After lagging for nearly a year as my artistic brain struggled to flesh out major aspects of the next chapter in the "big one" aka the Psyche's Gate Saga (my opus maximus, so to speak), where all of my most beloved characters are gradually drawn together and the plot thickens heavily for everyone involved, I have finally picked up the "pen" again and set out to get this heavy-duty puppy back on a roll. All of your favorites, including Skriker, Alexius, and Rose (and one other VERY special character whose name I will not mention--must maintain a few surprises here!) will be joining us, and you will meet some wonderful new characters along the way as well, all of whom sculpted our favorites into who they are now. Much backstory will be written, including what happened with Alexius and Psyche during Psyche's pregnancy with Rose, Rose's birth, and her early childhood, as well as Skriker's raggle-taggle beginnings and what shaped him into the swaggering bad boy we have all come to adore.
To get you, the fans, geared up for this momentous release, I have posted one of the (numerous) rough backstory excerpts that will be found scattered throughout the book. This particular snippet is from the POV of Harry, former boxer, fight club/bar owner, and one of the (few) good werewolves who populate the world I have created. Here we find him telling the tale of how he stumbled onto a certain young rascal who desperately needed his help...someone I'm sure many of you will recognize. :-)
NEPHIL'S CURSE (An Excerpt)
In watching his young charge fight so valiantly in the cage, Harry often looked back at his discovery of the orphaned scrapper in a cold dry sewer tunnel under the city, not far from the Beelzebub’s hidden entrance.
He had been out for a stroll, poking around the forgotten underground tunnels for vintage treasures to bring home to his antique-loving daughter. It was early autumn, and there had been a chill in the air that made even the big werewolf draw his coat closer around him.
He had walked around a corner, whistling softly to himself, when a stray dog had loped across the tunnel in front of him. It had paused and glanced at him, licking its chops and briefly showing its teeth before galloping off into the shadows. Harry had shrugged to himself; stray dogs were common enough. And then a shadow had suddenly darted across the tunnel after the dog. Harry had glimpsed very little at first: filthy ripped denim, a pale bare torso that surely belonged to a tall, very young male. A goddamned kid, he had thought.
“Hey!” Harry had called, and the kid had paused in the middle of the tunnel, glancing back abruptly. Harry glimpsed brilliant green eyes that seemed to briefly sizzle orange. Alabaster-pale skin marked with dirt, scratches, and bruises. Pale blond hair that stuck up every which way, as if the boy were some kind of modern primitive. The kid seemed to hiss, baring his teeth as the dog had, and suddenly he was climbing up the wall, defying gravity itself. No ordinary boy, that was certain.
“Hey, kid!” Harry shouted, and ran after the quickly retreating figure. He had followed the wall climber out of sheer curiosity into another tunnel that hit a dead end. There was a rotten door separating one tunnel from the next and the kid had swung into the doorway like a monkey. He tried to slam it shut, barricading himself inside the hideaway, grunting and whimpering in fear. Harry had put one big hand out and forced it open; he didn’t want to scare the boy, but there was no way in hell he was going to leave some kid alone in a sewer tunnel. He had forced his way into the little room and had found the boy huddled back against the cracked cement wall, surrounded by a small pack of skinny stray dogs. He had obviously been living in the dead end tunnel for a while: scraps of food were scattered about, probably given to his canine companions. A dirty mattress covered with a ragged military blanket occupied one corner of the space. There were dozens of half-melted white candles and tea lights set around on grocery crates, boxes and along the concrete walls; a few still flickered anemically. Canned crushed tomatoes and tinned meat stacked inside the crates. Empty beer and water bottles. Boxes of matches. A few scavenged tools, including a can opener, a bottle opener, and a motley collection of knives and forks. One crumpled pack of Camel cigarettes sitting on the grotesquely stained mattress. Harry glimpsed several stacks of books scattered in with the junk and the squalor. The kid was obviously educated, and yet here he was, trying to survive like a filthy common bum, and it broke Harry’s heart.
Sensing the true form of the big werewolf, the dogs had whined and slunk back, much to the chagrin of their companion. The boy had begun to scream at Harry in a language that was not English, his voice raspy with fear.
“Swedish,” Harry had once told one of his regulars. “He was screaming at me in Swedish; I had no clue at that point that he spoke a word of anything else. You’d think a Swede would be calm…that whole lagom thing, you know…but not this bastard. I speak fluent German, so I tried a bit of that with him, thinking that maybe he spoke more than one Teutonic language. He didn’t seem to give a crap; he just kept hollering at me, like some wild child. All I could understand was that he was telling me to get out, over and over, jumbled with a bunch of other shit. He was scared out of his mind, but he already had the spitfire in him that had kept him alive on the streets and that came through like a fucking backdraft. Big fucker, too—he was one of the biggest kids that age that I’d ever seen. After seeing him wall crawl, I determined that he was one of us…something other than human. When I realized that he was a Halfling…well, that pretty much blew my mind. I had heard of Halflings, but before then had never actually seen one.”
Harry had moved into the little tunnel, his hands raised, trying to speak calming words in German and English. The kid had continued shouting in Swedish, seizing a half-rusted carving knife and brandishing it wildly and not without skill—someone had taught him to use a blade. Harry had gotten the knife away from him, but it had been no easy feat; as soon as his blade was taken the kid had morphed, growing black claws and fangs meaner than those of any vampyre or were. Harry had thanked God Above that he knew the fighting techniques he did; he had choked the Halfling out, if only for his own safety, before bundling him away.
He had taken the dirty youngster back home to the neat two-bedroom apartment he shared with his then eight-year-old daughter, Gretchen, trekking across town on his big Harley with the passed out kid strapped to the seat behind him, praying the entire time that the boy wouldn’t come to while they were on the road. Gretchen had greeted him at the door, excited to see what sort of presents her father had found for her. Her shock had been instant when Harry tramped into the foyer with the big blond kid slung over his shoulder, still passed out. The shock faded, and the pretty little weregirl had quickly become intrigued by their new guest; when Harry had explained where the kid had come from and what he was, she had been even more amazed.
“He’s a demon?”
“That’s right, baby. Half, I’m guessing actually.”
“Where‘s his mommy and daddy?”
“Don’t know, pumpkin. Not around, that’s for sure.”
“No, hon. I wouldn’t have brought him home if I thought he was evil. I’m pretty sure that whatever demon made him was turned neutral. You remember what that means, right?”
Gretchen blinked, her hazel eyes flicking over the long strong body of the boy lying on their living room sofa.
“Yeah. Why is he passed out? Did you hurt him, daddy?”
Harry had chuckled drily.
“He was just scared, so I had to put him to sleep for a while.”
Gretchen had watched her father strip the unconscious kid’s dirty clothes off before Harry had told her to go draw a hot bath, if only to keep her virgin eyes away from the boy’s more than healthy loins—the kid was probably all of thirteen and already hung like a damned donkey, and that sort of thing was nothing that he wanted his little girl to know anything about. He had carried the boy into the bathroom and gently lowered him into the warm steaming water; the heat had shocked the lad awake like a slap. He had thrashed at Harry, roaring, water sloshing violently over the edge of the tub, his eyes blazing, until Gretchen had crept into the bathroom and he had spotted her. He had quieted immediately, gazing at the little auburn haired child with sharp interest. Harry had cautioned Gretchen to be careful, that he didn’t trust this kid, but had allowed her to come near; perhaps, he had thought, seeing another child would indeed calm their strange new guest. Harry had stood back, watching the boy like a hawk as his daughter knelt down on the damp bath mat and tried to engage their visitor in conversation, ready to spring if the kid made any move that seemed wrong.
“He doesn’t speak English, honey,” he told her, but Gretchen had shaken her small head, rolling her yes.
“He does, daddy. He’s just scared, remember?”
She had leaned toward the boy, her hazel eyes narrowing. “You speak English, don’t you?” she had prodded.
The boy had stared at her, muttered more Swedish.
“It’s okay, you can talk to me,” Gretchen had told him, smiling, and then she had done something that would have shocked Harry to death if he didn’t know his daughter’s gentle generous nature: she had reached out and stroked her small fingers through the boy’s wet white-blond hair. He hadn’t flinched away, hadn’t snarled or hissed; indeed, he had looked bashful, a small shy smile playing around his strong young mouth.
“Hi,” he had offered up coyly, and Harry had thought, Hallelujah. Gretchen had grinned, thrilled.
“Hey. My name’s Gretchen. Are you okay?”
The boy had blinked and raked his hand across his nose. “Yeah,” he said.
Harry spoke up. “Glad I came along when I did, kid. You were living like a damned sewer rat.”
The boy glared up at him. “I can take care of m’self,” he growled. “I’m tough. Don’t need help from anyone.”
Gretchen put her small hand on his.
“I’m glad you’re here,” she said softly. “We’ll have fun. What’s your name?”
His eyes darted around the bathroom. Then, “Skriker.”
“Really? That’s a cool name.”
Skriker. There was no way. Harry knew the name from his time in the service, when he had been stationed in England. He knew just about every dog and wolf myth out there—that was part of his heritage, after all, ever since he had drunk water out of a hidden mountain spring while on a hunting trip and had not been the same since—and he had heard the name Skriker around Lancashire. It was the name of a legendary Black Dog, a ghostly demon hound that had supposedly haunted the region for centuries. The kid must have given himself the name.
Sweet Jesus, what happened to you, boy, he thought bleakly. Later he would trek back to the tunnel where the kid had been living to gather up a few of his things; specifically, he brought back all the books. One of them was a collection of myths and stories titled Ghostly Black Dogs; sure enough, the name Skriker appeared within its pages. He also found a faded Polaroid photograph tucked carefully between the pages, one corner slightly bent. The photo depicted a stunningly beautiful woman, as blonde as a vintage movie star with eyes as green as clovers. Harry had felt a twinge in his heart as he gazed at the image. He had brought the books and photograph back to Skriker, and the kid had clutched the picture to his chest, as if he were afraid to let it go. When Gretchen had shyly asked him who the pretty lady was, he had ducked his head and murmured, “My mom.”
Eventually Skriker had settled in with them. He had been given a more or less permanent place on Harry’s couch, and proved to be not only a playmate for Gretchen, but another source of protection for her, like an older brother. It turned out that he remembered a good deal about his childhood, and little by little Harry and Gretchen coaxed it out of him. He remembered that his mother had been of Swedish descent and had taught him the language of her ancestral homeland, and that she had once been a stripper, although Harry became certain that the woman had been no stereotypical idiot sex trade worker as he listened to Skriker describe her—she sounded flat out educated. She had mated with her one and only, a True Native demon, and had a family, eventually leaving her pole dancing career behind to raise her children. He recalled that he had had a little brother that he named as Rory—he had wept copiously at the mention of this child, crying bitterly as if his heart were shattered, huge tears rolling down his pale cheeks—and that they all had been killed by other demons.
But he could not remember his own real name. And as far as Harry was concerned, he suspected the kid never would.
(c) 2011 Danielle D. Smith
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
NEPHIL'S CURSE, Book II in the Psyche's Gate Saga, is currently in the works and is expected to be released some time in 2012.