Book Bit Wednesday
Today, I'm posting a snigglet from Blackthorne's POV. I know it probably sounds like I have a dizzying number of POV characters. There are seven. Yes, that's a lot. However, when you compare that with the number of POV characters in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire (twenty-four), it's nothing. I think y'all are sophisticated enough to handle it. (I suspect that if readers can handle a white man writing twenty-four points of view, they can handle seven from a white woman.) Also, if you want the breakdown: three of the seven are women, and four are men. Two of those men are POCs and one is gay. As you can see, I'm working on being more inclusive in my work as professional writers should. Doing so makes my worlds more realistic. Ultimately, it wasn't just out of a sense of duty. It was actually a lot of fun, but then one of the things I enjoy about writing is the ability to look through other people's eyes--specifically people who don't look like me. It's a big part of the adventure. Anyway, here you go.
Stylish lamps corralled the Commons park in a ring of protective light. Blackthorne hazarded yet another glimpse at the time, cupping his pocket watch in both hands before releasing the catch. He tilted the black enamel face to better read its mother-of-pearl hash marks and then wiped fingerprints from the cover on a worn sleeve before returning the timepiece to his breeches pocket.
A quarter to eleven. The Lucrosa was late for her appointment. Again.
Watchmen will make their rounds soon, he thought.
A cool breeze tugged at his greatcoat, causing it to flap around his knees. He made no move to pull it closed. Instead, he shut his eyes and breathed in, savoring the dusty scent of dead leaves. Behind the pleasant odor he detected the gritty specter of coal smoke and river fog. Thunder rolled in the distance. The storm it announced might pass to the south or north. He hoped for the south. If it was headed northward, the bad weather would add complications.
He used a passage from the Retainer's Code to calm his nerves. The ideal Retainer lives in the present. The present is where control lies. The past is of no consequence, and the future does not exist.
When he was a Cadet Warden, he'd volunteered for evening patrols. His partner had thought him mad. Most preferred to make their rounds during the day, expending a great deal of money and influence to do so. It was but one of the many differences between him and the rest of the Brotherhood.
That life is finished. And you would not want to go back, even if you could. As was too often the case lately, he couldn't decide whether it was reassurance or justification. The past is of no consequence. The future does not exist. The greatcoat pulled tight across his shoulder blades. He stopped stretching to avoid ripping the back seam. It wouldn't withstand yet another round of his inexpert stitching, and it needed to last him through the winter.
The insects abruptly stopped their singing. The stench of grave dust deposited the taste of tin in the back of his throat. He knew the creature---the malorum---was there without hearing or seeing it. He always did. He tried hard not to consider why. It was a useful skill. One he told no one about, because doing so would endanger his life.
The monster risked a full moon? Is it because there's a storm coming? There was no knowing why, really. Malorum were unfathomable.
Holding his breath, Blackthorne concentrated on blending in with his surroundings. His stomach tensed, and a tingling sensation crawled over his scalp. Discarded leaves strewn on the grass snapped into sharper focus. Behind and to the right, he sensed the malorum relax. Using gradual movements as he'd been trained to do at the Warden's Academy, Blackthorne settled a shoulder against the trunk of a large oak tree and laid a hand on the hilt of his knife. At the edge of his vision, a spindly form ventured from the shadows. Dressed in rags and a floppy hat, it toed moonlight like a reluctant swimmer testing the water. The outstretched foot was misshapen and coated in spiny fur. Lurching on two crooked legs, the creature limped closer. Then it passed behind a cluster of trees. The metallic taste flooded Blackthorne's mouth, and he fought an urge to spit. Inching his dagger free of its sheath, he listened to the stealthy crunch of its offbeat step until it reemerged a few paces away.
It drew in a sharp breath when it spied him.
He launched himself at it with his knife drawn, driving it to the ground. The thing's hat fell off, and a patch of moonlight hit the malorum full in the face. Its nose slits snapped shut, and the too-wide mouth tightened in pain. The creature's visage blurred, and an old Eledorean male with pale hair struggled beneath him in the grass. For a moment Blackthorne couldn't breathe.
Oh, Mithras. It's Esa.
"Have mercy." The words rasped through too many teeth.
When Blackthorne didn't react, the creature let out a piercing discordant cry. Blackthorne trapped its howl with his forearm. The malorum bit down, and a bolt of pain shot up Blackthorne's left arm. The malorum struggled, and a muffled scream pressed against Blackthorne's skin. He rammed the silver-laced blade under the creature's chin. Its hide resisted the knife for an instant before the blade sank home. Elph-black eyes bulged. Blackthorne gagged on both the stench of the malorum and the horror of what he'd done. Cold blood spurted from the wound, soaking his clothes.
In Mithras's name, why did the thing have to choose Esa?
Drunken singing echoed off the ancient city wall and down the street---rich toughs staggering their way to a fashionably coarse alehouse or salon.
Swiving hells. That's all I need. Fighting revulsion, Blackthorne trapped the malorum with his body until the creature finally stopped twitching. Then he rolled off and crawled back to the oak tree. Resting his back against its trunk, he sat between the roots and attempted to get control of himself. His arm was agony. A deep voice called out.
"You there! You are in violation of Senatorial Safety Edict number three seven five. Please return to your homes at once or face arrest for curfew violation."
Curious, Blackthorne peered around the base of the oak for a view of the street. The drunken rowdies had halted, and a woman dressed in loose black clothing had positioned herself between her charges and the Watchmen. There was no need to look for the black fur trim on her coat. Her air of lethal expertise was enough. Someone within the group could afford to employ a titled Retainer.
The Watchman with the lamp gave her proffered identification a bored glance. The retainer tilted her head down by way of a curt bow. Blackthorne knew she would've kept her eyes on the Watchman. No well-trained retainer would do otherwise.
"My patron appreciates your concern for his safety and would like to express his gratitude with this donation." She tossed the Watchman a small cloth bag that clinked on the paving stones.
Silver. Not paper or pewter, I'll bet. Blackthorne's estimate of the group's worth increased.
The Watchman bent to retrieve the bag, and the exchange reached its standard conclusion. The two Watchmen continued their rounds. With the exception of the Retainer, who scanned the Commons for potential trouble before proceeding. No one had so much as glanced Blackthorne's direction during the entire transaction. He took a deep breath and slowly released it. When he returned his attention to the malorum, he saw it had resumed its original form.
Esa is dead, Blackthorne thought. Malorum steal images from the minds of those nearest. Images with strong emotional resonance. You know this.
He waited until his hands had stopped shaking before cleaning and sheathing his blade. Checking the wound, he saw the left arm of his greatcoat had been shredded, but not so badly that it couldn't be patched. The bite burned and throbbed up to the elbow. Blood oozed down his arm, tickling as it went. He felt above the wrist and found a broken tooth lodged in the bite. He shoved up the tattered sleeve and pinched the fang out of his own flesh with stiff fingers. Then he retrieved the Acrasian soldier's pack he'd left at the base of the oak and searched for the vial of antivenom he'd mixed himself. As he stooped to open the pack he felt cold wind toy with the fresh rip in the back of his coat.
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is a Science Fiction and Fantasy author living in Texas.