the Kagas, on the other hand, were quite illegal, but with the economic slump, the Imperium were the only people with money to burn.
He’d sold them the Kaga design a few years ago. He was just surprised to see that the Imperium had gotten the bugs worked out so quickly. Once they started using their new super dirigibles to further their domination of the East, the US Navy would be forced to come to UBF for their own next generation airships.
Cornelius loved a good arms race as much as the next robber baron.
The Grid Iron Club was usually quiet on Sunday mornings, but today was the exception. Lenny Torrio was pacing up and down the bar, throwing bottles and whatever furniture he could pick up in a fit of rage.
His remaining seven men were standing around, waiting for the bout to pass like they always did. These spells had earned Mr. Torrio the nickname of Crazy Lenny, but they always eventually subsided. They’d lost five boys last night, shot to death, and poor Amish tossed out a window. The old Rasmussen Hotel had been evacuated right before the boiler had exploded, and they’d just got word that the city inspectors were saying the building was unsafe and was going to fall down. They all knew that it was a mess and the public outcry would bring the law down on them hard.
Mr. Torrio was going on about how Al Capone was sure to move in on them, when some new faces arrived. It was another Japanese, this one younger than the last one. It made the men uneasy when they saw how unnerved the new arrival made their boss.
“I’m sorry about your friend,” Torrio sputtered. “Really I am. Please, give your Chairman my full respects.” The Japanese did not speak or move.
Another man entered behind the Asian, this one was white, tall, muscular, with a badly scarred face and one milky white eye. Apparently, seeing him really shook Mr. Torrio. “Whoa, hey old buddy, been a real long time. I’d heard—“
“Heard wrong,” he grunted. “Call me Mr. Madi now, Lenny.”
“Is this about last night? About Jake? Look, I’m sorry, ‘cause I just did what I was told…” Torrio looked back and forth between the two newcomers, apparently confused. “I didn’t know you were working for the Chairman now.”
The big man with the bad eye shrugged. “I don’t care about Jake. I go where the action is, Lenny… Your sources find anything on these other guys the Chairman’s lookin’ for?”
Torrio raised his hands defensively. “You know how it is with demons, man. You got to sort out what’s true and what’s not… but that device you were looking for, that your…” he nodded respectfully toward the Jap before continuing, “dear deceased associate showed me the drawing… it’s in California. I saw a skinny girl on a train, not far from where I found that old Portagee for you. She was easy, ‘cause she don’t know about Finders.”
“Turns out that bit ain’t so important. What about the others?”
“They’ve hidden themselves too good, but I know Christiansen was last in the mountains and Southunder was on the ocean somewhere. I’ll track them down for you, I promise.”
“Well, that narrows it down a bunch.” Madi turned to the other man and spoke real slow in a language that none of the men understood. The Japanese gave a quick reply. Madi asked a question. The Oriental nodded once, and the big white man went back to Torrio. “My associate doesn’t think we need your services anymore and that you brought too much attention.”
“Aww, come on Madi,” Lenny begged. “It ain’t like that. Where else are you going to get another Finder as good as me?”
“Oh, somebody else told us where to find them already, and if we need to summon any critters… I figure we’ll get by,” Madi answered as something strange moved in the shadows of the warehouse rafters. Everyone looked up as the Summoned fell from the ceiling, spread its eight-foot wingspan, and settled gently to the floor. It hissed at the men with both heads and they instinctively stepped back. Claws clicked on the hardwood as it scuttled around the end of the bar and out of sight. Something squealed, and the dragon came back with Mr. Torrio’s imp clenched in one set of jaws. The other head came around and snapped onto the creature’s legs.
“Mildred!” Lenny shouted as his imp was ripped in two. “No!”
The dragon kept chewing as the imp’s body dissolved into smoke. The whole crew was so distracted by the sight that they didn’t see the man called Madi reaching for his shoulder holster.
Ten seconds later Crazy Lenny Torrio and his entire gang were history.
San Francisco, California
It was all a little overwhelming, and all Faye could do for her first few minutes in the big city was gawk like the country girl that she was. There was an astounding number of people packed everywhere, scurrying along in every direction. The train station was easily ten times the size of the station in Merced, and there were more human beings milling around the platforms in those first few minutes than she had seen cumulatively in her entire life.
The air smelled like diesel, and humanity, and all sorts of unfamiliar perfumes. She tried to shrink down, uncomfortable, not used to moving through a crowd. The people were so packed that they moved in waves, almost like a herd of Holsteins, only far more colorful.
Many of the men were in suits, some were in work clothing, and Faye saw military uniforms for the first time. One handsome young man in white, (Gilbert had said that meant Navy), winked at her as he went past, and Faye looked down, blushing. The young man was elbowed in the side by one of his friends and they all had a laugh.
The women were astounding, their dresses so pretty and flashy that Faye instinctively felt drab and boring in comparison. Their hair was all done up in ways that she had never even imagined, while hers was just flat. Many of them had jewelry and more wore furs, and almost everyone had a hat far nicer than her simple straw one.
Feeling under-dressed compared to other women, Faye paused long enough to put on the only piece of jewelry she possessed, the gold and black ring from Grandpa’s bag. It wasn’t nearly as fancy as the big things with all of the sparkles like the others had, but Faye figured it would do. The ring was too big and flopped around on her finger, but at least it was something.
She made her way through the masses, walking in the direction that seemed most of the other debarking travelers were heading. Somehow she ended up inside a building with really tall ceilings and big stained glass windows and then she was swept out onto a sidewalk along a street where more fancy cars than she had ever imagined were speeding back and forth.
She had seen Mexicans before. They came through the San Joaquin valley and picked the crops every year, but the Mexicans here were different. They didn’t seem to be passing through, they looked like they lived here. Faye saw other colors of people for the first time too. They were just part of the crowd, working just like everybody else, and nobody here seemed to pay them any extra mind. She tried not to stare, because that just didn’t seem polite.
When she looked up, the sheer massive tallness of the surrounding buildings took her breath away. A great black shadow was moving down the street, and she nearly broke her neck craning her head back to watch the super-dirigible passing overhead. She watched the giant bag until she could no longer track it behind the big buildings and it was the most magical thing she had ever seen.
San Francisco was supposedly one of the least harmed cities by the depression, being such a mighty cosmopolitan hub of commerce, and having all of those military folks stationed at the nearby Peace Ray spending all their money here had to help things. Faye could only begin to imagine how this place could have possibly been any fancier four years before. Compared to the Vierra farm, or especially the shack she had lived in before that, San Francisco was astounding.
Gilbert had told her about how taxi cabs could drive her right to the address on Grandpa’s note for a fee. At first she thought that sounded absurd. Paying somebody good money to ride when you could just walk? But her foot still hurt from the stupid beetle and the city was so overwhelming that the idea of walking across it was terrifying, so she got in line behind the other travelers waving at the curb, and studied them, so that when it got to be her turn she wouldn’t look too much like a stupid hick.
Faye was so distracted by her new surroundings that she didn’t see the man watching her from the steps of the train station. He paused long enough to crumple and toss a telegram sheet before following.
Sullivan’s head hurt, and the inside of his mouth was dry and tasted like he’d been chewing on rotten mouse-flavored cotton-balls. The first thing he saw as he came to was a cup of water sitting on the side of the bed. Forcing himself up with a groan, he reached for it, but the fresh stitches in his arm and chest pulled and burned. His head swam, so he had to give up and lay back down.
The water just sat there, taunting him.
At first Sullivan thought that he was really dizzy, because the tiny room seemed to be swaying, but then he saw the vibrating ripples in the water cup, and realized that it was the room that was moving, and not him. There was a rhythmic noise coming from under the floor, and after a moment his fogged brain put together that it was steel wheels on a train track. The thick curtains had been drawn, but enough light leaked around the corners to indicate it was afternoon.
He was on a train, in a private luxury car, apparently.
He vaguely remembered stumbling up a ramp under his own power, being led by the German on one arm, and the fellow with glasses on the other, and at some point he had wound up in a wheelchair. The trip from the Rasmussen was a blur, and Sullivan knew that he’d lost a lot of blood on the way. That swordsman had stabbed him good. It was only through luck and the timely intervention of the two strangers that he hadn’t got his head chopped off.
Sullivan frowned at the water, contemplating his next move.
There was something fishy about the swordsman. The goons he’d popped had been Lenny Torrio’s boys, but the Japanese was way out of Lenny’s league. He’d never met someone with a Power like that, or with the ability to adapt so quickly. Sullivan had been challenged by all sorts in Rockville, and he’d always won because he was meaner, tougher, and faster than the other guy. This one had been different. But he’d still managed to squish him like a bug, nonetheless. He hadn’t used his Power like that since he had last lost his temper. That time had got him sent to prison, but strangely enough he felt equally justified in both uses.
It hurt to move his head, but he tried to rise a bit. There was a wheelchair shoved in one corner, blocked in by a regular wooden chair so it wouldn’t be able to roll about. Several bloody towels were piled on it. Beside the water cup was a leather surgeon’s bag, still open, and a few implements were sitting on a white cloth. He couldn’t remember a thing, but apparently he’d had one hell of a night.
One wood paneled wall slid open, revealing itself as a door. The man that entered was in his forties, short and chubby. “Good afternoon, Mr. Sullivan. Glad to see you’re awake,” he said, walking over to the bedside, humming absently. He spared no time manhandling Sullivan’s arm so he could inspect the stitches. Sullivan cringed in pain, but the man didn’t seem to notice. “Hmm… Not my best work, but you’re not dead, so I’ll call it a win.”
Sullivan nodded his head at the water. “What? Oh yes? The side effects of opiate based pain relievers can include cotton mouth, which can be rather unpleasant,” the man stated matter-of-factly. It took him a second to realize that Sullivan didn’t want a medical lesson, he just wanted a drink. “Oh, yes, sorry. Here you go.”
He managed to spill half of it, but Sullivan cherished the victory over his enemy, the cup. “Who are you?” he finally croaked. “Where am I?”
“Dr. Ira Rosenstein. I was harassed by Mr. Garrett into coming on this trek. Mr. Koenig is in the next room getting some sleep. They had a late flight. I believe Mr. Garrett is in the dining car. I tried to tell him that I would prefer for you not to move for several days, but he was adamant that you must return to California immediately. The General must be briefed on the presence of an Iron Guard. Can you imagine? An actual Iron Guard acting with impunity within the United States? But of course you can, obviously. You did kill him after all, and in a particularly spectacular manner, if Heinrich is to be believed, though he does tend to embellish.”
Sullivan just nodded, as if he had any clue what the doctor was talking about.
“You will need to take it easy for awhile. Your physical condition indicates to me a rather intense lifestyle. In addition to what I attempted to fix last night, without my regular staff or equipment, in a moving train car rather than a proper operating room, but I digress… As I was saying, you are suffering from several other very recent punctures, contusions, and lacerations. I would strongly suggest that you tone down your activities, Mr. Sullivan.”
“You a Healer?”
Rosenstein snorted. “As if… No. I am a doctor. I work for a living. Yes, I do happen to be a Cog, so I am a particularly gifted surgeon when the opportunity arises, the finest in Chicago. But I went to medical school and have continually educated myself at every opportunity to further my knowledge of anatomy and the most cutting edge surgical techniques, if you will excuse the pun.” He smiled.
Sullivan didn’t get it, but he’d had a really hard week. “Sure…”
The doctor continued. “Most people do not realize that Cogs are not just limited to machines or theoretical equations capped with bursts of magical brilliance. Some of us prefer to toil in fields of a medical nature. Whereas Healers…” He waved his hand dismissively. “Know absolutely nothing of anatomy or biology, but work their magic from base intuition, and oh how everybody just loves Healers. They just put their hands on you and poof, you are all better. And then everyone showers them in money. Do you know how many years I went to school, Mr. Sullivan?”
“Uh… a lot?” He could tell it was a sore spot.
“Yes. A lot.” Rosenstein raised his voice. “Have you ever met an Active Healer that wasn’t an insufferable bore? Full of themselves with a God complex and an ego bigger than Lake Superior?”
Sullivan had never actually had a conversation with a Healer. They were, after all, the rarest of the rare of Actives, or so he had thought, until he met a Jap who could shrug off dozens of rounds of .30-06. He shrugged.
“Well, trust me, sir. They’re all pompous, the lot of them. The only thing they’re good for is publicity.”
Sullivan nodded. The miraculous ability of the Healer and the wondrous ingenuity of the Cog were the single biggest reasons Actives had been so accepted, even celebrated in American society. Some types of Powers did not fare so well. Heavies were generally valuable as dumb lugs, useful in industry, so he was in the middle of the pack. Other types were actually discriminated against, even despised.
Rosenstein checked the wound on his chest next, clucking approvingly at his work. “I am rather surprised that you survived this wound. It struck bone, but managed not to shear through. It is almost as if your bones are extremely dense… hmmm… You should be dead.”
Sullivan didn’t say anything, but he knew that it was probably because of all of his experimentation at Rockville. When breaking rocks had become too easy, he’d broken rocks in increased gravity. Sullivan had made his body as hard as his attitude. Even when he wasn’t altering his weight through magic, he tipped the scales at eighty pounds heavier than he looked. Toward the end, when he was using all his Power, he’d broken rock with his bones.
“Good thing Garrett thought to call me. Helping out is the least I can do.” He held up his right hand and used his thumb to wiggle a black and gold ring. “Considering I owe the Society my life.” Then he went back to work.
“Who’s the Society?”
The doctor paused, fingers on the bandage. “Excuse me?”
“The Society. What is it?”
“The Grimnoir, of course.” A look crossed Rosenstein’s face, partway between confusion and embarrassment. “I thought you were…” He grew even more troubled. “Oh my. Excuse me a moment,” and the chubby man leapt up and hurried from the room like he had just discovered his patient was inflicted with a highly contagious plague.
Sullivan sighed and watched the ceiling. He was a patient man.
Three minutes later the German entered the room, rubbing sleep from his eyes. Rosenstein stayed in the doorway, fidgeting nervously. The German pulled up the chair, knocked the bloody towels on the floor, and sat on it backwards, arms resting on the back, studying Sullivan. “I will handle this, Doctor,” he said finally. The doctor gladly fled, closing the door behind him.
The new visitor was young, with extremely short hair and a neatly trimmed goatee. He waited a minute before grinning. “Ira is worried he said too much about us. Very good surgeon, but he’s always fretting about something.”
The smile seemed genuine, but Sullivan knew better than to trust anyone. “Who are you?”
“Heinrich Koenig, at your service,” he said. “Fade extraordinaire and all-around problem solver.”
Sullivan nodded. The German was probably in his early twenties, so at least a decade younger than Sullivan, but behind that easy smile was something dangerous. Sullivan could recognize a fellow traveler of the hard life, a survivor. Underneath the friendly veneer lurked the soul of a killer. “Thanks for stepping in there.”
“We did the world a favor by ending that man, perhaps more than you will ever know,” Heinrich replied. “No thanks necessary. That is what we do.”
“I cannot say that yet.”
“What are the Grimnoir?”
“That isn’t my place to explain. My associate will be back soon, and he is supposed to give you the pitch. Believe it or not, the reason we were at your hotel room was to make you a job offer. Daniel’s the one that’s good with words. Me, I’m more a man of action.”
“I got a couple of G-Men who’d agree with that.”
Heinrich shrugged modestly. “I have my talents.”
So did Sullivan. “How’s the jaw?”
The smile left. “You broke it in two places. Luckily we have a Mender on staff. She put it back together, fixed Francis’ knee too. Having a Healer around is nice.”
“The blonde on the blimp?”
“Yes.” Heinrich reached up and rubbed his jaw. “A very good one. It still hurts though.”
“Yep. Imagine it would.” Sullivan grunted. He wasn’t the apologizing type, and he was still waiting on some answers. “So you going to tell me what the straight deal is, or are you just here to waste my time?”
The German chuckled coldly. “The straight deal is beyond your comprehension. You have no idea what you have just walked into. We are in a war, the likes of which even you have not seen.”
“Don’t get lippy,” Sullivan replied. “I managed to stack a few of your relatives back in the biggest war ever, so don’t tell me what I haven’t seen, kid.”
The German frowned. He was too young to have fought in the Great War, but Sullivan knew the country had fallen apart after the armistice. There were some tough feelings there, he could tell, but Heinrich kept his cool. “I just ask that you be patient, and your questions will be answered.”
“I’m about done with this nonsense.” Sullivan gasped as he tried to sit up, all of the stitches pulling in his chest and arm like strands of fire. “I’m walking out that door, and don’t you try to stop me.”
Heinrich uncurled his arms from the chair back, paused as if in thought, then reached into his grey suit coat and pulled a revolver from the inside pocket. Sullivan tensed, ready to Spike, but Heinrich just smiled again as he flipped the revolver around and handed it over butt first. “I believe you left this at the hotel. Your big gun was unfortunately smashed to bits.”
Sullivan warily took his Smith & Wesson. He swung out the cylinder. It was still loaded.
“You wish to go? Your clothes, or should I say, the bloody remains of your pants and your shoes are under the bed. Unfortunately, neither I, nor my associates have anything that will fit you, my large friend. Feel free to leave at any time. I believe we are in Kansas by now. You should have no problem wandering around the mid-west, especially missing half your blood. Oh, and the police are looking for you. Apparently Herr Hoover is a little upset about you destroying a downtown hotel in a rather newsworthy manner and wants you brought in. I am sure he will understand why the mob and an Imperium assassin were trying to murder you.”
He would also want to know why exactly Sullivan had gone to meet with Torrio. Hoover would more than likely send him back to Rockville just for being a pain in the ass.
The German continued. “Or…you could continue to rest until my associate returns, and then everything will be explained in full.”
It hurt to move. It hurt to think. Just rising this far had made him dizzy. Sullivan glowered and slowly lowered himself to the bed. He kept the .38 in one big hand.
Heinrich stood. “Very good. Daniel should be back in a moment.” He turned to leave.
“Answer me one thing,” Sullivan said just as Heinrich reached the door. “You say we’re in a war… what side are you?”
Heinrich paused. “This war is in the shadows beyond nations. I am on the side of righteousness, of all that is free, or holy, or good, Herr Sullivan… Rest. You look like death.” He closed the door.
Of course, the Grimnoir thought they were the good guys. Everybody thought they were in the right. The evilest bastards he had ever met had still thought of themselves as the good guys. It was just his dumb luck to blunder into a bunch of true believers. Sullivan closed his eyes and went back to sleep.
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