The Grimnoir Chronicles: Hard Magic – Chapter 3

The 7 days of snippit rampage continues.  Here is chapter 3 of the upcoming novel, Hard Magic. (coming in 2011 from Baen Books) Feel free to share it if you like it, because that’s how I sell more books, and I always welcome comments.  4 more sample chapters to go. 

-Larry

And if you are just joining us:

Chapter 1:  http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2010/04/07/7-days-of-grimnoir-sample-chapters-from-the-grimnoir-chronicles-hard-magic/

Chapter 2:  http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2010/04/08/the-grimnoir-chronicles-hard-magic-chapter-2/

 

As soon as the idea was introduced that all men were equal before God, that world was bound to collapse. Behold the failed America, a culture steeped in rot, their magics used publicly in the streets, without control, even allowed to the despicable Jew.

Adolph Hitler, Final Munich speech before his arrest and execution by firing squad,1929

Chapter 3

 

Chicago, Illinois 

 

The paper didn’t have much more about the theft of the UBF dirigible. There had been a small article about how it was found abandoned in a field in Missouri the day before yesterday, but nothing new today. The headlines were mostly about the upcoming election, and FDR was talking about some New Deal, which just smelled a little too much like what the Marxists in Europe were shoveling for Sullivan’s tastes. A group of his fellow veterans had gathered in Washington as what they were now calling the Bonus Army. Some anarchists were going on trial for something or other, but those assholes were always causing trouble. Besides that, the rest of the front page was about how the Bolsheviks had signed a new pact with the Imperium and the Siberian Cossacks to divide up Manchuria. The embargo was forcing the Japs to use Hydrogen in their airships, but other than the inconvenience, they were busy as could be taking over everything in the Eastern hemisphere. The sports page was still going on about the baseball scandal, after the Yankees had been caught illegally using magic to hit more home runs, and the boxer he’d put $5 on to win last night had gotten knocked out in the second round.  Figures…    

The door opened. “We’re ready for you.”

Sullivan carefully folded the paper, put it back on the table, adjusted his tie, and entered the conference room.

“So, how are you feeling, Mr. Sullivan?”

He didn’t answer for a long moment. Mostly he was feeling angry. Lied to, cheated, used… And that wasn’t even counting the physical injuries he was still recuperating from. His back hurt, headaches were making it hard to sleep, his right hand still wouldn’t close all the way, he had itchy stitches in his leg… and he was fighting a miserable cold. So overall, Jake Sullivan was in a lousy state, but when the man asking the question was also the man that had the power to put you back in prison, it did bring out a certain level of politeness.

“Fine, Mr. Hoover, sir. I’m doing fine,” he lied. The bandage around his hand gave him an excuse not to shake J. Edgar Hoover’s hand.

“Excellent,” the Director of the Bureau of Investigation said as his assistant pulled a chair away from the table for Sullivan. It was at the far end of the conference room. “Have a seat. We were just discussing your actions in the Jones case.”

Hoover was a stocky man. His eyes were quick and a little too crafty, and he spoke too well. Sullivan had never liked him, and had developed an instinctive distrust from the first time they’d met in Rockville.

Purvis looked uncomfortable. His arm was in a thick cast. The Fade had broken it in two places with that club. Cowley and the other four agents from that night were also present, as well as a couple members of Hoover’s entourage and a grey-haired secretary who was poised to scribble some furious shorthand.

He was too much of a professional and a gentleman to speak badly about his superior to somebody like Sullivan, but it was obvious that Purvis didn’t like Hoover much. It was understandable. Purvis worked his ass off and had busted some of the most dangerous Active criminals there were, but Hoover was always the big hero in all the papers. And now the Special Agent in charge of Chicago looked real uncomfortable since his boss had felt the need to hop a dirigible and fly all the way here from Washington to get a personal debriefing.

Sullivan had sat out in the hall for that part. He wasn’t one of them. In fact, he was a convict, a low-class criminal dirt-bag. He’d heard how some of these men spoke about him. They thought he was just a dimbulb Heavy that they could bring in once in a while to smack around some Active hooligan they couldn’t handle. Sure, there were a few G’s who treated him with respect, like Purvis and Cowley, or the Treasury guy Ness, but most of the others were openly hostile.

From the beaten feel of the Chicago agents, it looked like Hoover had given them a good ass chewing. “We were just telling the Director about your bravery—“ Purvis started to speak, but Hoover scowled hard and Purvis shut his trap.

Hoover coughed politely before continuing. “These men were impressed by your actions, Mr. Sullivan, but I, on the other hand, am a bit let down.”

Sullivan raised a single eyebrow. Oh, this ought to be rich.

“When you were released from Rockville early, you made an agreement that you would assist the government in capturing people like you… And my understanding is that you now wish to stop helping? Do I have that correct, son?”

Sullivan was pretty sure he was about the same age as Hoover, and he didn’t cotton to being called son. “Yes, sir. That is correct, sir.”

Hoover didn’t like that answer, so he stopped and picked up a piece of paper and began to tap a golden pen on the table in front of him as he pretended to study it. His frown made the other agents shrink a bit. “You’ve been a valuable asset, one which I’m not prepared to lose.”

“With all respect, sir, my agreement with you and the warden was that I would help arrest five Active murderers.” Sullivan held up his bandaged hand and began to count. “Tommy Gun Smith in Philly, Jim McKinley in Kansas City, the Crusher in Hot Springs, the Maplethorpe brothers in Detroit, which should count as two, and Delilah Jones was the last, and I did everything I could to catch her.”

Hoover nodded. “So a Heavy can count. I see we’ve got us a jailhouse lawyer here gentlemen…” the members of Hoover’s entourage laughed. The Chicago agents knew better. “You want math, Sullivan? I’ll give you math. Jones got away. So that makes four.” Now Hoover held up his hand, thumb curled in. “And you did not manage to arrest the Maplethorpe brothers.” Hoover lowered a chunky finger. “You gunned them down, in the streets, in broad daylight. Maybe you’re right. They should count as two.” He lowered another finger.

“They didn’t leave us much choice, sir,” Agent Cowley stated. “I was there. They came out shooting and—“           

Hoover glared at the agent. Purvis shook his head angrily. Hoover had ended men’s careers for far less than interrupting him. Cowley wisely backed down. Hoover turned back to Sullivan. “So by my calculations, that means you owe me three more arrests.”

The big man’s nostrils flared, but he kept his outward cool. “That wasn’t the agreement.”

Hoover leaned back in his chair. “Tolson.” He opened his hand, held it out, and one of the functionaries immediately stepped forward and placed an open folder in it. “Thank you. This is your agreement, Mr. Sullivan. Let me educate you for a moment. An agreement is a contract between two men that is legally binding. Except that’s the rub. You’re not a man, you’re a convict. So…” Hoover pulled a sheet of white paper, crumpled it into a ball, and tossed it at Sullivan. It fell short and rolled to a stop right in front of him. “The agreement says whatever I say it says. You will help arrest Delilah Jones, and you will do whatever else I tell you to do. Lincoln freed the slaves, but he never said anything about the convicts.”    

Sullivan just sat there, staring at that crumpled piece of typing paper. His anger fed the Power in his chest, and he thought about just reaching across the table and Spiking Hoover through the floor, then he could pull the pile of smashed guts and pulverized bones up out of there, launch it through the ceiling and spray it as a red rain over downtown Chicago…

But he didn’t, because despite what the jury had said, Jake Sullivan was not a murderer. Sure, he was a killer, he’d lost count of how many lives he’d ended in the war and in fights in Rockville, but he wasn’t a murderer. There was a difference.

He spoke very slowly. “You lied to me…”

“I work for the government, son. Deal with it.” Hoover pushed away from the table and stood. He addressed the entire room. “Carry on agents, and this time, when you let a felon escape, do not let it get in the papers. That will be all.” One of his men opened the door, and Hoover turned to leave.

But Sullivan wasn’t done. “Hoover.” His deep voice reverberated through the room, and there was no Mr. attached. The crumpled paper floated off the table, and hovered, spinning, in front of his face. Hoover visibly paled, hesitating in the doorway. It was a well known fact that the man was terrified of magic. Sullivan slowly enclosed the paper in one big fist and took it away. “You lied about Delilah too. I was suspicious that a bunch of Actives just happened to know we were going to be there to catch her. I did some checking yesterday. I’ve got some cop friends in that area, and they say she didn’t kill anybody during any bank robberies.”

That seemed to take Purvis by surprise. Apparently the Chicago agents had been in the dark too. “So who were those dead men in the photographs?” Purvis asked.

Hoover exchanged glances with the agent named Tolson. The taller man seemed baffled. Apparently they hadn’t prepared an answer. Finally Hoover spoke. “That’s not important. Just know that she murdered them. And the highest levels of government want her caught. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir,” all of the agents answered simultaneously.

Sullivan didn’t say a word, but inside he was seething. He just squeezed the crumpled contract in his hand, pummeling it with his Power as Hoover walked out. When Sullivan finally let go, a hard ball of compressed wood pulp the size of a marble hit the floor and rolled away.  

San Francisco, California

The room was kept dark, thick curtains closed. The lights hurt the boss’s eyes, and Garrett also knew that despite what his employer said, he was ashamed to let anyone see him closely. He had been a proud man once, an unbelievably strong man, and it hurt Garrett to see him in this state.

“So let me make sure I got this straight,” his employer said from the bed. “A single Heavy fought a Brute to a standstill, caught a dirigible that was already in the air, knocked out Heinrich, beat the ever living hell out of Francis, and resisted your Influence?”          

“That about covers it,” Daniel Garrett replied. It was rather embarrassing to have his entire crew defeated by somebody with one of the most mundane of all Powers. “Every other Heavy I’ve known was employed as manual labor or on a construction job. I thought all they could do was make heavy things light enough to temporarily pick up. This one was different. It was like he had more than one type of Power.”

The General shook his scabrous head in disagreement. Even that small motion seemed to pain him. “No,” he rasped. “There’s only one man in the whole world who possesses more than one type of Power. This man, everything he did came from the same Power, the magical alteration of gravitational pulls. He’s just…”

“Different,” Garrett said. 

“Resourceful.” His employer had to stop for a moment to cough into his towel.

Garrett wasn’t so sure about that. He did not have a head for science, but the tools the Heavy used seemed to go beyond just altering gravity’s strength and direction. His gut told him that something was different about this one.

The General’s coughing fit continued. The sound was painful as his lungs ground and struggled for purchase. The hacking continued for another thirty seconds and Garrett started to rise to get Jane, but his employer waved for him to stay seated. Finally the white cloth came away stained with blood, and the man continued as if the spasm had never happened. “Recruit him,” he gasped.

“Excuse me?”

“Hire him, Garrett. Find this Heavy and make him a job offer.”

“No offense, General, but the new girl threw him through the dirigible. I’m relatively certain he’s dead.”

“No,” he said, gesturing with one skeletal hand at the telegram on the desk next to the bed. “After you reported in I did some checking. Apparently he doesn’t die easily.”

He took the telegram and read it. Finally he whistled. “Impressive.”

“Apparently that power-mad imbecile, J. Edgar Hoover, agrees with you. That’s why he was sprung from jail. Hoover doesn’t understand Powers. He just tries to wield them like clubs. Treats Actives like mushrooms. But we could use a man like this.”

After looking over the telegram, Garrett didn’t feel quite as bad about losing to the Heavy. Very few Actives had survived the battle of Second Somme.

“Time is growing short, Daniel,” the General warned.

Garrett didn’t know if he was talking about his declining health or the impending threat of the Imperium. Either was terrible in its own way. “I’ll be on the next flight.”

#

The General must have fallen back asleep immediately after Garrett had left. It was getting harder to remain conscious for any period of time. He returned slowly, aching, eyes burning at even the tiniest bit of light.  His body was dying, rotting from the inside out, and he had been in such terrible pain for so long that he knew all he had to do was wish for death and it would blissfully come. He was only alive because of Jane’s healing magic and sheer stubbornness.

He still had too much work to do.

There was another reason he’d dispatched Garrett to recruit the Heavy. His sources had confirmed what he’d first suspected when he’d heard the man’s name. It had been too much of a coincidence for there to be another Sullivan out there that was that talented a Heavy.

It seemed appropriate to use this man to balance the scales, he thought, but then a new pain appeared in his stomach that distracted him. It was hard to concentrate when your body was falling apart. Whenever the suffering grew too much to bear, all he had to do was recall the memories of Tokugawa, and he found renewed determination. That man would never rest. If he even was, or ever had been, a man… the General had his doubts.

His memory was still sharp. The spreading tumors in his brain had left that at least. It had been back in ’05 when a handful of western military observers had been sent to document the war between the Russians and the Japanese, and he could still recall it like it was yesterday. The Tsar’s forces had been utterly destroyed, fleets sunk in oily flames, and a hundred thousand men had been butchered in the first engagement.

The Imperium was born.

And that had been the day that Black Jack Pershing had met the devil himself.

El Nido, California

The day was like any other summer day in El Nido, work, work, work. Try to get the hard stuff done before it got too hot so you could take a nap when it was really miserable, and then back to work for the evening chores. Always up way before dawn to milk and feed. Only to dairy farmers did waking up to the cock’s crow at sunrise feel like sleeping in. It had been a long time since the old farmer had slept in. He figured he could sleep when he was dead.

The morning’s work was done. Gilbert and most of the family had gone into town. That just left him and Faye to finish moving hay, but he didn’t mind. The girl worked harder than most boys her age. Better company too.

Usually.

“So I been thinking some more…” Faye said as she threw a pile of alfalfa into the feeder. She paused to lean on her pitchfork, wiping the sweat from her face.

“Uh oh,” he replied, rolling his eyes.

“Is magic alive?”

He kept forking the hay over. He thought about it for a long time. “Is electricity alive? Is fire alive?”

“Hmm…” Faye frowned. “That’s what I thought. That’s bad then.”

“Why’s that bad?” The girl’s brain was always spinning around about something.

“Because if magic ain’t alive, and it’s just stuck to some people, then why couldn’t it be stuck to some thing?”

He froze, pitchfork stuck in the hay. She didn’t seem to notice.

“Why couldn’t somebody figure out how to take someone else’s magic and put it in like another person? Or an animal? Or a machine even?”

“Stop it,” the old farmer ordered sternly.

Faye was confused. “Stop what?”

“Just…” How could he explain? He didn’t want to expose this poor girl to what was out there, waiting. But she was just too damn smart for her own good. “Just, never mind. Don’t think about stuff too hard. Keep working.”

She sniffed. “Are you mad at me, Grandpa?”

“I could never be mad at you, girl.” He kept working, letting the rhythm of the movement calm his thoughts. After a few seconds Faye went back to her fork. Someday he would explain everything he knew to her, but he wasn’t a man that liked to talk, especially about things like that.

A few minutes later the girl looked up. “Somebody’s coming,” Faye said, pointing at the road. Sure enough he could see the dust of approaching automobiles. “Probably more thieving Okies passing through. I’ll lock the tool shed.”

He nodded. He had taught her well. But these autos weren’t coming from the main road. They were coming from the direction of Potter Field, the little airfield a few miles away.

They’d seen a metal single-wing cargo plane fly that way earlier. The whole family had stopped whatever they were doing to watch. It was quite the sight. There were just a few fabric biplanes at Potter. It wasn’t like they got any fancy planes out in the San Joaquin Valley.

The old farmer suddenly had a bad feeling. “Throw the cows over the fence some hay,” he told her, watching the approaching dust suspiciously. “Do the dry cows first. Go.” Faye hesitated, then did as she was told. He wanted her away. The rest of the family had taken the Dodge into Merced, and wouldn’t be back until it was time to start the 4:00 milking.

There was nothing else along this road except for his dairy. The cars pulled up the lane and stopped in front of the house in a cloud of white dust. He went out to meet them. He didn’t bother to hose off his boots.

There were four men in each car, and all eight of them stepped out at the same time. Their clothes were fancy-boy city clothes, black or pinstriped suits and nice hats. The farmer didn’t even dress that nice to go to church. He could tell these men might have been from the city, but they weren’t fancies. They looked hard and dangerous.

The old farmer knew right away why these men were here. His wide straw hat covered his grey eyes, and he risked a glance back toward the barn. Faye had done as she’d been told and was out of sight.

The tallest one seemed to be the boss. He was square and thick, one of the biggest men the farmer had ever seen, with a jagged scar crossing half his face that had left one eye a blinded white orb. “Are you Joe?” that one asked. That didn’t mean much. Half the Portuguese men in the world were named Joe. “Travelin’ Joe?”

They had been bound to catch up with him eventually. The old farmer tipped his hat.

#

Faye was sweating, using a pitchfork to toss alfalfa over the barbwire fence to the dry cows. The hay was dusty, collected in her hair and inside her too-large hand-me-down work shirt, and it made her nose itch. She stopped to sneeze a couple of times, then went back to work.

It was hot. The valley was always extra muggy in the summer, probably from the irrigation, and the sun was always beating down on her head.  Her rubber boots were heavy with dried poop, too big, and made her feet sweat.

And she was as happy as she could be.

The Vierras were good people. They were always loud, frantic, and yelling about something, but that’s just how they were, but at least here she didn’t get beaten daily for having the devil in her. Grandpa was actually proud that she was different. And unlike her life before, there was always food. Faye even liked to work. She didn’t even mind the Holsteins much.

Life was simple, and it was hard, but she was content, because it wasn’t mean.

A cow stuck its head through the fence, curious, smelling her. It chuffed and blew green snot all over her pants. She wiped it off with a handful of hay and patted the cow on the nose. She licked Faye with a giant rough tongue and the girl giggled.

A gun fired. The line of Holsteins jerked, ears all cocked suspicious in the same direction. It had come from the other side of the milk barn. A flock of black birds leapt into the air and flew over the roof. Grandpa was probably shooting at crows, but Faye frowned, since that sure hadn’t sounded like Grandpa’s shotgun. One of the dogs started barking like crazy.

Then there was a whole bunch of guns. A giant mad bumblebee passed overhead and it took Faye a second to realize that it was actually a bullet. Something was terribly wrong. She clutched the pitchfork tight and the dry cows bolted from the fence and ran for the far side of the corral.

The Okies are robbing Grandpa! It was like the bank robbers they talked about on the radio. Still holding the pitchfork, she ran for the barn, big boots clomping, but that was too slow, so she focused on a spot fifty feet ahead, which was as far as she’d ever traveled before, touched the magic, sent her senses ahead, clear, and was just there.

She’d done just like Grandpa had taught, appearing an inch or so off the dirt so she wouldn’t melt her soles to the ground, and hit the ground still clomping forward. Now she could see around the block edge of the barn and there were two black automobiles, and a bunch of men in suits running toward the house and shouting.  There was another boom and one of the men fell off the porch and into grandma’s rosebushes.

A hand landed on her shoulder, and Faye nearly jumped out of her skin. “Girl!” Grandpa whispered in her ear. He had Traveled right behind her. He dragged her back around the corner as he broke open his shotgun, pulled the spent shell out, and fished another one out of his coveralls. He didn’t seem any more upset than when he was dealing with a particularly nasty cow. “Go hide.” He snapped the shotgun closed and pointed with it toward the haystacks, but then he scowled. “Shit. Forgot.”     

“Where are you going?”

“Something in the barn I need. Go hide.” He closed his grey eyes and disappeared.

Faye focused on the haystacks. A man’s voice came from behind her. “There’s somebody el–” And then her boots landed in a pile of straw and she didn’t hear the rest. Scared, she scrambled behind some broken bales. Just her eyes sticking over the top, and she searched for the men. The nearest one was rounding the barn, silver gun in his hand, and he was jerking his head back and forth, wondering where she’d gone. She squeezed the pitchfork even harder, though she didn’t know what she planned on doing with it.            

Then she saw something strange. Another man, a giant, seemed to fly over the edge of the barn and landed easily on the tin roof. It was like he’d jumped right out of the yard, but Faye knew there was nothing to stand on over there, so he would have had to have leapt twenty-five feet straight into the air. The man crouched, scanning slowly, perched effortlessly next to the lightning rod. He reached into his suit and pulled out a huge gun. Faye ducked lower so he couldn’t see her. This man was special too. Like her, but different. Scary.

Grandpa Traveled and appeared right behind the first man, stabbing the shotgun barrel right into him. The man never knew what happened as the Sears & Roebuck shotgun blew him near in half, but Grandpa didn’t see the big man on the roof.

“Grandpa!” Faye screamed.

The old farmer looked up, seeing her, surely focusing on the safety of the haystack and—

BOOOM

Grandpa lurched forward as the man on the roof shot him. He traveled, and was instantly before Faye. Grandpa took two steps and fell to his knees. “Oh…”

Faye dropped the pitchfork, grabbed him by the straps of his coveralls, and dragged the little man behind the broken bales. “Grandpa!” she screamed. Blood was welling out from between the top buttons of his shirt, way too much blood. “Hold on, Grandpa!”

He grabbed her wrist, his fingers hard as rocks, and he shoved an old leather bag into her hand and squeezed it shut. Blood came out his mouth when he tried to talk and she had to put her ear down next to his mouth to hear him. “Don’t let them get it. Find Black—“ and then she couldn’t hear the rest because it turned into a gurgle as he breathed out. He didn’t inhale. Faye pulled away, and Grandpa Vierra’s grey eyes were staring at nothing.

“Grandpa?”

A man in a suit came running around the edge of the hay. Faye saw him coming and she was filled with an emotion she’d never felt before. The wood of the pitchfork was hard in her calloused hands as she rose, straw colored hair covering her face. Fifteen feet away the man raised his gun.

He shouted to the others. “I got th—“ but then Faye Traveled, screaming, and drove the three narrow tines of the pitchfork through his ribs. Still screaming she pushed the man, driving him back, until his knees buckled and she drove the fork all the way through him and into the ground. The man grabbed onto the handle, but Faye put all her weight on the shaft and held him there while he kicked and cussed. After a few seconds he quit moving.

“Hey, girl,” a very deep voice said. She turned, and the giant man from the roof, the man that had killed the first person who’d ever loved her, the man who’d murdered her Grandpa, was standing there, calm as could be, with the biggest revolver she’d ever seen pointed at her head. He cocked the hammer. One of his eyes was white. “No reason for any more killin’ today,” he lied. “I’m looking for something. That’s all.”

Faye wrenched the pitchfork out of the fallen man and pointed it at the big man. Blood dripped from the tines. “You… you killed… killed my Grandpa,” she gasped.

He nodded. “I guess that’s how it’s got to be then.” He pulled the trigger.

The bullet passed through the space where Faye had just been as she materialized off to the man’s side. She gasped in pain. She’d gone too fast, hadn’t used her instincts, and done something wrong, but there was no time, and she stabbed the pitchfork deep.

The man looked down at the iron embedded in his body. The top was in his ribs, the middle had to be through his guts, and the bottom went in just under his belt. Faye drove her weight forward, trying to stick it in deeper, but the man calmly grasped the shaft and wouldn’t let her. It was like pushing on a wall. The man hauled the fork out of his body, several inches of bloody metal from each spot, and in the process knocked Faye on her butt.

Grandpa’s leather bag hit the ground, spilling something metallic into the hay.

Blood leaked out the three holes in the one-eyed man’s side, but he didn’t seem to care. His attention focused in on the bag. Faye scrambled for it, fingers hitting the drawstrings just as he pointed the big revolver at her, and desperate, she Traveled further than she ever had before.

#

The .50 Russian Long dug a divot in the dirt, but the girl was already gone.

“Gawdamned Travelers,” he spat. It was a good thing most of them died young, because he hated them especially hard. He checked his side. The little whore had got him good, but not good enough. It took more than getting stabbed to hurt him, but it sure made him mad.

Carefully scanning back and forth, waiting for the girl to reappear, he picked the small piece of machinery off the ground. He’d been briefed enough to know that this was a part of what he was after, maybe the most important piece even, but it wasn’t all of it, and his orders had said to bring it all back. He carefully stuffed the piece into one bloodied pocket.

Next he checked the old man’s body, but he didn’t have it on him. He must have given it to the girl… His remaining men caught up a moment later. “Have you found it?” he shouted. The men shook their heads. “Find it or I’ll kill you all!” he bellowed. “There’s a girl. She’s a Traveler too. Find her and put a bullet in her. What are you waiting for? Move!”

Terrified, the goons went back to searching. Better be afraid, fucking pussies.

One man hesitated. “You’re bleeding, Mr. Madi.”

The big man just growled at him. “Naw? Really?”

“Uh… what do you want me to do with the bodies.”

Madi scowled. He’d lost two men to that damn Portagee and one to his brat. “Drag ‘em inside. We’ll burn everything ‘fore we go. That’s what they get for being weak. Now quit jawin’ and find that girl.”

Frustrated, he stomped over to the dead Portagee, lifted his LeMat-Schofield and pumped the rest of the hot loaded slugs into the body. Then he thumb cocked the second hammer and gave the old man the 12 gauge barrel just to be sure. He rapidly broke open his empty gun The spent moon-clip kicked out automatically under spring pressure, and he stuffed in another moon-clip of cartridges into the cylinder and a single shotgun shell into the over-barrel, then snapped it shut and shoved the Beast back into his shoulder holster. The bloody mess he’d caused made him smile.

He sat on a bale of hay and waited for the bleeding to gradually stop. Travelin’ Joe was dead, but without all the goods, the Chairman wasn’t going to be happy.

#

Faye watched the one-eyed man from under the overturned trough halfway across the pasture. He yelled at his men, shot Grandpa a bunch more times, and then took a seat. Cows had sensed her, and always curious, were gathering around the trough. The metal was old and had rusted through in places, and she kept her eye against one of those holes, spying, until she could no longer see through all the Holsteins.

She couldn’t stop crying.

Her foot hurt. She’d Traveled without checking first. Grandpa had been gone for all of ten seconds before she had violated his first commandment. She knew that there was something stuck in her heel. Maybe a piece of straw, maybe a rock, and the pain was almost unbearable. Every pulse of her heart felt like somebody was driving a nail through her bones with a carpenter’s hammer.

But that wasn’t why she was crying.

Faye kept Grandpa’s leather bag clutched to her chest. It was splattered with his blood. The pain made her want to just close her eyes and curl up into a ball, but she didn’t know what time it was, and didn’t know how soon it would be until the rest of the family came back from town. If these men were still here, then she knew that she would have to try to stop them before they could hurt her family, but she didn’t know what to do, and she was so very afraid.

Finally, the pain had grown too much to bear. She kicked her filthy boot off, and drew her bare foot into a shaft of sunlight. Faye grimaced when she saw what it was. One of those big black crunchy beetles, the kind that was so tough that you could stomp on them and if the dirt was soft they would just pop back up alive. Its back half was fused into the flesh of her heel, its front legs and mandibles still thrashing.

There was no hesitation. She just wanted it out. Biting her lip, she unfolded her pocketknife, and started cutting. It hurt too bad, so she pulled off her bandanna, rolled it tight and stuck it in her mouth to bite down on so the one-eyed man wouldn’t hear her scream, and went back to digging. Tears poured from her eyes, but she forced herself to keep going. The beetle ruptured, squirting a thick white juice that quickly mixed with her own blood. She knew she had to be thorough. After a few seconds of carving, the beetle was gone, she had a hole that hurt so bad she could barely think, but she felt immensely better.  She stuffed her bandanna into the wound and held it there.

The cows had moved enough for her to see again. The big man had stood, lit a cigar, and then used his lighter to casually set the haystacks on fire before wandering off. A minute later the barn was burning too, and she could see black smoke rising from where the house should be.

She waited until she saw the dust from the cars as they drove back up the road. Then she waited longer, just to make sure it wasn’t a trick. Finally Faye crawled out from under the trough and limped across the pasture to the burning ruins of the only real home she’d ever known.

The grey eyed girl vowed never to cry again.

Chapter 4:  http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2010/04/09/the-grimnoir-chronicles-hard-magic-chapter-4/

George Hill needs our support – Good man running for office

Many of you know George Hill as the Ogre of www.madogre.com.  George is running for the Utah State legislature. 

George is a down to earth, normal, level headed, dude.  He’s the kind of guy that you can go shooting with, then eat burgers, and complain about the morons in politics.  When asked for an opinion, he won’t check the polls and the direction of the wind, he’ll just tell you what he thinks.  Basically, he’s one of us. 

I’ve known George for about 12 years now.  He’s an Army vet, and when we met he was a computer geek, and now he’s a friendly neighborhood gun dealer.  He’s got a lovely wife and a mess of sons out in the Vernal, Utah area.   

He’s running for the Utah State legislture, but he needs our help.  Running for office takes money, and if you can spare it, this is the kind of person that we need more of in the government.  There is a donate link on his blog above, and here is a direct link.  EDIT – Paypal link doesn’t work.  Just go to www.madogre.com.

And beyond that, if any of you live in Utah, and you can volunteer your services, I’m sure George would appreciate the help. 

We all complain about the morons in politics and how nice it would be if there were more of “us” in those offices.  Now is your chance to help one out.

EDIT:  Here is George’s Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/pages/Vote-George-Hill/108575745827001?ref=nf

The Grimnoir Chronicles: Hard Magic — Chapter 2

As promised, the snippet rampage continues.  Here is chapter 2 for your reading pleasure.  And to answer an earlier question, no I don’t mind if you share this.  In fact, the whole reason I’m doing this is to get attention for the book, so feel free to post this to your blogs or share it with your friends.  

For those just tuning in, here is the link to Chapter 1 – http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2010/04/07/7-days-of-grimnoir-sample-chapters-from-the-grimnoir-chronicles-hard-magic/

-Larry

 

 

The learned gentlemen from the university have asked me if I relied on Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity or if I used the simpler rules of Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation on the evening in question when I accidentally took Sheriff Johnson’s life . Shit. I don’t know. I just got angry and squished the fucker. But I’ve gotten better at running things and I promise not to do it no more.

Jake Sullivan, Parole Hearing, Rockville State Penitentiary 1928

Chapter 2

 

El Nido, California 

The old Portuguese farmer sighed in frustration, ankle-deep in cow shit, as a panicked Holstein ran past flinging shit in every direction with his adopted girl on top trying to ride the animal like a horse.

“Off the cow!” he bellowed, but it didn’t matter anyway, because people rode horses instead of cows for a reason, and a thousand pounds of beef slipped and landed on its side in a great grunting heap. The girl Traveled at the last second to avoid getting hurt. She appeared next to him, still in forward motion, and her rubber boots slid through the muck until she stopped.

She was taller than he was now, so he had to stand on his tiptoes. He smacked her hard on the back of the head as he shouted in English.  “Mean to cows? You don’t be mean to cows!”

“Sorry,” Faye said sheepishly. “I wanted to see what would happen…”

The farmer just shook his head. He’d tried that himself once a long time ago, with similar results, but she didn’t need to know that.  “You upset the cows. Upset cows don’t give so much milk. No milk, no eat.” Times were hard, and they were paid by the hundred weight. There was a 1,000 gallon tank in the barn, and if it wasn’t full when the milk truck came, then that meant less money from the creamery, and they would be eating cows to stay alive instead of milking them.

The cow got up and trotted away, shaking her head and snorting. Its ear tag told him it was Number 155, and she was a pain in the ass anyway. In the barn, she was a kicker, so it served her right. His hand still hurt from the evening milking when that cow had kicked him again.

“Sorry, Grandpa,” Faye said again. “I was done putting grain out for the night and she was just looking at me like she was daring me to mess with her.”  Everybody who worked in the barn had gotten a hoof to the hand by that particular boss cow at some point. 155 was particularly good at pissing on her own tail and then hitting you in the face with it when you were just squatting down to put the milking machine on her. She was an angry cow. “155’s a bitch.”

He thumped her on the back of the head again. “Ladies don’t cuss.” He wanted to smile, but had to stay stern. “So you Traveled and landed on her back?”   

The girl shrugged. She had really grown the last few years. She didn’t really fit in with the rest of the family, being so much taller, paler, skinnier, with hair that was always long, tangled, and the color of damp straw. Her Portuguese had gotten better than his English, she got dragged to a proper Catholic mass most Sundays, and she worked hard for a girl. So it was almost like she wasn’t a damn Okie anymore, but she would certainly never pass for an Azorean Festa princess.

“Never told you not to. Told you to be careful,” he chided her. He had taught her everything he knew about magic. He’d taught her to Travel only to things that were in her line of sight, and how to use her instincts to avoid getting hurt by stray objects. He hated to admit it, but she was already better at it than he had ever been. She could go further, had a better feel for it, and could store more Power than any other grey eye he’d met, but she was still young, and therefore dumb.

“What if the cow moved and you got your foot stuck in it? I’d have a kid with one leg. You can’t milk with one leg!”

“Sure I could. I’d get a stool with wheels.”

“But who’d want a cow with a foot growing out it?”

Faye thought about that problem for a second. “The circus!”

He groaned. The girl’s head just didn’t work in the same direction as most folks. “People like us got to be careful. One mistake…” he made a gagging noise and crossed his eyes. She giggled. She still giggled a lot.

She hadn’t really talked much for the first few months. Faye had always been an odd one, like she didn’t see the world the same way as others, with lots of strange looks and scowls, and when she talked, it didn’t make much sense, usually the first random thing that popped in her head, or things only she could see. The farmer never found out much about her life before, and frankly he didn’t care to, but he knew it must have been lousy, even by miserable Okie standards.

His wife, Maria, may God rest her soul, had taken to the little Okie girl, and doted on her. When Maria had passed on that winter, Faye had watched the family mourn, and he thought that it was probably then that she had figured out she was one of them now. Once Faye decided she finally fit in, she’d been nothing but smiles and mischief ever since. She really brightened the farm up, and though the old farmer missed his wife every single day, the skinny little Okie girl had given him something to live for.

Faye was the best ten bucks he’d ever spent.

“Come on, girl. Let’s feed the calves, then we can turn in,” he said, and the two of them climbed over the corral pipes and dropped down to the hard dirt of the yard. His knees were killing him but there was always more work to do on a dairy farm. She hopped down with the effortless grace of a young woman instead of a clumsy kid. He hated to admit that she was growing up. Even some of the local Portuguese boys from the other families had started sniffing around, but so far he’d kept them at bay with a stern glance and his reputation.

“Grandpa, can I tell you something?”  After the first year she had started calling him Grandpa instead of Mr. Vierra. He’d never minded.

“What, girl? You gonna fess up to scaring more cows?”

She didn’t giggle for once. That got his attention, because she was hardly ever serious. There were always random thoughts spinning in that girl’s head, but it was rare when she shared. “It’s about my magic. Something don’t make sense to me.” He waited for it. None of it really made sense to him. He’d just learned to control it by instinct. Most of the others like them weren’t so lucky. “You taught me to feel ahead before I Travel…”

“And you always do, right?”

“Of course,” she said defensively. “But lately, it’s been more than feeling. If I try real hard, it’s like, I don’t know, like I can see the space before I get there. I don’t know. I don’t have the words to explain it good. It only happens if I try real hard.”

The old farmer nodded thoughtfully. According to everything he had learned over decades of practice, that was impossible. You didn’t see until your eyes actually got there. A Traveler could get a sense of wrongness if he was about to jump into a bad place, and that could save your life, but you couldn’t actually see anything until you arrived. “I don’t know how magic works, just that it does. I teach you what I know, don’t mean you can’t learn more than me.”  

Faye seemed perplexed by that. “Why is it that some of us can do some kinds of magic, but only some of us, and we can only do one kind? If we got one magic, why can’t we get more?”

He knew that she was wrong. There was at least one person out there with more than one Power, but she was too young to have to know about him. “That’s how God wants it, I guess.”

“What if magic was something that could be learned, and not just born with? What if regular people could learn it, like from books or a school or something?”

This train of thought made him uncomfortable. Faye assumed what most people did, that there was only one kind of magic, but he knew that there was the other kind. The old kind, the bad kind. He grunted. “Less talk, more work. Come on. Calves are hungry.”   

Faye sighed. “They’re always hungry.”

 

 

 

Springfield, Illinois

“Sullivan! Are you okay?”

He blinked against the brilliant light. His head was throbbing, pulsing like somebody was running a blacksmith’s forge inside his brain. “Ohhh… that Fade cooled me good,” he muttered, pulling himself up. Cowley was kneeling at his side, blood leaking from his nose. Sullivan wasn’t the only one the Fade had worked over.

The Spiker mashed one big hand against the side of his head, and it came away stained red. He’d really gotten belted. Sullivan knew that he should have been out for a lot longer, but he’d spent a lot of time using his Powers to toughen his body. It wasn’t like there was much else to do inside an eight-by-ten windowless cell all day. “Which way did they go?” He picked his fedora up and tugged it down tight on his head.

Cowley pointed up.

The blimp. Sullivan got to his feet. “How’s Purvis?”

“I’ll live,” the senior agent grumbled from off to the side, his left arm was hanging at a very unnatural angle. “Everybody’s alive, but they’re hurt bad. I don’t know where the locals are. They should have come running when they heard shooting. They’ve got a gang of Actives, Sullivan. There are more of them that went up there. A Mover bounced the boys I left on the door. There was another girl, who knows what she does?”

Sullivan stood. His head hurt, but everything seemed to be attached. No bones were sticking out, and he wasn’t squirting blood, so he’d been worse. He checked his Power. It had automatically returned and he could feel the weight in his chest. He had about half of what he’d started the night with. There was a sudden clank as the docking clamps were retracted from the dirigible. “Take care of your men, Melvin. I’m going after them.”          

“There are at least three Actives,” Purvis warned.

“That’s suicide,” Cowley said, grimacing as he picked up his Tommy Gun. “I’m coming with you.”

That kind of bravery would probably get the agent killed someday, but Sullivan could respect it. “Fine, let’s go.” His .45 was on the ground and he returned it to the leather holster on his belt.

“The car won’t come down from the top. They probably wrecked the controls,” Cowley said. “And the door to the next stairwell landing is steel, and it’s been sorta… twisted. It’s stuck. I already tried– Wait, Jake, what are you doing?”

Sullivan stepped into the elevator shaft. There was no ladder and the interior of the shaft was made up of a grating that would be extremely difficult to climb. The Spiker paused long enough to pull a pair of leather gloves from his coat and put them on before grabbing the swaying cable in the center. It was extremely greasy and he looked with distaste at the mess it was making to his best shirt. Money was tight. “Don’t try to keep up.”

He reached inside and used some Power. It always took less energy to affect his own body than others. Perhaps it was just a question of range, but either way, it didn’t take much Power to make gravity shrink away to nothingness around his person. Sullivan reached high and pulled, launching himself up the cable, hand over hand, almost flying up the whipping strand. Within seconds he had left the first floor behind.

“Wow… and I get a lighter,” Cowley muttered from below.

Why am I doing this? Sullivan wondered, but he already knew his answer. He had a few certain principles, and one of those was that when he started something, he finished it.

The bottom of the elevator car was black with grime and collected petroleum sludge. Sullivan almost collided into the soft mass, so great was the speed of his ascent. He held onto the cable with one hand and dangled, looking for the trapdoor. He found it, but had magically deprived himself of the weight to push it open. He concentrated on the trap’s iron hinges. It took a great deal of effort to channel his Power in two separate directions at once, to make himself lighter, but to make the door heavier than its hinges could bear.

Good thing he’d done nothing but practice for six years…

“Sam! Get out of the way!” he shouted. He had no idea if the Bureau of Investigation agent was actually crazy enough, or physically fit enough to follow him this way, but it was worth the effort to yell. “Incoming!”   

The trapdoor, now drawn toward the Earth as if it weighed five hundred pounds, tore free, and toppled down the shaft. Sullivan reached out with his Power, just in case, and lessened the pull on the trapdoor so it fluttered down with the energy of a broken kite. The length of the reach overcame his concentration, and for a brief moment, Sullivan slipped. He barely held onto the greasy cable as he returned instantly to his natural weight. Sliding, almost losing it, he managed to shove one hand through the open trap. Grasping the edge, he pulled himself through onto the elevator’s carpeted floor with a grunt.

The shaft terminated inside a glass enclosure. UBF signs encouraged mothers to secure their children while on the platform. Sullivan crawled forward, glancing around the darkened enclosure. Rain was streaking the glass and lightning crashed. Three UBF employees and the last of the passengers were standing there, gawking at the dirigible beginning to rise just outside the windows. Delilah was getting away.

“Hey!” he shouted. “Can you clamp it down from here?”

“Are you crazy? You want them to stay?” an older man in a blue UBF captain’s uniform shouted. “That’s my bird they’re glauming out there, and even I don’t want to mess with those freaks! He bent the door with his brain, son!”

Sullivan swore as he tried the door to the platform. The metal frame had been twisted and distorted somehow. It was like what Cowley had said had happened in the stairs. He didn’t even know what kind of Power that was, and if it was the Mover, then it was from an Active far stronger than anybody he’d met before.

That gave him an idea. The dirigible companies were employing lightning directors now, and their safety records had gone way up as a result, but he’d also seen what an offensive weapon they could be during the war. “Who’s the Crackler?” Sullivan asked. “Come on!”

One of the younger UBF employees stepped forward. Sullivan kicked himself. It should have been obvious. His coverall had a big yellow lightning bolt sewn on it. “We prefer being called Edisons,” the young man said stiffly.

“Whatever floats your boat, pal. Can you blast them out of the sky?”

“It doesn’t work like that,” he said quickly. The others looked at him suspiciously. Even if he could, he wasn’t going to admit it in front of people who could get him fired. “Of course I can’t.” 

“It was worth a try.” The dirigible was rising, loose cables whipping about it in the wind. “Cover your ears,” Sullivan ordered as he drew his 1911 Colt. There was no way he could heed his own advice and his ears stung from the concussion in the enclosed space. A hole puckered through the thick glass. He stepped back and kicked the window out, careful not to slice himself open on the jagged edges, and stepped onto the platform. The rain was pounding around him in giant sheets.

The dirigible’s cabin was thirty feet up and rising quick. He could have shot at it, but he might as well try to poke holes in the moon. He could empty an entire magazine into that gas bag and they’d still have enough helium to make it to California. A few .45 caliber holes weren’t going to make a lick of difference. They were far enough away from the tower now to safely fire up the propellers, and they coughed and began to turn. The stubby wedge wings started getting lift and the rate of climb increased dramatically. There was no time for hesitation. Sullivan took three quick steps, vaulted over the railing into space, drawing deep on his Power the whole time.

The safety cable snapped past, slamming into his chest, flinging him about as if he weighed nothing, which in fact was almost true. He wrapped his arms around the cable and his fedora disappeared into the darkness. Sullivan grimaced as the sharp corner of the platform’s metal roof caught his leg and slashed through his trousers and into the muscle of his calf.      

It hurt unbelievably bad. He didn’t know how deep it was. He could let go and float to the ground now, or he could pass out from blood loss and drop like a stone. But Sullivan ignored the pain, despite every rational part of his brain telling him that he was cuckoo, and began to climb, throwing himself up the cable with maniacal force. The wind was increasing as the dirigible picked up speed and the incandescent lights of Springfield were winking by under his kicking legs.

Thrashing through the rain, he could see that the cable terminated on a spool at the aft end of the cabin. There was a catwalk under it, and Sullivan concentrated on reaching it. He blinked away rain and tears long enough to notice the form of a man walking down the catwalk, right toward the spool. Sullivan knew he was a sitting duck. There was no more time.

Altering gravity took Power. The further he reached the more it took, and changing the direction of pull entirely burned up Power like coal in a blast furnace, but he had no choice. Sullivan Spiked as hard as he could as he let go of the rope and returned to his normal weight. There was a rip in space as one bit of it was temporarily wronged and inverted. Up became down and he fell through the sky, upward toward the climbing dirigible.

It was the Fade, moving down the catwalk, reeling the cables back in to avoid lightning strikes. He paused, noticing that something was wrong as the raindrops in front of his face slowed, hesitated in midair, and then began climbing. The German turned just in time to catch Sullivan’s massive fist with his jaw.

“Lights out, Hans,” Sullivan said as he crawled over the railing and dropped into a crouch on the steel catwalk. The German was out cold, flat on his back, one leg dangling off the edge. He knelt next to the unconscious man and patted him down. No papers, no wallet, the only thing distinctive was a gold ring with a black stone on his right hand. Sullivan found a diminutive little .32 in his coat, and frowned as he examined the Baby Browning. “Europeans…” he muttered, stuffing the tiny pistol in his own pocket.

The German moaned, so Sullivan grabbed a handful of shirt with his left, and gave him another big right, before dropping him back to the deck. He wouldn’t be going anywhere for awhile.  “Now we’re even.”

The big man moved quickly down the catwalk. Through the portholes he could see that the lights were on inside the cabin, which meant that he could see in, but they’d have a darn hard time seeing out. But he didn’t see anybody as he passed. The dirigible was going even faster now, and the wind was screaming past, whipping his tie and coat behind. Sullivan leaned into it and plodded on until he found an entrance door and ducked in.

The door opened into a wood paneled hallway that bisected the cabin. It was a lot quieter inside. Sullivan paused, catching his breath, dripping rainwater, and made sure his Power was ready. The cut on his calf burned, but didn’t appear to be as deep as he’d originally feared. The blood was leaking, rather than pumping, and he removed his tie and wrapped it around the cut as a makeshift bandage. Once he caught Delilah, the feds were definitely going to have to spring for a new set of duds. He drew his Colt and proceeded slowly down the hall, boots squeaking slightly.

The next door was marked Galley. Sullivan moved inside. The rectangular space was filled with two long bars and bolted down swivel stools, but empty of people. There was a door at the far end, and Sullivan started toward it. Somebody was driving this blimp, and they had to be in that direction. Delilah was probably with them, and if he could capture her, then he was finally a free man.

There was a tinkle of glass and a crash from the other side of the door and Sullivan automatically raised the Colt to cover it. A head moved on the other side of the circular glass window, and then the door swung open.

It was a young man, tall and thin, with disheveled brown hair and a skinny mustache, wearing a wool overcoat, but no hat, and his tie was undone. He had a bottle of wine in one hand and a corkscrew in the other. He was grinning and all of his attention was on getting that bottle open. Of course alcohol was illegal, but everybody knew that the passenger blimps always had something good stashed for the rich passengers.  

“Hey,” Sullivan said calmly. The 1911 made an audible click as the safety was moved into the off position. 

The young man looked up in surprise. “Hey, yourself,” he replied slowly. “Who are you supposed to be?”

“The one with the gun, so get your hands up.”

He paused. “But if I do that, I would have to drop this…”

Sullivan nodded slowly. “Beats getting shot in the face.”

“This is an 1899 vintage Merida-Claribout. I can’t drop it.”

“Well, I could drop you instead.”

He sighed in resignation. “Fine…” He let go of the bottle and the corkscrew and quickly raised his hands.

But there was no crash. No breaking of glass. Sullivan jerked his eyes down and saw the bottle hovering an inch off the floor. The young man smiled.

The bottle streaked across the galley at insane speeds, faster than Sullivan could Spike, and hit him in the arm as he jerked the trigger. Rather than break, the bottle impacted like a club. Sullivan tried to reacquire his target, but the bottle came flipping around out of nowhere and hit him over the top of the head and this time it shattered.

“Shit,” he growled as he landed against the bar, alcohol burning his eyes. The Colt came up, but pain flared through Sullivan’s hand, and he looked down in disbelief at the corkscrew embedded just behind the knuckles of his gun hand. His fingers twitched uncontrollably and the .45 hit the bar. He grasped for it with his left, but the gun flew down the bar and disappeared. “Damned Movers.”

“Yeah, we get that a lot,” the kid said. There was a sudden noise as several of the drawers on the service side of the counter slid open. There was a flash of silver and a cloud of knives, forks, and even spoons, rose over the bar. All of the items turned in the air so that they were pointed at Sullivan. “So who are you supposed to be?”

“I’m here to help arrest Delilah Jones for murder,” Sullivan said with more calm than he felt as he stared at a particularly large steak knife. He grasped the corkscrew and slowly withdrew it, turning it so as to not pull out a plug of meat, grimacing against the pain. From his understanding of Movers, it took a lot of effort to even direct the smallest of objects with any control. Let alone whole bunches of them. This kid was good.

“You a G-man?” the Mover asked. He was grimacing slightly, so it was taking some effort to hold up all those things, but Sullivan had to admit that it was mighty intimidating.

“Hardly… I suppose I’m a bounty hunter.” Sullivan took his time responding. It had to be using up a lot of the kid’s Power to show off like that. Being flashy was a waste of energy, and everybody had his limits. “Maybe I’ll get a reward for you too. What’s blimp-napping worth nowadays?” 

“Actually this is a dirigible. Blimps don’t have internal frames.”

“Everybody knows that.”

“You must be the Heavy that’s working for the feds.”

“Yeah,” Sullivan answered, Spiking hard. “Guess so.” Each piece of silverware suddenly gained fifty pounds. The kid gasped as he lost control and the objects crashed down.

The kid was at the far end of the bar, which was a little too far for an accurate Spike, so Sullivan reached across his body with his uninjured left hand and rummaged through his right coat pocket.

“You’re going to regret that!” the Mover shouted. “You Heavies can only concentrate on one space at a time. Watch this!” Then he theatrically spread his arms, and every loose object in the room shook. Plates, cups, bottles, trash, silverware, even the stools spun and the light fixtures pulled against their cords. “It’s like a thousand invisible hands, bucko. Let’s see how you do in the middle of a tornado.”

Sullivan came out with the German’s little .32. “You talk a lot,” and then he shot the kid in the knee.  

“Oww!” the Mover screamed as he fell to the floor. “Oh damn!” he grasped his leg and blood came pouring out between his fingers. All of the telekinetic Power was lost and the various objects fell with a clatter.  “You, you bastard! That hurts!”

“You have to learn to focus through the pain to use your Power, kid,” Sullivan said patiently. He’d crossed the room quickly and was standing over the Mover. “You’re lucky. I was aiming for your head, but I’m right handed.” He held up his bleeding hand, indicating the corkscrew hole. The fingers didn’t want to close. “I don’t aim so good with my left.”

The kid gritted his teeth, gathering his Power and a meat cleaver rose from the bar. Sullivan just shrugged, Spiked, and the injured man fell to the ceiling and rebounded off a steel beam in the roof, then Sullivan let gravity return to normal and the kid fell, crashing in a moaning, broken heap at his feet.

Sullivan returned the .32 to his pocket. He removed his handkerchief and wrapped it around his hand to stop the bleeding. The white quickly turned red. It hurt like a son of a bitch. He spotted his Colt near the kid and picked it up, limping onward.

Two down, but how many others were there? Sullivan was feeling woozy. He was losing blood. Had the others heard the gunshot? Would they be waiting for him?

He crossed another empty hallway. The control deck was up a short flight of metal steps at the end. The coast appeared to be clear. Sullivan checked his Power. There wasn’t a whole lot left. He should have just shot the talky Mover again and saved the juice.

There was only one way in, so Sullivan moved up as quietly as possible for a man of his stature. If he hadn’t been so worried about running low on Power, he would have given himself the weight of a dainty ballerina and made no noise at all. He set his boot down carefully, so the steps wouldn’t creak. The space around him was a mass of darkened pipes and shadows. This section wasn’t meant to be seen by the passengers, so UBF had saved the money on making it pretty. This end of the dirigible was noisy and vibrating from the front propellers and the wind. It was possible that the pilot of the stolen blimp hadn’t even heard the guns.

Creeping forward, Sullivan could see a man sitting in the driver’s seat. He could just see the back of a balding head. The captain’s chair was empty. He went a little further around the corner, until he saw a second person, a woman with long blonde hair at the radio operator’s station. She had her back to him and seemed intent on whatever she was listening to.

“All points bulletin. The state police are just waiting for the storm to pass so they can get some biplanes up,” the woman said. She had a touch of an accent like some of the eastern European immigrants Sullivan had served with in the 1st. “They think we’re heading for Canada.”

“Good thing we had Heinrich kill the spotlights,” the driver said. “Canada? Please. That’s like they took Vermont and made a whole country out of it, only more boring, and without the good maple syrup.” His voice was deep and smooth, almost like a radio news man.

Sullivan couldn’t see Delilah, and she was the one he was worried about running into at close range. He stepped into the room and aimed his gun at the back of the pilot’s head.

The girl at the radio turned and spotted Sullivan. “Uh, Danny, we’ve got company.” Sullivan realized she was rather attractive, probably thirty, with her hair bounced up like they were doing in the new color picture movies. “There’s a large man pointing a Colt at you… and he looks mad.”

The pilot chuckled, but didn’t bother to turn. “No need to be rude, Jane. Hello there. My name is Daniel Garrett. You can call me Dan. Pardon me for not standing and greeting you properly, but we’re at two thousand feet and climbing and these winds are getting worse. I’m trying to keep from plowing this unwieldy beast into the ground and being the death of us all.”

“Is that a threat?” Sullivan asked. “Because I can get out and walk.”

Dan laughed. “Oh no, friend, nothing of the sort.” His voice was calming. Sullivan felt like this man was a likable sort, a real reasonable guy. “Please, lower that gun and relax. I’m trying to drive this pig, here, and I could sure use a hand. I’m sure we can work out this misunderstanding.”

The Colt bobbed down. Yes, this was just a misunderstanding. No big deal.  They could always sit down and talk it out over a drink. Dan seemed a decent sort. He reminded Sullivan of an old friend, not that he could think of who specifically.

The entire front of the cabin was glass, and Sullivan could see nothing but blackness. Then lightning struck and he could see again.

Sullivan frowned. He’d felt this kind of intrusion before, though this one was a lot more subtle, a lot more cunning. “You’re in my head.” The Colt came back up. “Get out of my head, Mouth.”

“You’re sharp…” Dan said. “I thought you Heavies were supposed to be dimwits.”

“Not all of us.” He kept the gun on the driver, but kept one eye glued to the blonde. In this crew, he wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d started tossing undead flaming grizzly bears at him or something. “I don’t have time for your games—“

“No kidding,” said the girl. “You’ve got a three inch laceration on one leg, a puncture in your hand, a minor concussion, two injured vertebra in your lower back, and you’ve just picked up a nasty cold, though you won’t know about that until tomorrow morning. And you really need to quit smoking.”

Sullivan sighed. “I’m gonna ask this one time, then I’m gonna beat you until I’m bored. Where’s Delilah?”

A painted fingernail tapped his shoulder. “Right behind you, Jake.”

She’d been hiding between the pipes Sullivan realized as he Spiked, but Delilah had already been channeling her Power, increasing her strength ten-fold as she grabbed Sullivan by the shoulders and slammed him through the duralumin bulkhead and out the side of the airship.

Didn’t see that coming, Jake thought before blacking out, hurtling through the dark night.

#

It was the cold that finally brought him back to consciousness. Jake Sullivan gradually awoke, coughing at the bottom of a hole. He was on his back, soaked to the bone, encased in freezing damp mud. Water was falling down the hole, splashing him in the face, and every inch of his body ached. He was dizzy and wanted to puke, but he knew that was just the blood loss talking.

Not sure where he was, or how he’d gotten there, Sullivan pulled himself out of the mud. Roots and bits of rock were stuck in what was left of his clothing. His right hand still didn’t want to close, and he was surprised to find that he still clutched the Colt in his left, though when he looked at it, found that he only had the badly crushed frame. The slide was just gone. It looked like the magazine had exploded under the pressure and the magazine spring was dangling out the bottom like a half gutted fish. Jake tossed the ruined Colt in the mud with a splash, saddened by the loss of such a good piece.

He checked, and found that he was totally out of Power, utterly drained, and feeling unbelievably weak. It took him nearly ten minutes to crawl to the top of the hole, finding purchase on severed roots and bits of leaking pipe. Finally he crossed the top, where he discovered five splintered railroad ties and one side of a railroad track that had bent into a U before shearing. On top of that was the broken floor of an empty freight car, and above that was a perfect Sullivan-shaped hole through the freight train’s metal roof.

That’s a first, he thought as he crawled out from under the railcar and rolled onto his back into a puddle. He was in the middle of a train yard. The North American logo was right over his head. He’d fallen two thousand feet, blasted through a train car, dug an impact crater, and still nothing felt broken. Somehow he’d used up the last of his Power unconsciously before impact. He must have gone real dense. He hadn’t known he could do that, but then again, he didn’t routinely fall off blimps.        

A shape appeared. “Looks like we got us another filthy hobo.”

There was a second voice. “I’ll fetch my beatin’ stick.”

Sullivan grunted. It was gonna be a long night…

Chapter 3:  http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2010/04/08/the-grimnoir-chronicles-hard-magic-chapter-3/

7 days of Grimnoir – Sample chapters from The Grimnoir Chronicles: Hard Magic

Over on www.wethearmed.com I’ve been getting bugged to put up some more snippits.  The official, fully edited, and prettified snippets for my next novel, Monster Hunter Vendetta, will be posted over at the offical publisher’s webpage soon (and an advanced E-copy will be availalbe too, yay!) so I figured I would post up some sample chapters of what is coming after that.  Baen normally posts about a quarter of the book for free, so that’s what I will do here, only early, and not edited/cleaned up, so keep my relative illiteracy in mind.   I will post one chapter of Hard Magic here a day for the next week.  Except I won’t really have internet access over the weekend, so I’ll wrap this up next week some time.  

So here you go.  The Grimnoir Chronicles: Hard Magic will come out from Baen in 2011.   

 

The Grimnoir Chronicles:

Hard Magic

One general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die. The appearance of esoteric and etheral abiliites, magical fires and feats of strength, in recent decades are the purest demonstration of natural selection. Surely, in time, that general law will require the extinction of traditional man.

Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Man and Selection of Human Magical Abilities, 1879

 

 

Prologue

 

 

El Nido, California

“Okies.” The Portuguese farmer spat on the ground, giving the evil eye to the passing automobiles weighed down with baskets, bushels, and crates. The cars just kept coming up the dusty San Joaquin Valley road like some kind of Okie wagon train. He left to make sure all his valuables were locked up and his Sears & Roebuck single-shot 12 gauge was loaded.  

The tool shed was locked and the shotgun was in his hands when the short little farmer returned to watch.

One of the Ford Model Ts rattled to a stop in front of the farmhouse fence. The old farmer leaned on his shotgun and waited. His son would talk to the visitors. The boy spoke English. So did he, but not as well, just good enough to take the Dodge truck into Merced to buy supplies, and it wasn’t like the mangled inbred garbage dialect the Okies spoke was English anyway.

The farmer watched the transients carefully as his son approached the automobile. They were asking for work. They were always asking for work. Ever since the dusts had blown up and cursed their stupid land, they’d all driven west in some Okie exodus until they ran out of farmland and stopped to harass the Portuguese, who had gotten here first.

Of course they’d been here first. Like he gave a shit if these people were homeless or hungry. He’d been born in a hut on the tiny island of Terceira and had milked cows every single day of his life until his hands were leather bags so strong he could bend pipe. The San Joaquin valley had been a hole until his people had shown up, covered the place in Holsteins, and put the Mexicans to work. Now these Okies show up, build tent cities, bitch about how the government should save them, and sneak out at night to rob the Catholics. It really pissed him off.

It always amazed him how much the Okies could fit onto an old Model T. He’d come from Terceira on a steamship, spending weeks in a steel hole between hot steam pipes. He’d owned a blanket, one pair of pants, a hat, and a pair of shoes with holes in them. He’d worked his ass off in a Portuguese town in Rhode Island, neck deep in fish guts, married a nice Portuguese girl, even if she was from the screwed up island of St. George, which everybody from Terceira knew was the ass crack of the Azores, and saved up enough money doing odd jobs to come out here to another Portuguese town and buy some scrawny Holsteins. Five cows, a bull, and twenty years of back breaking labor had turned into a hundred and twenty cows, fifty acres, a Ford tractor, a Dodge pickup, a good milk barn, and a house with six whole rooms. By Portuguese standards, he was living like a king. 

So he wasn’t going to give these Okies shit. They weren’t even Catholic. They should have to work like he did. He watched the Okie father talking to his son as his son patiently explained for the hundredth time that there wasn’t any work, and that they needed to head toward Los Banos or maybe Chowchilla, not that they were going to work anyway when they could just break into his milk barn and steal his tools to sell for rotgut moonshine again. His grandkids were poking their heads around the house, checking out the Model T, but he’d warned them enough times about the dangers of outsiders, and they stayed safely away. He wasn’t about to have his family corrupted from their good Catholic work ethic by being exposed to bums.

Then he noticed the girl.

She was just another scrawny Okie kid. Barely even a woman yet, so it was surprising that she hadn’t already had three kids from her brothers. But there was something strange about this one… Something he’d seen before.

The girl glanced his way, and he knew then what had set him off. She had grey eyes.

“Mary mother of God,” the old farmer muttered, fingering the crucifix at his neck. “Not this shit again…” His first reaction was to walk away, leave it alone. It wasn’t any of his business, and the girl would probably be dead soon enough, impaled through her guts by some random tree branch or a flying bug stuck in an artery. And he didn’t even know if the grey eyes meant the same thing to an Okie as it did to the Portuguese. For all he knew she was a normal girl who just looked funny, and she’d go have a long and stupid life in an Okie tent city popping out fifteen kids who’d also break into his milk barn and steal his tools.

The girl was studying him, dirty hair whipping in the wind, and he could just tell…

“Fooking shit damn,” he said in English, which was the first English any immigrant who worked with cows learned. He’d seen what happened to the grey eyes when they weren’t taught correctly, and as much as he despised Okies, he didn’t want to see one of their kids with their brains spread all over the road because they’d magically appeared in front of a speeding truck.

Leaning the shotgun against the tractor tire, he approached the Model T. The Okie parents looked at him with mild belligerence as he approached their daughter. The old farmer stopped next to the girl’s window. There were half a dozen other kids crammed in there, but they were just regular desperate and starving Okies. This one was special.

He lifted his hat so she could see that his eyes were the same color as hers. He tried his best English. “You… girl. Grey eyes.” She pointed at herself, curious, but didn’t speak. He nodded.  “You… Jump? Travel?”  She didn’t understand, and now her idiot parents were staring at him in slack jawed ignorance. The old farmer took one hand and held it out in a fist. He suddenly opened it. “Poof!” Then he raised his other hand as far away as possible, “Poof!” and made a fist.

She smiled and nodded her head vigorously. He grinned. She was a Traveler all right.

“You know about what she does?” the Okie father asked.

The old farmer nodded, finding his own magic inside and poking it to wake it up. Then he was gone, and instantly he was on the other side of the Model T. He tapped the Okie mother on the arm through the open window and she shrieked. All his grandkids cheered. They loved when he did that. His son just rolled his eyes.

The Okie father looked at the Portuguese farmer, back at his daughter, and then back to the farmer. The grey eyed girl was happy as could be that she’d found somebody just like her. The father scowled for a long time, glancing again at his strange child that had caused them so much grief, and then at all the other starving mouths he had to find a way to feed. Finally he spoke. “I’ll sell you her for twenty dollars.”

The old farmer thought about it. He didn’t need any more people eating up his food, but his brother and sisters had all ended up dead before they had mastered Traveling, and this was the first other person like him he’d seen in twenty years, but he also hadn’t gotten where he was by getting robbed by Okies. “Make it ten.”

The girl giggled and clapped.

New York City, New York 

The richest man in the world stepped into the elevator lift and looked in distaste at the gleaming silver buttons. The message had said to come alone, so he did not even have one of his usual functionaries to perform the service of requesting the correct floor. Rather than soiling his hands or a perfectly good handkerchief, he sighed, tapped into the lowest level of his Power, and pushed the button for the penthouse suite with his mind. Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant, billionaire industrialist, could not tolerate filth. A man of his stature simply did not get his hands dirty.

He had people for that.

The steel doors closed. They were carved with golden figures of muscular workers creating the American dream through their sweat and industry under a rising sun emitting rays as straight as a Tesla cannon. He sniffed the air. The elevator car seemed clean. The hotel was considered a five-star luxury establishment, but Cornelius just knew that there were germs everywhere, disgusting, diseased, tiny plague nodules just itching to get on his skin. Cornelius understood the true nature of the man that was staying in this hotel, and he must have ridden in this very car. Cornelius shuddered as he squeezed his arms and briefcase closer to his sides, careful not to touch the walls.

He could afford the finest Healers. In fact, he was one of the only men in the world that had an actual Mender on his personal staff, but nothing could stop the blight of a Pale Horse, and it was that foul Power that brought him here today, reduced to a mere caller. Cornelius had tried to seek out others, once under a gypsy tent on Coney Island, again in a tiny shack in the Louisiana Bayou, but those had been frauds, charlatans, wastes of his valuable time. He tapped his foot impatiently. After what seemed like an eternity, the doors whisked open.

A tuxedoed servant was waiting for him, an older negro with stark white hair. The servant bowed his head. “Good evening, Mr. Stuyvesant. Mr. Harkeness is waiting on the balcony. May I take your coat, sir?”

“Not necessary. My business will not take long.”

The servant studied him with cunning eyes. “Of course, sir. Would you care for a drink? Mr. Harkeness has a selection of the finest.”

“As if I would drink anything here,” Cornelius sputtered. The notion of ingesting something from the household of a Pale Horse was madness. “Take me to him immediately.”

“Of course, sir.” The servant led the way down the marble hall. Carved busts of long-dead Greeks watched him from pedestals, judging. Cornelius hated statues. Statues made him prickly. Even the giant idolized bronze of himself at the new super-dirigible dock bearing his name atop the new Empire State Building bothered him.

Lots of things made Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant uncomfortable, including this servant. He did not like the way he had examined him, like he was being sized up. The information he’d gathered on Harkeness indicated that the man surrounded himself with other like-minded Actives. There were many who would kill a Pale Horse on basic principle, so it made sense to have loyal staff with Power for security. He idly wondered what kind of Active the old servant was. Probably something barbaric, like a Brute, or even worse, a Torch. That would seem to suit a race that was so easily inflamed by their passions.

“Mr. Harkeness is through here, sir.” The servant paused at the fine wood and thick glass door leading to the balcony. He turned the knob and opened it. “He prefers the fresh air. Will there be anything else?”

Cornelius did not bother to respond as he stepped onto the balcony. His time was valuable, more valuable than any man in the world, more valuable than emperors, kings, tsars, kaisers, and especially that imbecile, Herbert Hoover, and the very idea that he was reduced to having to take time from his busy schedule to meet someone on their terms rather than his was blatantly offensive.

To further the sleight, Harkeness was leaning on the balcony, overlooking the city, placing his back toward the richest man in the world, as if Manhattan were somehow more important than Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant, himself.  The balcony lights had been extinguished, so as not to hamper the view. The city was illuminated forty stories below by electric lights and flashing marquees. Thousands of automobiles filled the streets, bustling even at this hour, and overhead a passing dirigible train floated in the amber spotlights like a herd of sea cows. Cornelius snorted in greeting.

“Mr. Stuyvesant.” The Pale Horse didn’t bother to turn around. His voice was neutral, flat. “I was just admiring your marvelous city. Have a seat.”

Cornelius felt a single drop of sweat roll down his neck. It was shameful, but he found that he was actually frightened. He glanced at the pair of chairs, fine, stuffed leather things that in any other scenario would be inviting to rest his ponderous bulk, but at that moment, all he could imagine was the horrible diseases crawling on the cushions.

“I said have a seat,” Harkeness repeated, still not turning around. His accent was indeterminate, his pronunciation awkward. “You are a guest of mine. I would not harm a guest. I am a civilized man, Mr. Stuyvesant.”

Cornelius sat, vowing that he would throw this suit into the fireplace as soon as he got home, then he would have his personal Healer expend a month’s worth of Power checking his health. He would probably burn the Cadillac car he had traveled in, maybe the driver too, just to be on the safe side.

Harkeness left the railing and took the other seat. He did not offer his hand. He was older than Cornelius had expected, tall and thin, face lined with creases, and blue eyes that sparked with an unnerving energy. His hair was receding, and what remained was artificially blackened. His tailored suit was as fine as could be had, and his tie was made of silk as red as fresh blood. He smiled, and his teeth were slightly yellow in the dim city light. “Smoke?”

Cornelius looked down at the wooden humidor on the table between them. The cigars were sorely tempting, but the very thought of touching his lips with an item tainted by Harkeness’ evil made his stomach roil. “No, thank you.”

Harkeness nodded in understanding as he puffed on his own Cuban. “Straight to the chase then. I was informed that you were looking for me.”

“Nobody can ever know we spoke,” Cornelius insisted. He was the founder and owner of United Blimp & Freight, the primary shareholder in Federal Steel, and the man that bankrolled the development of the Peace Ray. He’d sired children who had gone on to be ambassadors to powerful nations, senators, congressmen, and even a governor. A Stuyvesant could not be seen consorting with such sordid types. 

“I assure you, I am a man of discretion.” Harkeness exhaled a pungent tobacco cloud, not seeming to notice his guest’s discomfort.

Cornelius cringed, trying not to inhale smoke that had actually been inside the very lungs of such a pestilent creature. “You are a hard man to find, Mr. Harkeness,” the billionaire said, aware that he had to tread carefully. Even with eight decades of mankind dealing with the presence of Powers, of actual magic, to the point that it was just an accepted part of life in most of the world, the Pale Horse was such a rarity that most still considered them to be a myth, crude anti-magic propaganda created to sow fear and distrust in the hearts of the masses. “Men of your… skills… are especially rare.”

“Yes… What is it you were told I am?” Harkeness asked rhetorically, examining the ash on the end of his cigar.

Cornelius hesitated, not sure if he should answer, but growing tired off the awkward silence, he finally spoke. “I was told you are a Pale Horse.”

Harkeness laughed hard, slapping his knee. “I like that. So… biblical! So much nicer than plague bearer, or grim reaper, or angel of death. That title has gravitas. Pale Horse! You, sir, have made my day. Perhaps I shall add that to my business cards.” His pronunciation was stilted, with pauses between random words. Cornelius found it almost hypnotic, and realized he was nervously smiling along with the other man’s mirth. Then Harkeness abruptly quit laughing and his voice turned deadly serious. “So, who must die?”

“You presume much,” Cornelius said defensively.

“If you just wanted to merely curse someone and make their hair fall out, or to give them boils, fits, or incontinence, there are far easier Actives to reach than I.” Harkeness’ smile was unnerving. “People come to me when they desire something… epic.” 

The industrialist swallowed and placed his briefcase on the table. He unlocked it, then turned it so that Harkeness could see inside. It was filled with neatly stacked and meticulously counted bank notes and a single newspaper clipping. Cornelius quickly snatched his hand away before the Pale Horse could touch the contents, as if his Power might somehow be transmitted through the leather.

The Pale Horse did not seem to notice the money. He gently removed the yellowed clipping, took a pair of spectacles from his breast pocket, set them atop his hawk-like nose and began reading. After a moment he removed the glasses and returned them and the clipping to his pocket. “An important man. Very well… What will it be? Bone rot? Consumption? Cancers of the brain or bowel? Syphilis? Leprosy? I can do anything from a minor vapor to turn his joints to sand while his skin boils off in a cancerous sludge. I am an encyclopedia of affliction, sir.”

Cornelius bobbed his head in time with the litany of diseases. “All of them.”

“I see…” Harkeness seemed to approve. “Very well, but first, I must know…”

“Yes,” Cornelius answered hesitantly. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing up.

“Why? A man such as you has no shortage of killers to choose from. Why not a knife in the back? A bullet in the head? You yourself are a Mover, why not just invite him to a balcony such as this and shove him off? It would even look like a suicide, which would be particularly scandalous in the papers.”

“How—“ Cornelius sputtered. His Power was a secret. “Me? A magical? Who told you such slanderous lies?”

Harkeness shrugged. “I have a trained eye, Mr. Stuyvesant. Now answer my question. Why do you need me to curse this man?”

Cornelius felt his face flush with anger. No matter how dangerous Harkeness was, Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant was not about to have his motives questioned by a mere hireling. He pushed himself away from the table and rose, bellowing, “Why you? I do not want him dead. That is far too good a fate for one such as he! I want him to suffer first. I want him to know he’s dying and I want him to pray to his ineffectual God to save him as his body rots and stinks and melts to the blackest filth. I want it to hurt and I want it to be embarrassing. I want his lungs to fill with pus. I want his balls to fall off and I want him to piss fire! I want his loved ones to look away in disgust, and I want it to take a very, very long time.”

            Harkeness nodded, his face now an emotionless mask. “I can do this thing for you, but first, I must ask, what terrible thing did this man do to deserve such a fate?”

The billionaire paused, pudgy hands curled into fists. He lowered his voice before continuing. He had planned this revenge for years. It was only the purity of the hate for his enemy that drove him to this place. “He took something… someone… from me. Leave it at that.” Cornelius tried to calm himself. He was not a man given to such unseemly outbursts. “Will that do?”

“It is enough.”

Cornelius realized he was standing, but it did make him feel more in control, more in his element. He gestured at the open briefcase. “I was given your name by an associate. I believe that this is the same amount that he paid for your services.” Rockefeller had warned Cornelius about how expensive the Pale Horse would be, but it would be so very worth the money. “Take it.”

The other man shook his head. “No. I don’t think so.”

“What!” Cornelius sputtered. Was he going to try and shake him down for more money than Rockefeller? The nerve. “How dare you!”

            Harkeness leaned back in his chair, puffing on the cigar. He took it away from his mouth and smiled without any joy. “I don’t want your money, Mr. Stuyvesant. I want something else.”

Cornelius trembled. Of course, he’d heard the odder stories about the Pale Horses, the rarest of the Actives, but he had paid them no heed. He was a man of science, not superstition. Sure, he had magic himself, nowadays one in a hundred Americans had some small measure, but it didn’t mean he understood how it actually worked. One in a thousand had access to greater Power, being actual Actives, but men like Harkeness were something different, something rare and strange, themselves oddities in an odd bunch. Hesitantly he spoke. “Do… do you want… my soul?”

This time Harkeness really did laugh, almost choking on his cigar. “Now that’s funny! Do I look like a spiritualist? I’m certainly not the devil, Mr. Stuyvesant. I do not even know if I believe in such preposterous things. What would I even do with your soul if I had it?”

That was a relief, even if Cornelius wasn’t particularly sure if he had a soul, he didn’t want to deed it over to a man like Harkeness. “I don’t know,” Cornelius shrugged. “I just thought…”

Harkeness was still chuckling. “No, nothing so mysterious. All I want is a favor.”

That caused Cornelius to pause. “A favor?”

Harkeness was done laughing. “Yes, a favor. Not today. But someday in the future I will call and ask for a favor. You will remember this service performed, and you will grant me that favor without hesitation or question. Is that understood?”

“What manner of favor?”

The Pale Horse shrugged. “I do not yet know this thing. But I do know that if you fail to honor our bargain at that particular time, I will be greatly displeased.”

He was not, by nature, a man who intimidated easily, but Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant was truly unnerved. The threat went unsaid, but who would want to cross such a man? The industrialist almost walked out on the absurd and frightening proposal, but he had been planning his revenge for far too long to turn back now. If the favor was too large, Cornelius knew he always had other options. Harkeness was deadly, but he wasn’t immortal. It would not be the first time he had used murder to get out of an inequitable contract.

“Very well,” Cornelius said. “You have a deal. When will he get sick?”

Harkeness closed his eyes for a few seconds, as if pondering a difficult question. “It is already done,” the Pale Horse said, opening his eyes. “Isaiah will see you out.”  

#

Isaiah joined his employer on the balcony a few minutes later. Harkeness had gone back to admiring the view. “Could you Read him?”

“He’s very intelligent. I had to be gentle or he would’ve known. He’s got a bad tendency to shout his thoughts when he gets riled up.” The servant leaned against the concrete wall and folded his arms. “He even thought I might be a Torch. Can you believe that?”

Harkeness chuckled, knowing that Isaiah was far more dangerous than some mere human flame hurler. “Was he truthful?”

“Mostly. He absolutely despises this man.”

“For what he did to him? Wouldn’t you?”

Isaiah sounded disgusted. “Stuyvesant is utterly ruthless.”

So am I, Harkeness thought, knowing full well that Isaiah would pick that up as clearly as a high strength radio broadcast. “You don’t get to such lofty positions without being dangerous. I’ll have to curse him quickly. Arranging a meeting should be easy enough. Stuyvesant will be expecting immediate results now.”

Isaiah left the wall and took one of the cigars from the table. “I liked your little show, with closing the eyes and just wishing for somebody to die and all that. That’s good theater.”

Of course, even he had his limits. He would actually have to touch the victim, and it took constant Power thereafter to keep up the onslaught against the ministrations of Menders, which he already knew this man would have. This would be an extremely draining assignment. “Whatever keeps Stuyvesant nervous,” Harkeness shrugged. “I do like the new term though. It suits me.”

Isaiah quoted from memory as he clipped the end from the Cuban. “And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts, and I looked and beheld a pale horse, and the name that sat upon him was death…”

“And hell followed with him,” Harkeness finished, smiling. “Appropriate…”

“If the favor you ask of him is too difficult, he’ll have you killed.”

Harkeness had suspected as much. “He could try. Wouldn’t be the first.”

“The man’s got a phobia about sickness. The Spanish Flu near did him when it came through, been worrying him ever since.” Isaiah said as he lit the cigar. “He’s scared of you.”

“Good,” the Pale Horse muttered, watching the people moving below, scuttling about like ants, ignorant little creatures, unaware of the truth of the world in which they lived. The Chairman was about to change the world, whether any of the ants liked it or not, and that meant war. Many ants would be stepped on, but that was just too bad. It was unfortunate to be born an ant. “He should be…”

 

Billings, Montana 

 

Every day was the same. Every prisoner in the Special Prisoner’s Wing of the Rockville State Penitentiary had the exact same schedule. You slept. You worked. You got put back in your cage. You slept. You worked. You got put back in your cage. Repeat until time served.

Working meant breaking rocks. Normal prisoners were put on work crews to be used by mayors trying to keep budgets low. They got to go outside. The convicts in Special Wing got to break rocks in a giant stone pit. Some of them were even issued tools. The name of the facility was just a coincidence.

One particular convict excelled at breaking rocks. He did a good job at it because he did a good job at everything he set his mind to. First he’d been good at war and now he was good at breaking rocks. It was just his nature. The convict had single-minded determination, and once he got to pushing something, he just couldn’t find it in himself to stop. He was as constant as gravity. After a year, he was the finest rock breaker and mover in the history of Rockville State Penitentiary.

Occasionally some other convict would try to start trouble because he thought the convict was making the rest of them look bad, but even in a place dedicated to holding felons who could tap into all manner of magical affinities, most were smart enough not to cross this particular convict. After the first few left in bags, the rest understood that he just wanted to be left alone to do his time. Occasionally some new man, eager to show off his Power, would step up and challenge the convict, and they too would leave in a bag.

The warden did not blame the convict for the violence. He understood the type of men he had under his care, and knew that the convict was just defending himself. Between helping meet the quota for the gravel quarry that padded the warden’s salary under the table, and for ridding the Special Wing of its most dangerous and troublesome men, the warden took a liking to the convict. He read the convict’s records, and came to respect the convict as a man for the deeds he’d done before committing his crime. He was the first Special Prisoner ever granted access to the extremely well-stocked, but very dusty prison library.

So the convict’s schedule changed. Sleep. Work. Read. Sleep. Work. Read. So now the time passed faster. The convict read books by the greatest minds of the day. He read the classics. He began to question his Power. Why did his Power work the way it did? What separated him from normal men? Why could he do the things he could do? Because of its relation to his own specific gifts, he started with Newton, then Einstein, finally Bohrs and Heisenberg, and then every other mind that had pontificated on the science related to his magic. And when he had exhausted the books on science, he turned to the philosophers’ musings on the nature of magic and the mystery of where it had suddenly come from and all of its short history. He read Darwin. He read Schuman, and Kelser, Reed, and Spengler. When that was done, he read everything that was left.

The convict began to experiment with his Power. He would sneak bits of rock back into his cell to toy with. Reaching deep inside himself, twisting, testing, always pushing with that same dogged determination that had made him the best rock breaker, and when he got tired experimenting with rocks, he started to experiment on his own body. Eventually all those hours of testing and introspection enabled him to discover things about magic that very few other people would ever understand.

But he kept that to himself.

Then one day the warden offered the convict a deal…

 


We now have over a thousand confirmed cases of individuals with these so-called magical abilities on the continent alone. The faculty has descended into a terrible uproar over the proper nomenclature for such specimens. All manner of Latin phrases have been bandied about. Professor Gerard even suggested Grimnoir, a combination of the old French Grimoire, or book of spells, with Noir, for Black, in the sense of the mysterious, for at this juncture the origin of said Powers remains unknown. He was laughed down. Personally, I’ve taken to calling them wizards, for the very idea of there being actual magic beyond the bounds of science causes my esteemed colleagues to sputter and choke.

Dr. L. Fulci, Professor of Natural Science, University of Bern, Personal Journal 1852

 

 

THREE YEARS LATER

Chapter 1

 

Springfield, Illinois 

 

There were twenty local bulls, ten state coppers, and half a dozen agents from the Bureau of Investigation, and every one of them was packing serious heat. Jake Sullivan approved. Purvis wasn’t screwing around this time. Delilah Jones was going down.  

The lead government man was pacing back and forth in front of the crew assembled in the warehouse. “You don’t hesitate. None of you hesitate even for a second. She’s a woman, but don’t you dare underestimate her. She’s robbed twenty banks in four states, and killed five people.” He paused long enough to jerk a thumb at his men. “When you see her, nobody makes a move until me or Agent Cowley says the word.”

A second government man raised his hand. Sam Cowley’s suit was cheap, but his 1928 Thompson was meticulously maintained. Sullivan knew he was a man who kept his priorities in order, so at least he’d been roped into working with an experienced crew this time.

There was a wanted poster stuck to the wall. Sullivan had known Delilah back in New Orleans. She was a dish, a real looker. He had to admit that the ink drawing was actually realistic, unlike his old wanted poster, where they had uglied him up for dramatic effect, but in the sketch artists’ defense somebody that could crush every bone in your body should look scary.

“How many men in the gang?” one of the locals asked.

Melvin Purvis paused. “I’m not expecting a gang. Just her.”

The room got quiet. It normally didn’t take 37 men with rifles and shotguns to take down a lone woman, bank robber or not. They all realized what that meant about the same time, but nobody wanted to say it. Finally the same local slowly raised his hand. “She got big Powers then?”

“Yes, McKee. She does,” Purvis responded. “She’s a Brute, and she’s Active. Probably the toughest I’ve heard of.” McKee lowered his hand. The sea of blue and brown uniforms all looked at each other, grumbling and swearing. “Yeah, yeah, I know. Listen, boys, when I got here, I asked your chiefs for hard men. I know you’re all up to it, but if any of you want out, there’s no shame in leaving.”

“Is that why he’s here?” McKee asked, since he’d somehow become the leader of the uniforms, gesturing to where Sullivan had been trying to remain unnoticed in the back of the room.

“He’s with me,” Purvis said. “We let Sullivan do his job, and none of you have to worry about dealing with a little lady who can toss automobiles at you. You got a problem with that?”

“He’s a murderer,” McKee pointed out.

“Manslaughter,” Sullivan corrected, speaking for the first time. “And I done served my time. J. Edgar Hoover says I’m reformed.”

There were no more questions forthcoming. Somebody coughed. Purvis folded his arms and waited until the count of ten. Nobody stood up to leave. “Good. We try to take her alive. My men go in first with Sullivan. The rest hang back outside and get the bystanders out of the way. Nobody shoots unless she goes Active.”

“Then don’t miss,” Agent Cowley suggested.   

They’d be moving out in a matter of minutes and Sullivan sensed the room was nervous, kind of bouncy and tense. It reminded him a little of the Great War, in those few awful seconds before the whistle blew and they’d jump out of the relative safety of their muddy trenches and run screaming into Maxim-gun fire, barbed wire, and the Kaiser’s zombies. 

#

Jake Sullivan had gotten the call from Washington two weeks before, telling him to report to Special Agent Melvin Purvis in Chicago. The assignment came at a good time. His regular business as a private dick was floundering, and he had been reduced to pulling the occasional security gig, standing in as muscle during some of the labor strikes. He didn’t like it, but just being special didn’t pay the bills. At least he hadn’t had to hurt anyone. Just his reputation kept the strikers peaceful. Nobody wanted to cross a Heavy, especially one that had served time in Rockville.

The government jobs barely paid a decent wage, but more importantly, this was the last of the five assignments he had agreed to upon his early release. The warden had appealed to his patriotism when they had made the offer, telling Sullivan that it would be a chance to serve his country again. He had found that amusing, since his only desire at that point was to get out of that hell hole. He’d already served his country once, and had the scars to show for it.

As had been agreed upon, every single other Magical he had assisted in capturing had been a murderer. Jake still had some principles left.

And this one was no different, though he had been surprised to find out that he had known her once. Hearing the name of the target, and then the terrible crimes she’d committed had left him stunned. Sullivan still couldn’t picture Delilah as a cold-blooded killer, but people could change a lot in six years. He certainly had.

#

Sullivan sat uncomfortably in the backseat of the Ford as they watched yet another dirigible drift into the station. Purvis and Cowley were in the front seat. It was raining hard, pounding mist from the pavement and creating halos around every street lamp.

“This should be it,” Cowley said from behind the steering wheel. His Thompson was on the seat next to him and he rhythmically tapped his fingers on the wooden stock.

“The informant said she would be on the eight-fifteen,” Purvis said, checking his pocket watch. “Must be running late ‘cause of the weather.”

An informant? “So that’s how you found her.” Sullivan wasn’t surprised. He’d been ratted out himself all those years ago. “Figures.”

“I don’t like this,” Cowley said. “There’s too many people around if she goes Active. It’d be safer to tail her to someplace quiet.”

“We already talked about this. We can’t risk losing her. She’s supposed to be coming here to do a job for the Torrios. You want somebody like her working for Crazy Lenny?”

Sullivan just listened. Strategy wasn’t his area. He just did what he was told. Nobody expected a Heavy to be smart, so Jake found life went easier if he just kept his mouth shut, but if it were up to him, he would have to go with Cowley’s plan. It wasn’t like Magicals didn’t catch enough heat from a few bad apples as it was. The last thing they needed was stories in the papers about a Brute taking the heads off some G-Men in public.

“You ready, Sullivan?” Purvis asked as he opened his door into the downpour.

“Yeah,” he muttered. “This is the last time, you know. That was the deal. After this, I’m a free man. I ain’t beholden to nobody.”

“Over my pay-grade,” the senior agent responded before stepping out. He slammed the door behind him. All down the street other cops saw Purvis appear and the lawmen began to exit their cars as well.

“He better keep a leash on those bulls or this could get ugly.” Sullivan said as he pulled a pack of smokes out of his coat. “Got a light, Sam?”

“You know I always do, Sully.” Cowley turned around and snapped his fingers. A flame appeared from the end of his thumb. “Figures God would bless me with a little tiny Power, and he gives a magic lighter to somebody who doesn’t smoke.” He chuckled. Cowley was some religion that forbade smoking, a strange combination for a Torch.

Sullivan lit the fag. “Ironic.” He took a long drag. Sullivan liked the agent. Cowley was homely and avoided the spotlight as much as Purvis sought it. They’d worked together before and Sullivan knew the agent was competent. “You know, you best not let your boss see you do that. I hear J. Edgar don’t like magic.”

“Lots of folks don’t.” Cowley turned around and opened his door. “We better go.” He got out, pulling the Thompson with him.

Sullivan sighed. Cowley was the weakest kind of Magical, with just a flicker of natural Power, but even that could ruin a man’s career in some circles. He tugged his hat down low and got ready, feeling the Power stored inside his chest. It took a lot of practice to build up that much and still keep it under control. He activated a small part and felt his body shift. For a brief moment the world around him seemed to flex. The springs on the Ford creaked. He cracked his knuckles, feeling the Spike, gently testing the tug of gravity around him.

Cigarette dangling from his lower lip, he opened the door and slowly unfolded himself from the backseat. Jake Sullivan was a big man, and he used a big gun. He reached back inside and maneuvered the long case from the backseat. The black canvas bag was enormous and he let it dangle from one hand.

Cowley looked over, rain running off his fedora, and pointed at the case. “I don’t see how you can carry that thing around.”

Sullivan took one last drag before tossing his smoke into a puddle. “Saved your life in Detroit, if I remember right.”

“True, but it has to weigh a ton.”

“Not to me,” Sullivan said as he reached into the bag, grabbed the Lewis gun by its stock and withdrew it. Even twenty-six pounds empty didn’t really concern somebody who could alter gravity. To him it was light as a feather and swung like a bird gun. 

“Damn, is that a fence post?” Purvis asked, cradling a short barreled Browning Auto-5. “Put that thing back. This is an arrest, not a war.”

“You don’t know Delilah.” Sullivan threw the sling over his shoulder and head so the massive machinegun could hang at his side. It wasn’t exactly concealable, but his parole deal had specified he would help take down Active murderers, not that he had to be tactful about it. “You know, Purvis, I’ve never got in a gunfight and said afterwards, damn, I wish I hadn’t brought all that extra ammo.”

“Put it away, Sullivan. That’s an order. I got lots of men who can shoot, and I’ve only got one that can do…” he waved his hands like a bad stage magician, “whatever it is you do.”

“Where’d you get that monster anyway?” Cowley asked.

“Flea market,” Sullivan answered as he unslung the mighty Lewis and put it back into its case. All the Spikers had been issued heavy weapons in Roosevelt’s 1st Volunteer. He’d brought quite a few souvenirs back from France besides the shrapnel still lodged in his body. He might not be able to take the Lewis, but he still had a .45 auto riding his hip. Magic was great and all, but a lot of problems could still be solved faster the old fashioned way, and Jake considered himself a practical man.

“Just do your job, and we’ll keep you safe,” Purvis promised. “I want this to go nice and clean. You just wrap her up.”

At least Purvis seemed like the kind of agent that cared more about being effective than being popular in the papers, unlike the fiasco in Detroit six months ago. “Yeah, fine,” he said, shoving the canvas case back into the Ford. He closed the door too hard. “You know, Agent Purvis, I know Delilah pretty good. The dame’s had a tough run. She’s not the kind that’ll go down easy, and she ain’t going quiet, that’s for damn sure. She’s a fighter, but I never knew her to be the murdering kind.”

“You saw the same file I did. I’ve got five dead men that say different. Necks snapped, one arm torn clean off.” Purvis scowled. “I’ve got my orders. We take her alive… But I’m more worried about the safety of these boys than I am about orders, you getting me, Heavy?”

Sullivan preferred the more dignified term Gravity Spiker. Heavy was what you called the Passives who were employed in factories as human forklifts. Cold water was slipping inside his trench coat as he shrugged. He just wanted to get this last job over with and finally get the Man off his back. “I get you, Agent Purvis.” The street was clear of oncoming headlights, so he started across, big boots splashing through the puddles. The six G-Men followed.

The wedge-shaped dirigible was gradually slowing between the towers, and when it came to a rest, the passengers would begin to debark. It was slow going in bad weather, and this particular balloon was just a little two hundred footer hybrid machine, so it was getting kicked around quite a bit by the wind. The Springfield dirigible station was relatively small, nothing like the enclosed behemoth just constructed in Chicago.

Ground crews were braving the rain and catching the security lines. One man was ordering them with a bullhorn from the tower, probably a Crackler, redirecting lightning and static electricity to keep the airfield’s workers safe at the ends of those cables, but it wasn’t like Magicals like that got any credit in the press. No, everybody knew Hearst didn’t care about working stiffs with Powers. He only wasted ink on people like Delilah. And me… Sullivan thought, trouble makers, but then shook his head, getting back to business.

He and the Bureau of Investigation men took cover beneath the overhang at the entrance to the waiting room. Through the glass he could see the room was nice, mosaic tile floor, all brass and glass on the walls, with lots of wood and iron benches for the commuters. There were a handful of people waiting. Purvis left two men outside, and the rest got out of the rain and entered the dry comfort of the lounge.

The lift was clearly visible. Sullivan noted that they’d be able to see the passengers before the passengers could see them, which was convenient for once. A United Blimp & Freight worker spotted the guns but Purvis flashed his badge and waved the man away. The Gs started ushering people out into the rain as fast as they could, and Purvis sent one to make sure nobody was loitering on the stairs. The uniformed bulls were out on the dark perimeter if Delilah somehow made it past or drew on her Power and turned it into a fight.

Most of the UBF employees didn’t know what was going down, but word would spread quickly now. He stood with his back to the mirrored wall. The tower was four stories tall, and that was a lot of stairs, which meant that Delilah would probably come down in the elevator, especially if she had luggage. Either way, from this position he could watch both.

Everything in this place was mirrored and shiny– even the ceiling had mirrors– but the mighty UBF budget had been cut because of the recent downturns, and the place felt kind of grimy. The 20s had been a huge economic boom time, but Sullivan had spent most of those happy years doing hard time. The papers were calling it a depression, but compared to Rockville, Jake thought the whole outside world seemed pretty damn nice.

The dirigible’s cabin made a strange clanking noise as it mated with the docking platform through the roof above. Sullivan closed his eyes and used a little more of his Power to feel the world around him. The giant reserve of helium felt unnatural, being lighter than air, and that always made accurate Spiking a little difficult. He’d have to compensate for it. He was supposed to capture Delilah, not splatter her into red mush.

It wasn’t even five minutes after the dirigible had docked that the elevator came down with its first load of passengers. UBF was the model of efficiency. Like the ads said, they were the Convenient Way to Travel. The agents tensed up, but there were only a few passengers, none of whom were Delilah Jones, and a young UBF employee pushing a cart full of suitcases. The passengers looked a little wobbly, which was understandable since blimping wasn’t exactly a joyride during a storm. Two of the Gs flashed badges and converged on the car before the employee had even had a chance to raise the gate. They started herding the passengers outside while Cowley grabbed the UBF and showed him the wanted poster. The kid nodded his head vigorously and Purvis smiled. “Got her.”

Cowley came back. “She’s in a red dress, black hat, black furs, and she’s in line for the next ride.”

The gate scissored closed, the elevator lift clanked back up, and it was just then Sullivan noticed a shadow moving on the stairs above. The grey shape was there for a second, but when he looked harder, it was gone. “I think we got somebody up there,” he said, pointing.

“Hollis, Michaels, check the stairs,” Purvis ordered and his two men immediately tromped up the brass capped steps, guns in hand. They were out of sight in a few seconds but their footfalls could still be heard. The agent in charge turned back to the elevator doors, nervously bouncing his shotgun. “I thought they’d already cleared those,” he muttered.

“There’s nobody up here,” one of the G-Men called from the stairs.

The elevator was coming down. Sullivan got ready. He had to be careful. He didn’t want to damage any of the other passengers, so he would have to be very selective. If there was anyone in there with bad tickers or delicate constitutions it was far too easy to hurt them on accident, and that still mattered to him. The safest thing to do for the bystanders would be to get nice and close, but getting close to a Brute was a game for suckers.

Guess I’m a sucker. He tilted his fedora down, stuck his hands in his suit pockets, and strolled to the elevator. When the doors opened, he’d just be loafing around, as if he were waiting for the next one up. Hopefully she wouldn’t recognize him until it was too late. His best bet was to overwhelm her before she could use her Power. Cowley and Purvis let him go. They’d worked together enough times before that they knew Sullivan was a pro.

The elevator appeared, and Sullivan scanned the passenger’s through the gate as they descended. Four more people and another cart full of suitcases, and there she was. Delilah Jones was in the front of the car, borderline petite, delicate hands planted on lovely hips, tapping one high-heeled shoe impatiently. Jake had a moment to admire her legs before he was forced to lower his head. The girl still has nice gams.

They’d met in New Orleans not too long after the war, only a few years before he’d gone up the river. Back then she’d just been a petty crook at worst, using her Power like a can opener to rip open cheap safes, and Jake had been an idealistic idiot, thinking that people like them could make the world a better place. They’d been tight once, maybe even something special, but Jake Sullivan didn’t have friends anymore. A stint in the Special Prisoners wing of Rockville State Penitentiary had seen to that. Now he just had jobs.

One of the male passengers lifted the gate and the others began to file out. Jake reached inside himself and felt the Power. Reality faded into its component bits. His surroundings now consisted of matter, density, and forces. The Power began to drain as he willed the pull of the Earth to multiply over the form that was Delilah Jones. Selectively increasing gravity was one of the more challenging things he could accomplish. It took a lot of effort and Power, but it was darn effective. It was a lot less draining to just Spike something hard, whereas this was more like delicate surgery. She wouldn’t be able to move, no matter how strong she could make herself, and after a few seconds he’d manage to cut off the blood flow and knock her out. Go too soft and she’d Power out of it, go too hard and he’d kill her, but Sullivan was the best Spiker in the business. She would never know what hit her.

There was a shout and a gunshot. Sullivan’s concentration slipped, just a bit, and the real world came suddenly flooding back. The Power he’d gathered slipped from his control and the elevator gate was sheared from its bolts and slammed flat into the floor under the added pressure of ten gravities. A passenger screamed as his foot was crushed flat and blood came squirting out the top of his shoe. “Sorry, bud.” Sullivan turned in time to see one of the G-Men tumbling down the stairwell, a grey shape leaping behind, colliding with Cowley and Purvis and taking them all down, “Aw hell,” he muttered, then spun back in time to see Delilah’s lovely green eyes locked on his.

“You were trying to smoosh me, Heavy!” she exclaimed, eyes twinkling as she ignited her own Power. She grabbed the big man by the tie and hoisted him effortlessly off the floor, even though he was almost a foot taller. The tie tightened, choking him as he dangled, and she finally got a good look at her assailant. “You! Well, if it isn’t Jake Sullivan. Been a long time.”

Then she hurled him. Suddenly airborne, he flew across the waiting area. Instinctively, his Power flared, and he bounced softly off the far wall with the force of a pillow. Jake returned to his normal weight as his boots hit the floor. He loosened his cheap tie so he could breathe again. “Hey, Delilah.”

“You lousy bastard.” She stepped out of the elevator and cracked her knuckles in a very unladylike manner. The other passengers had no idea what was going on, but they knew that this was not where they wanted to be. They took off at a run and one limping hobble. Every normal had the sense to stay out of this kind of fight. “I’d heard you’d gone all Johnny Law now,” Delilah said.

“Something like that,” he replied slowly. “Bounty hunter.”

“Hypocrite.”

There was the sound of several quick blows. Off to the side, the grey shape rose and took on the form of a man in a long coat with a nightstick in hand. The G-Men were down. Purvis moaned. The man in grey stepped off the fallen agents and took a wary step away from Sullivan. He was short and tanned, with a pointy blond goatee and nearly shaved head. He picked his hat up and carefully returned it to his head. “Delilah Jones?” he asked quickly. Cowley started to rise and the stranger kicked him in the ribs, sending the agent back down.

“Who’s asking?”

“I’m here to rescue you,” he stated with a German accent, “from him.” He nodded in Sullivan’s direction. “No offense, Mein Herr.”

“None taken, but I’m gonna give you an ass whoopin’, you realize that, right, Fritz?” Jake stated calmly. He checked. The majority of his Power was still in reserve and he began to gather it.

“I can take care of myself, buddy,” Delilah told the stranger. “Were you planning on arresting me, Jake?”

“If I don’t want to go back to prison, yeah,” Sullivan answered, glancing back and forth between Delilah and the new threat. Delilah was a known quantity, the other guy, not so much. “That’s kinda the plan.”

“Too bad,” she answered as she grabbed the heavy metal luggage cart, picked it up as if it weighed nothing and threw it at him.

Sullivan reached out and increased the pull on the cart. It slammed into the floor, digging a divot through the tiles and coming to rest at his feet. At the same time the stranger hooked his shoe under Purvis’ shotgun and kicked it into the air, smoothly caught it, and turned it toward Jake’s head. Sullivan barely had time to Spike, gravity’s pull changed direction, and the stranger was jerked off balance to the left. A round of buckshot harmlessly shattered a window. The Power twisted him again, pulling the German in the opposite direction, as if he were in sideways freefall.

But rather than collide with the wall, the stranger turned blurry and passed through the concrete as if it were water and was gone. “Damn, Fades,” Sullivan muttered, turning his attention back to Delilah, just in time to see that she had crossed the room and her fist was flying at his face. He ducked and the concrete wall exploded into dust overhead.

Delilah had gotten faster over the years. Sullivan leapt back as she just kept swinging. He’d boxed in the service, but nothing like this. He went between her fists and slugged her in the face with a brutal hook. Pain crackled through his knuckles, down his bones, and through his torso as he drove all his considerable weight forward. The blow was hard enough to topple a gorilla.

She blinked. “I think you smeared my makeup.”

He barely had time to Spike himself dense before she hit him in the chest. Mass increased, his boots cracked into the floor, and she still managed to shove him back ten feet in a cloud of broken tiles. His back hit the wall and shattered a mirror, leaving a cracked indentation of his shoulders in the concrete. He stepped out, shrugging off the broken glass.

It was not something that a normal Heavy could do, but apparently Delilah didn’t have the time to think through the philosophical implications. “I’ve punched trains that were softer.” The Brute paused and shook her aching hand. “You’ve learned some new tricks!”

“You too,” he answered, breathing hard. “Too bad you took to murdering innocent people.”

“Innocent?” she sputtered, reaching down and grasping a wrought-iron bench and ripping its bolts out of the floor. “You’ve got a weird take on innocent.” She swung the bench like a baseball bat and Sullivan barely had time to throw himself to the ground as it whistled past.    

Sullivan rolled aside, finding himself staring up Delilah’s dress as she brought one foot down to stamp him through the floor. Distracting as that was, he managed to focus, Spike, and Delilah suddenly fell up. “Son of a b—“ she shouted before crashing into the glass ceiling, twenty feet above. Sullivan held the pull for a moment, but he’d burned through too much of his reserve, too fast, and lost control. Gravity returned to normal, and Delilah fell in a cloud of broken glass, screaming to the ground.

She must have used her own Power, as she slammed into the floor hard enough to shatter the tiles in a six-foot circle, but immediately rose, unharmed but angry, and dusting off her dress. She’d lost the fur stole and the fancy hat was stuck in the ceiling. Delilah picked at the shredded red dress in disgust. “You know how much I paid for this thing? It’s French!”

Sullivan was still on the floor. “I hate France,” he said as he drew his Colt .45 from his belt.

“That’s because last time you were there you were running alongside a tank,” Delilah said, slowly raising her hands. “It isn’t polite to shoot a lady.”

He snorted. “You’re no lady, and you’re mostly bulletproof, but this place is surrounded by thirty bulls with choppers, and you ain’t that bulletproof.” He swiped the thumb-safety off and aimed at Delilah’s chest. He could feel his Power scattered. He’d pushed too hard, too fast, and it was going to take a moment to gather enough to use it again. Good thing he always packed a heater. “So I guess you’re coming with me.”

She tried to look innocent, and failed miserably. “Come on, Jake, let me go, for old time’s sake. I’ll make it worth your trouble.”

“Tempting, but I’ve got the law outside. It’s over.” For both of us.

“Yes, it is over,” the German stranger said, materializing as he placed the muzzle of a pistol against the back of Sullivan’s head. “The policemen will not be a problem. My crew made sure of that. Don’t try anything stupid, Heavy. Magic is always slower than a bullet.”

The Spiker calmly raised his big .45, put the safety back on, and let it dangle from his trigger finger. “I never did like you guys that could walk through walls. That don’t hardly seem fair.”

“Life isn’t fair, friend,” the stranger said. A wooden nightstick slammed brutally into Jake’s skull, hard enough to knock any normal man senseless, and he flopped to the floor.

“Hit him again. He’s got a real thick head,” Delilah suggested. The stranger complied. The last thing Sullivan saw was a torn red dress towering over him and a finger shaking disapprovingly.

 

Chapter 2 – http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2010/04/08/the-grimnoir-chronicles-hard-magic-chapter-2/

Tanya, Princess of the Elves

This is just a rough little snippet that I wrote set in the Monster Hunter universe that doesn’t actually fit into any of my current projects.  Tanya was originally going to be a background character in Monster Hunter Alpha, but didn’t quite fit.  So think of it as a deleted scene on a DVD.  Maybe I will revisit Tanya’s story in a future MH novel. I know that it would be a lot of fun.  Enjoy. -Larry 

Once upon a time, in the state of Mississippi, there dwelt an elf princess. The princess lived in the Enchanted Forest with her mother, the queen of the elves, in a ninety-foot long aluminum double-wide trailer. 

“I’m bored, Momma,” the princess of the elves whined. She was sitting on the couch and painting her toenails. The princess had been complaining a lot lately. “This is stupid. Stupid and boring.”  

Queen Ilrondelia grunted and used the remote to turn up the volume on the TV so she wouldn’t have to listen to her youngest and only daughter. It was an infomercial about some blanket thing with sleeve holes for your hands so you could sit all warm on the couch and still work the remote. The queen decided she needed one of those and wondered if they made it in her size.

“Tanya! Write down that number,” the queen ordered. “I need one of them snuggly blankets for keeping warm.”

“You ain’t listening. How come you won’t let me do nothing?” Tanya said.

“You wanna do something? Get that skinny ass offa’ the couch and get a ink pen like I said!” the queen bellowed.

“Yes, your majesty,” Tanya answered sullenly, got up, and went to the kitchen.

“And fetch me some Ho-Hos while yous at it…” the queen said, then thought about it. “And some ranch dressin’ for dippin’ sauce.” She went back to the TV. Tanya returned, but as usual, took her sweet time, so the phone number was gone, and the queen would be forced to wait on getting her snuggly blanket with sleeves, but she did bring the box of Ho-Hos and the bottle of ranch dressing like she’d been told.  The queen took the snack and glared disapproving at Tanya’s too-small shirt. “Your belly’s stickin’ out.”

“Its fashion,” Tanya said. “You’re just jealous.”

The queen snorted. Fashion. The girl had no sense. Tanya went back to the couch, but one of the cats had taken her spot. Tanya tossed it on the floor and went back to painting her toes.

The queen forgot about the TV for a minute and concentrated on her kid. She didn’t do that very often. “So… You wanna do something’?” the queen asked.

Tanya sighed. “Yeah, I do.”

“So the Enchanted Forest ain’t good ‘nuff no mo?”

“That ain’t what I meant,” Tanya said. “But elves used to do stuff. You know. Outside.”

The queen of the elves pondered on that while she unwrapped a Ho-Ho and squirted ranch dressing on it. Her people had a sweet deal. The government paid them good money to stay right here in the Enchanted Forest, but some of the younger elves were getting uppity, talking about adventure. They’d been watching too many movies with fancy movie elves in them. They didn’t realize how good they had it here in the Enchanted Forest.

The world had moved on. It wasn’t a magic world no more. It was a world of techno-thingies and computing boxes and inter-webs. It wasn’t a world fit for her kind.

The queen knew her youngest was going to be a problem child since she’d gotten that butterfly tramp-stamp tattooed on her back. Somehow she’d gotten it in her head that she wanted to ‘see the world’ and such nonsense.  She even talked to those damn pixies. Hell, the girl probably didn’t have the smarts not to consort with a filthy orc if left on her own. But since Tanya was the prettiest girl in the trailer park she had all the boys wrapped around her finger. Her crazy talk could cause trouble. Trouble could make it so that the government checks quit coming. 

The government didn’t want people knowing about monsters or magic or the things that lived on the outskirts. Other than shopping at the Walmart, the Elves kept to themselves. All it would take was one dumb youngster to go and pull something stupid in town, and their sweet gig would be up. And with Tanya flouncing around like a cheap pixie, talking to humans, and sneaking out, it was only a mater of time. The princess was a pain in her ass.

“Tanya, Tanya, Tanya,” the queen said around a mouth full of Ho-Ho, “what am I gonna do wit’ you?”

Tanya looked up from her toes. “Let me travel. You let other elves go out. You let Elmo and the trackers get work.”

That much was true. She wasn’t above farming out her people for odd jobs to supplement the checks. In fact, Harbinger from MHI had called, saying he needed a diviner, and he was willing to pay big bucks for only a few days labor. “So that’s what you’s all spun up on? ‘Cause I’m sendin’ Elmo with that boss Hunter? That’s ‘cause there’re some elves are smart enough to do some job, get paid, and get back! You’d just screw it up. You ain’t wise like them yet.”

“I can do magic too! And I’m educated!” Tanya shouted loud enough to make two cats retreat under the couch. “I got my GED.”

The queen frowned while she chewed, chins bouncing. She never should have let the girl take that correspondence course. It had made her even more uppity. It was time to put the royal foot down. “I forbids it. You’ll be queen someday, so you need to learn ‘bout how to be a proper type ruler, meanin’ you ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

Tanya screeched in frustration and stomped off. She slammed the door to her room hard enough to shake the whole trailer.

#

It had taken another hour for her momma to fall asleep on her recliner. Tanya waited until the snores were nice, even, and loud before sliding out the window. She’d snuck out many nights before. She knew every bar from here to Tupelo, and had danced on most of them.

But this time was different. Tanya wasn’t coming back. It was time to make it big. She was sick of the Enchanted Forest, sick of her Queenliness always bossing her around, and bored out of her mind. She was too big for the trailer park, and she was going to show them.  She had a backpack full of clothes, spell fixings, a pocket full of money (mostly stolen), an Ipod with every single Eminem song on it, and her dreams.

She’d heard the legends. Elves used to be beautiful, immortal and magical. The elder Vartinian used to tell the youngsters the stories. Their people had been brave, and had fought mighty wars against the fearsome orcs and the evil fey. I was impossible to imagine her mighty ancestors living in the Enchanted Forest and being happy. She’d heard about other elves across the sea. They had to be cooler than her stupid relatives. She watched a lot of TV. She knew what was out there.

It had been on one of her weekend scouting trips that she’d finally come to the realization that her destiny lay outside the Enchanted Forest. After hitchhiking to Tupelo, because she’d heard about an awesome kegger, Tanya had come across a magical shrine where a mystical hero had been born. She still wore one of the great one’s holy symbols on a chain around her neck, a solemn reminder that a legend could come from humble beginnings, plus she thought her Elvis Presley medallion looked wicked cool in her cleavage when she wore one of her low-cut tops.

If a human could go on to become a god, what amazing things could an elf of the royal line accomplish? All sorts of badass stuff, that’s what. But first she needed a ticket out of the Enchanted Forest, and by royal decree, Elves were not allowed out without leave. Sure, the queen looked the other way for Tanya’s sneaking out, as she knew that youngsters needed blow off steam, but leaving for good would be different. Momma would be sure to send the trackers after her. So she needed to hatch a scheme that would let her go in a way that the queen wouldn’t dare drag her back.

The getaway plan had been in her head for quite some time. The idea had started a couple years back when she’d watched some Hunters come to bug momma for information. Tanya had always found humans interesting, especially the cute boys, but most elves hated their cousins because they were squishy, mean-tempered, and short-lived, but they respected the Hunters. The Monster Hunters put boot to ass on a regular basis, and even the snootiest elf in the Enchanted Forest had to admit that they were the real deal, so fearsome that they even owned a tribe of vicious orc barbarians, let free only to eat the babies of their enemies.

There had been a funny looking red-bearded one, a big ugly with a scar face, a black guy with badass dreadlocks, and a blonde girl with attitude, so pretty that she had left Tanya jealous enough to start bleaching her own hair. All of them except for the ugly one had come back the next year, and Tanya had eavesdropped again. These people had adventures and they made serious bank.  They were feared and respected, riding to battle on a flying death-machine driven by their insane orc slaves, and living in a mysterious palace known only as the Compound. Now that was living large. 

Summoning up all her courage, Tanya had confronted the Hunters as they were leaving and had asked what it took to become one of them. They didn’t laugh at her at all. The one with the red beard had seemed a little confused, but had started to give her a serious answer, until momma had hit her with a well-aimed bunny slipper and ordered her back into the trailer. The slipper had nearly put out her eye, but it was worth it. Just the fact that they hadn’t laughed at her told her that there was no reason an elf couldn’t join up.  

When she’d overheard momma saying that she was going to assign that idiot Elmo to do a little job for the king of the Hunters, she knew that she’d have to move quick. She was a much better diviner than Elmo was, probably twice as good when he was liquored up, which was most of the time. 

So after sneaking out the window Tanya had hunkered down behind the back of the trailer and waited. Most elves slept in pretty late, so if the Hunters were coming in the morning, then she’d have a good chance of reaching them first. Momma wouldn’t dare send the trackers after her if she was working for the Hunters. Tanya congratulated herself on the brilliance of her plan.

It was getting cold, early winter, but she’d worn a nice coat. It was a letterman’s jacket from the Boonville Blue Devils, lifted off a stupid human.  Human boys were even dumber than their elven counterparts, but she did appreciate the muscles on the ones that played football.  Luckily it didn’t take too long for her ride to show up. Even with her earpieces in, she still heard the truck arrive. It was a huge, black pickup truck with a winch on the front and a shell over the back. It had to be the Hunters. This was perfect. Everyone else was asleep. She turned off the 8 Mile soundtrack, grabbed her backpack, and ran over to rap her knuckles against the window.

 It took a second but the window rolled down and the human behind the wheel gave her a funny look. If she were hitchhiking this was normally when she would have leaned forward so the driver could see down her shirt, but that didn’t’ seem like the professional thing to do. She had an act to keep up. “Heya,” Tanya said, standing perfectly straight. “You the Hunter?”

“I am,” he said politely, tipping the brim of his ball cap. It had a green happy face on it. If he was an elf he’d have been in his mid-hundreds, but Tanya figured that made him about forty in human years.  Wearing a really old leather jacket, he seemed bulky by elf standards, but probably lean compared to most of the humans she knew. He wasn’t handsome at all, kind of plain with a hard face, like someone who spent a lot of time outdoors, and eyes that seemed to look right through her. Elves had blue eyes too, but his were the color of ice and just as cold. This was the kind of man who made his living face-punching monsters to death. “I’m here to see the queen.”

“She’s probably gonna sleep until about noon,” Tanya answered, thinking quickly. “She went on a real bender last night. I’m talking like a gallon of Thunderbird! She didn’t want to be disturbed. So she sent me to meet you. I’m your diviner.”

The Hunter seemed a little surprised. “You’re Elmovarian? The master tracker?”

“Of course,” she answered proudly, the human hadn’t been expecting a babe. Tanya prided herself on being the hottest of all the elves in the trailer park. “That’s my full elf name. Whenever I work with humans I let them call me Tanya.”

“I’m Earl Harbinger,” the Hunter said. “Ain’t you a little young?”

“I’m an elf. I’m older than I look.” Which was true, Tanya had been able to successfully buy beer when she was only fourteen with her fake ID. Momma had always said she was an early bloomer. She was twenty-two now, which was positively ancient by human female standards. “Besides, I’m the best tracker in the Enchanted Forest.” Tanya didn’t hesitate. She went for the gold. This was her ticket out of this dump. “All righty then, we better get going, I’m guessing you’ve got lots of things to murder.” Not wanting to give him time to think about it, she immediately walked around the front of the truck to the passenger side. She held her breath until he unlocked the door. She threw her pack in the back seat and climbed in the front. “Okay, let’s go.”

The Hunter shrugged and started the engine. “Seatbelt,” he suggested. She complied. Tanya was terribly nervous, but momma didn’t come lumbering out of the trailer. Nobody raised the alarm. The trackers didn’t come out with their sawed off shotguns and compound bows to massacre the Hunter for kidnapping the royal heir. They crossed the threshold of the Enchanted Forest and then they were free.

“Where’re we headed?” Tanya asked, eager for adventure.

“Indiana,” Harbinger answered.

The princess of the elves was intrigued. “Ooohh. That sounds exciting.”

The Monster Hunter just watched the road. “Uh hu.”

TO BE CONTINUED…

America’s finest

Meet Tony, avid Monster Hunter International fan. This young man, serving in the US Air Force graduates today from NAVSCOLEOD, which is seriously an actual thing, known to most of us cake eating civillians as “Don’t cut the red wire! HUGE EXPLOSION! School”.  Though I have been told that they don’t actually get to cut any wires.

His friend Mike had this to say: “Despite his inability to build a stable mound of sand for his tool, Tony will become an EOD tech. He’s made it through one of the most academically challenging schools in the military.  Today, Tony will prance in front of the EOD Memorial like a proud little Shetland pony and receive his EOD crab.  Congratulations, Tony.  You finally got your standoff right.”

His girlfriend, Kelly added: “Mmhmm that’s my man… You are the best thing that’s ever happened to me and I’m so so so so so so sooooooooooooo proud of you! Like THIS MUCH! I love you babe. Congratulations my Studly Studmuffin! ^^ “

And that my friends, is the only time ever, in the history of this blog, in which the words “Studly Studmuffin” have or will be uttered.

On behalf of the Monster Hunter Nation, congratulations Tony, and thank you for your service.

Big Announcement! Monster Hunter International MOVIE DEAL!

I’m pleased to announce that there will be a big Hollywood version of Monster Hunter International, released in 2011. 

I’ve had to keep this information top secret until everything was finalized. This is going to be huge. I’m talking about top of the line talent all the way around.

It will be directed by  Ang Lee, award winning director of Brokeback Mountain.  He was quoted as saying that he looks forward to exploring “the sensitive side of MHI. Rather than concentrate on the monsters and special effects, we will take the audience on an artistic journey of understanding”. 

Robert Pattinson is slotted to play Owen Zastava Pitt.  Janeane Garofalo will play Julie Shackleford.  Anthony Anderson will play Trip Jones. Ben Affleck will play Earl Harbinger.  Holly Newcastle will be played by Rosie O’Donnel.  George Clooney will be the voice of Skippy. Sean Penn will play Milo Anderson. 

Steven Spielberg is expected to produce  Mr. Spielberg told Entertainment Weekly that he was “very excited to re-imagine this franchise. We’re currently working on a script rewrite, since the last one had so many of those guns in it.  The new one will feature alternative methods of non-violent conflict resolution.  And some of that James Cameron alien stuff, because that shit is on fire right now.”

I’ve only seen early versions of the new script. In the rewrite, MHI will become an elite global task force, dedicated to stopping pollution and global warming.  There may or may not actually be any monsters in this, but Ang Lee did specify that he wants a lot of “sparkling”.  “The glitter budget alone for this project will be in the millions.”

As the author, I’m a little nervous about this revision, but then again, sleeping on giant bags of money is rather nice.

In related news, I’m working on the rewrite of Dead Six. Tween drama is hot right now, so we’ve tweaked the basic plot, so that instead of mercenaries vs. thieves in a middle eastern country during a violent military coup, it is now about cliques of angsty high schoolers, battling to see who will be prom king.  Will it be Valentine, the kid with glasses who has to take Zoloft for his anger issues, or Lorenzo, the bad boy with the dirt bike?    

And yes… Look at the posting date.  Duh. :)

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