The snippiting rampage draws to a close. This is the last free sample chapter from my upcoming 2011 novel, The Grimnoir Chronicles: Hard Magic. I do not yet know the release month. If you are just joining us, the links to the previous chapters are below. I’ve just got one request. Please post in the comments of this thread and let me know what you think, if you’d like to get this, and if you are interested in the world of TGC.
Thanks for reading, – Larry
MAGIC LEADS TO TERROR – City Firemen were unable to contain the FIRE that ripped through a Mar Pacifica estate on Sunday evening until there were only charred remains of the home, belonging to famous big game hunter L.S. Talon. A TERRIBLE DISCOVERY was made once the DEADLY flames were extinguished. So far, SEVEN human bodies have been recovered from the scene. Local residents say that there was a great commotion and much GUNFIRE before the conflagration spread. RUMOR is that Mr. Talon was a supporter of MAGIC and was himself an ACTIVE. He has been missing since Sunday and is believed to be amongst the DEAD.
Article, San Francisco Examiner, 1929.
San Francisco, California
The address on Grandpa’s note was on the far west side of the city. The neighborhood was called Richmond, and a lot of things must have changed from when Grandpa had drawn his little map. The area was filled with new houses, stores, and churches. Every now and then they would pass an area that was nothing but sand dunes, but then quickly enough there would be more homes. Some of the larger places had been started, but then abandoned when the developer’s money had run out along with everyone else’s.
“Lots of Jews and Irishmen in this part of town,” the driver told Faye helpfully. “The Russians built a great big church up over that way.” Faye just kept watching out the window. As Grandpa had always said, her brain would just get to spinning sometimes, and the real world would fade away. She lost track of time as the town turned into suburbs, and then into an area of gentle green hills as they went south.
She snapped back to reality as the cab stopped. “We’re here. This is the address you gave me.”
“This? This is it?” she asked, staring out the window. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” said the driver. “Not what you were expecting, I guess.”
There had been a house here once, that much was obvious, a really large one from the remains of the foundation that was poking out of the ground. Weeds had grown up over the crumbling brick and what had once been a big chimney stood like a monolith.
“Looks like it burned down a long time ago,” the cabbie said. “You want me to take you back?”
There was a strange smell in the air when Faye stepped out of the cab. It was kind of fishy but not too offensive. It took her a moment to realize that she was actually smelling the ocean for the first time. This couldn’t be it. This had been her only clue from Grandpa. She started to wander toward the ruins.
There had once been a fence of iron bars around the property, but whatever had engulfed the house had been so hot that the metal had softened and bent, and now the fence just looked lopsided. She ran her fingers across the bars and they came away orange with rust.
“Hey, lady! Pay me,” the cabbie growled.
“Oh, sorry,” Faye mumbled as she returned to the cab and carefully counted the money out exactly. The cabby looked at it in disgust before driving off, and it was only a moment later that she remembered Gilbert warning her that people in the city also expected tips.
The gate was lying in the weeds. The grass was hip deep on what had once been a lawn. Faye thought that she could just barely smell the ash as she gingerly put her weight onto the charred boards of what had been the porch, and it reminded her of another, more recent, fire. She noticed that somebody had etched strange symbols into the crumbling floor, and she stepped over them carefully.
There was nothing else there.
Somehow she knew that something bad had happened here, something worse than the fire. Lives had been lost in this place. Death was in the air.
“I’m sorry, Grandpa. I didn’t expect this,” she said as she slowly turned around. “I thought maybe somebody around here would help me.” She had been so certain that the address would hold the answers that she had not thought about what she would do next if there were no answers to be found. She was on the outskirts of a strange city, had no friends, and no idea what to do. She picked out a pile of bricks and sat down.
Why am I here?
Faye wasn’t sure. Grandpa hadn’t even really given her any last words, he’d just choked out half a sentence before dying, given her some weird metal thing, which she’d managed to already lose half of, and now she was just alone. She wanted to cry, but she felt like she’d already cried all her tears, and now she was just all dry and hollow inside.
A fat brown squirrel crawled up onto a nearby board. It cocked its head at her curiously, as if wondering what this strange human girl was doing sitting on some ashy bricks in the middle of its forest.
“Hello,” said the squirrel.
Oh, great, now I’ve gone crazy.
“Hi,” Faye responded.
The squirrel just kept looking at her, twitching nervously like squirrels do, and for a minute Faye thought that maybe it had just sounded like the little animal had spoken. Grandpa had always said that she got her brain spinning too fast sometimes and that if she spun it too hard it might break. The squirrel examined her for what seemed like an abnormally long time, and Faye started to doubt that she’d heard anything at all, and felt stupid for talking to it.
“Nice ring,” the squirrel said. Its voice didn’t seem to match, like the sound wasn’t coming from the animal, but through it. It had a deep, scratchy, male voice. “It set the ward spells off. Where’d you get it?”
“My Grandpa gave it to me,” she answered, holding up her hand to show off the black and gold band. She could have sworn the squirrel nodded thoughtfully. “He gave me a list with some names on it. I’m looking for somebody named Pershing. Could you help me, little squirrel.”
“We’ve got a live one at the old place,” the squirrel said, like it was talking back over its shoulder. Faye looked into the grass for other squirrels but didn’t see anything else hiding in the grass.
“Are you okay, Mr. Squirrel?”
“You ain’t from around these parts, are you, kid?” asked the squirrel.
“Is it that obvious?”
“Well, yeah, actually…” The squirrel twitched and swiveled its head back toward the road as it sensed something. A large black automobile was coasting to a stop on the road. Its whiskers twitched violently as the doors opened. “Shit! If it ain’t some Imperium mother-fuckers!” exclaimed the squirrel, then it swiveled back to her. “Damn it! Hide, girl! Hide! Go!” Then it leapt off the board into the grass.
Faye watched the profane little animal disappear, then switched back to the car. Three men had gotten out and were heading straight for the fallen gates. They reached into their coats and came out with guns. She scrambled behind the pile of bricks and ducked down low. It was just like what had happened to Grandpa, and she realized that she was shaking uncontrollably.
She could hear the crunching of the grass as the men moved. They were obviously city-folk, not hunters, loud and clumsy. She risked a peek around the side of the bricks, and the closest was going to be on the porch in seconds. And there, right in the soft ashen wood, clear as day, were her footprints, leading right to where she was hiding.
“Psstt. Over here.” The squirrel’s head poked up out of the weeds. “Stay low.”
It was either follow the squirrel, or Travel before they found her, but she didn’t know where to Travel to, and if she appeared in front of one of the other men, they’d shoot her dead just like they had done to Grandpa. Faye crouched down, bunched up her dress so she could crawl, and hustled after the squirrel. The animal was gone by the time she got there, but there seemed to be an indentation in the grass. When she pressed on it her hand went right through into an empty space.
There was a footfall a few feet away. With no time to think, Faye shoved her head through the grass and found herself staring down an ivy-coated chute. There was only a foot of light before everything was masked in shadow. She kept going, scooting down a gentle slope. Spider webs hit her in the face and insects skittered across her body. A second later her hands landed in soft dust, and she pulled herself into a tight black space. A few spikes of sunlight pierced the darkness from holes in the floorboards above. Every time one of the men took a step, ash cascaded through the light. Something furry and warm pushed past her lips and she almost screamed.
“Easy…” the squirrel said softly.
“Where are we?” Faye whispered.
“Coal cellar… Hurry up, Francis. Imperium assholes right on top of us.”
“I’m not Francis. Who’s Francis?”
“Shut up, kid. I ain’t talking to you,” the squirrel hissed. “Move your ass, boy.” There was a thud directly overhead and one of the men shouted something. They’d found Faye’s tracks. “Shit… They’re gonna find us. Never a grizzly bear or a moose or a Doberman around when I need one… Hey, girl, you got any Powers?”
“Yeah,” Faye whispered. “I’m a Traveler.”
The squirrel sighed. “What? Son of a bitch. I was hoping you had super strength or shot lightning bolts out your eyes or something because these Imperium goons are gonna find us any second.”
“My name’s Faye.”
“Did I ask for a life story? We’re about to get killed here…” The squirrel let out a long sigh. “Aw hell… My name’s Lance. You just scoot for the woods. I’ll hold them off.”
She wasn’t sure what exactly the squirrel, Lance, was going to do to fight off three men with guns, so she reached into her pocket, and pulled out her little revolver. She cocked the hammer as slowly and quietly as possible. The squirrel rubbed up against her face again. “Are you daft? The only thing you’re gonna do with that little thing is piss them off. What is that? A .32? Jesus, you ain’t hunting squirrels. Gonna use that to put us out of our misery?”
There was a sudden crash. A pile of ash broke lose from the ceiling, obscuring the tiny shafts of light. Then another crash, and a much larger shaft of light appeared as one of the men smashed a hole in the floor with his boot. “Go!” Lance shouted. The furry shape left her face, bounded up into the light, and launched itself into the air.
One of the men screamed. “It’s crawling up my pants! Kill it! Kill it!”
“Quit being a punk, and step on it, Al. We’ve got business.”
There was a commotion, shouting, and then one of the men started to laugh at his companion’s problem. They didn’t know they were dealing with a magic squirrel. Faye thought about the area near the front gate, concentrated, feeling her magic. She hadn’t Traveled since getting the bug stuck in her foot, and for the first time in her life, she was scared to use her Power and hesitated.
I can do this.
Her thoughts went ahead of her. The air was clear of objects, the grass was tall, waving, not a concern for a normal, but for her, every piece represented potential death, a single blade of grass potentially as deadly as a steel knife. No leaves in the air. No big pieces of sand or grit, no bugs, only particulate so small that her passage would brush it aside. Nothing was about to enter that space. She saw everything. And it all happened within a tenth of a second and she was gone.
Faye appeared an inch over the tall grass, still in the same prone position she’d been in the cellar, and dropped like a stone. Her landing was cushioned by the weeds and she popped right back up.
The three men were standing in a circle over something. One of them was pointing his pistol at the floor, and she knew that the magic squirrel was just as dead as Grandpa had been. “Lance!”
The men looked up simultaneously, guns rising toward her, and Faye prepared to Travel again, but their eyes collectively jerked upward as something passed through the air over her head with a rustle of cloth in the wind. A petite shape landed between the men in a crouch, knocking one of them sprawling.
It was a woman in a red dress. She rose quickly, slammed her palm into another’s chest with a terrible crack, throwing him back and completely through the brick chimney, collapsing the entire structure in a cloud of red dust. She spun back toward the last man, just as his gun stabbed out toward her, and Faye screamed. There was a gunshot.
The man’s head snapped back. The pistol dropped from lifeless fingers before he collapsed into the ash.
“Good shot, Francis,” the woman shouted, then she turned back to the first one she’d knocked down. She kicked a giant beam casually out of the way, bent down and grabbed a handful of hair, dragging the struggling man from the ashes.
There was the sound of an action being worked, and Faye turned to see a man standing back at the gate with a bolt-action rifle. Faye almost Traveled, but he didn’t point the rifle at her, instead he gave her an easy smile. “It’s going to be all right. We’re here to help you.”
The man was young, probably not much older than her. “Are you Lance the magic squirrel’s friend?”
“Huh?” At first he seemed bewildered by that, then he started to laugh, like she’d said something hilarious.
Faye was confused by his reaction. “Come on! I think they squished him!” she cried, then Traveled back to the house. Her shoes hit the ashen floor, just as the lady in the red dress was smacking the last man senseless. The scary woman glanced up, surprised. She was holding the much larger man effortlessly by the neck, one arm cocked back to hit him again, her delicate knuckles covered with his blood. Faye paid her no mind. These new people seemed to be on Lance’s side, and he had saved her life.
“Oh no!” Faye cried, falling to her knees next to the hole in the floor. The squirrel was inside. It moved weakly. “You’re alive!” She picked up the tiny body and hugged it close. The magic squirrel blinked stupidly. It must have gotten hit in the head.
The young man joined her a moment later, putting one hand gently on her shoulder. “Come on, we’ve got to get out of here. There might be more coming.”
“I wish they would,” said the woman. She appeared with a limp form thrown over one shoulder. The man was much bigger than she was, but she didn’t seem to notice the weight. “I hit that other guy through the chimney a little hard, but this one’s alive. I can remedy that real quick if you want…”
“Naw, the General will want to question him,” said a gruff male voice. “Francis, bring the car up and stick him in the back. Looks like some tough guys working for hire. They probably won’t know anything about the Imperium, but it’s worth a shot.” He sounded strangely familiar and Faye looked up. A burly, darkly-bearded man was standing at the base of the porch with his thick arms folded. He was wearing rough work clothes and a wide-brimmed hat. He was shorter than Faye, but nearly two men wide in the chest. Faye stood, still cradling the squirrel.
The man’s eyes twinkled as he grinned. “That’s me… Hell, kid. What’re you doing with that squirrel? I’m too proud and not near hungry enough to eat that flea-bitten thing for dinner.”
Faye looked down at the squirrel just as it regained its senses and bit the hell out her thumb. “Ow!” She flung her hands wide and the little animal scurried into the grass.
Lance turned and started to walk away with a pronounced limp, realizing a moment later that she wasn’t following. “You comin’ or what?”
Somewhere in Colorado
When Jake Sullivan woke up again it was later in the day and there were brown mountains outside blocking the sunlight, but a pair of electric lamps lit the train compartment fairly well. They were still moving and the air felt thinner when he inhaled. Someone was sitting in the chair next to the bed, reading a newspaper. The banner proclaimed that it was the Denver something or other, and the headline was about some anarchists causing trouble, but Sullivan didn’t feel like trying to move his head far enough to try and read it. He must have groaned, because the paper dipped down, revealing a thick pair of glasses and a friendly smile. “Evening, Jake. How’re you feeling?”
“Not dead. So could be worse.”
The man chuckled as he folded the newspaper. “Understandable. We haven’t had the pleasure of being formally introduced, though we’ve met twice now, I’m Daniel Garrett. I’ve been sent by my employer to make you an offer–”
“Not to be rude, Dan, but which way’s the toilet?”
That caught him off guard, and he pointed for the rear of the compartment. “Well, you have been asleep for a really long time… But Ira said you shouldn’t try to move—“ Sullivan sat up abruptly, feeling the stitches pull and ache. “Never mind, I suppose.” He swung his legs off the bed, heaved himself up, and stumbled for the back. Walking would have been difficult under normal circumstances, but the rocking of the train made it worse.
“Never been in a train car that had a private toilet. Now that’s high-class,” Sullivan stated on his return. This time there was a whole pitcher of water at the bedside instead of just a cup. He picked it up and started drinking
“Yes, I bribed our way onto the very best…” Garrett said as Sullivan pounded down the entire pitcher. “It was the first thing out of Chicago, well, this or a freight car, and the Doctor said he needed something decent to work on you, so I made sure I passed around enough dough to keep the crew from talking about the big, busted-up fella in the wheelchair.”
Sullivan slammed the pitcher down. “That’s better.” He leaned against the rocking wall, feeling every ache, stitch, and bruise, and he still had a cold. “I’m starved, any chance I could get you to spring for a couple of steaks?”
“Of course…” Garrett replied. “I… I thought you wanted to know what was going on first?”
Sullivan grimaced as his stomach growled. Burning that much Power always made him hungry, and that wasn’t counting the blood loss. “You talk. I eat.”
That’s it. Thanks for reading the sample chapters. I promise it just keeps getting better after this, including the greatest climax I’ve ever written. Please leave a reply in the comments section below so I can guage the interest/excitement level. And if you enjoyed this, please tell your friends. Thanks, – Larry
EDIT: Now available for preorder http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1439134340/ref=s9_simh_gw_p14_d5_i3?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=0XE8PAHK71HG2DXWSB89&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=470938631&pf_rd_i=507846
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