Somewhere Across the Atlantic
Diego snuck through the large, open cargo bay of the anti-grav blimp, his nose tingling, his eyes darting back and forth in the shadows. He hadn’t been sure what had upset his senses when the ship first set off. The scent of goods, en route to supply the few remaining city-states in North America, had been strong enough to negate his normally sharp Were senses.
But now that they were floating out over the open seas, he was sure of it. He could smell fish, salt, and… vampire.
The streets of Spain had taught him how to stay out of trouble. Groups of Weres claimed different territories of Old Madrid, with the wolves on one side and a splinter group of the Sacred Clan–Were cats–on another.
But he was a runt, which meant none had accepted him. Small when transformed and not much taller than five-six as a man, he’d been laughed out of dens when he tried to pitch himself to the various packs.
No Alpha wanted him as a liability.
He had tried to tell them that he had his own unique skills. Speed. A brain that worked twice as fast as most others, and the ability to sneak.
“So go join the Sacred Clan, kitten,” one of the henchmen had told him, right before Diego put a blade in the Were’s throat.
Sticking around after that discussion hadn’t been an option. Asia had too many risks, with the legends of Yuko and Akio, vampires nobody wanted to mess with. He couldn’t go there. Staying in Europe meant the packs would be after him if he tried to hide out in Spain or Portugal, and anywhere else risked more vampires. Forsaken or not, he’d heard what they did to stray dogs and cats. He had no desire to find out for himself if those rumors were true.
But right now, his dreams of making it west looked like a long shot. For all he knew, this vampire was here to kill him, paid off by the Were who he’d nearly killed—and would have, if the blade had been silver. Even if the vampire didn’t know anything about him, it was likely to throw him overboard simply to avoid complications.
Diego paused by one of several round, thick glass windows and watched the setting sun as it grew close to the horizon.
If the vampire had traveled during the day, that meant… No, that couldn’t have happened. Only the old vampires of legend, from the days before the fall of the world, could walk in the sun. And even that could be fiction as much as fact. Diego, for his part, believed it was simply the stories vampires told to scare other members of the UnknownWorld.
“Where are you?” he hissed, stepping away from the window and trying to make sense of it. But only one conclusion came to mind. The vampire had help. Whether that meant in the form of humans or something else, he couldn’t be sure.
He’d have to proceed with caution.
And here in the shadows of the ship, it did not matter that the sun shone brightly outside.
Mierda, he thought, as a puff of breath touched his neck. He froze, waiting for the fangs, but none came.
Instead, he heard a woman’s voice. “You were looking for me, and now you’ve found me.”
She hadn’t attacked, and that was her mistake. His claws extended as he spun on her—only to be thrown aside as a second person, or vampire more likely, based on how fast they moved, sent him flying.
Valerie had been waiting for the Were to walk right into her trap. Part of her waited like this because she wasn’t sure she’d fully healed from the night before—she still felt a bit queasy. The other part of her simply liked to toy with Weres.
She’d gambled correctly on feeding Sandra some of her blood, after healing, so that they could both be recuperated in case of injury. In this case, it also served to make the servant girl smell like a vampire.
The Were growled and swiped at her with his claws, drawing blood from Valerie’s face. It would heal, but it stung.
“Quiet or they’ll be after us,” she hissed, pinning him to the floor with one hand as the other went to the hilt of her sword. “And I’d prefer not to have to kill the people who know how to fly this thing. Nor you, for that matter.”
The fierceness in his eyes faltered, and he lowered his clawed hand.
“You’re not killing me?”
“Not yet decided, but I’d target not mess up my karma.” She looked him up and down, noting his small stature for a Were, even an Asian Were. “But you haven’t told me why you were snooping around down here.”
“Snooping? I smelled vampire, and figured I was being hunted.”
“You’re so important that we’d send our own to track you down?” She looked at him like he had just taken a long walk off the short plank into a pool of stupidity.
He blinked at that, clearly affronted.
“That’s what I thought,” she said, then stood and waited for him to get up. “Tell me fast, Were, what you’re doing here.”
He stared now, defiantly.
Fine by her, she could play this game all day—as long as the top of the blimp didn’t fly away and leave her exposed to sunlight, which was unlikely to happen. But still, she’d rather get back to hiding before they were discovered and would have to explain themselves.
Crews of the blimps were known for their ferocity. They had to be strong, in the face of pirates. Thule-inspired anti-grav technology, left over from the days before the fall of civilization, meant that they could get blimps flying. Other means of travel across the seas were challenging, as fuel had become incredibly scarce.
So it was back to the old days of sailboats, if one could gather enough of a crew and figure out how to brave the seas and cross the ocean, or these blimps. Either way, pirates had made a comeback—some human, others not. Most kept to the waters, but if they managed to get their hands on a blimp, you were pretty much toast—burnt, soggy, salty toast.
Either way, you were consigned to Davey Jones’s locker.
For all she knew, half of this crew was made up of pirates looking for an honest buck between pirating bouts.
“I’m not going to sit here having a staring contest with you all day,” she said. “Speak up, or I feed you to the sharks.”
“Why not eat me yourself?” he said, with a glare as if daring her.
“Do you really understand so little about my kind?” She laughed, then turned to Sandra. “Would you please explain?”
Sandra stepped forward, hands folded before her. “My Mistress is referring to the fact that vampires aren’t big on Were blood. So, my assumption is she’d at least prefer to give you a swimming chance, or better yet, make the sharks happy with a meal that came to them.”
With a cautious glance, Sandra stepped forward, eyeing the Were up and down. “But you don’t strike me as dangerous, because you’re not. Isn’t that right, Mr. …?”
“The real name’s Xianliang,” he said, his eyes clearly announcing his annoyance. “But I had a street name in Spain, if you must know. The guys called me Diego.”
Valerie’s eyes closed just a bit. “Huh. Diego… Weird, considering… but it kinda works. I’ll use that when I like you. Maybe I’ll use Pet when I don’t.”
With a nod from Valerie, Sandra introduced the two of them and waited. Finally, Diego blew out his breath, crossed his arms and leaned up against a crate.
“The old world has nothing for me anymore,” he explained, bitterness coloring his voice. “Better to follow the path of those before. Head out west.”
“Is it as simple as that?” Valerie asked, suspicious.
He assessed her from the corner of his eyes, then finally shrugged. “Nothing’s ever simple. But yeah, honestly. There are stories you hear, right? This one’s about a place they’re rebuilding up north of New York, what the old days referred to as New Jersey. Well, rumor has it that’s the place to be. I’m talking food, shelter, and even some sort of order for my kind. The Golden City, some call it.”
Was this Were serious? Valerie glanced over at Sandra, but she didn’t look surprised. More like sympathetic. It wasn’t that Valerie didn’t realize people and those of the UnknownWorld lived in poor conditions, but being the creation of the Duke meant certain lifestyle differences from the general populace. And she rarely had to deal with it. Even when they had set up their various outposts around France and she had gone to inspect those outposts, the worst had been hidden from her.
As she was now beginning to understand.
Everything had been hidden from her until she had insisted on going on that raid. The Duke had said no, at first, but had capitulated at Donovan’s insistence. Now it all made sense. He suspected she’d freeze up when she saw what it was really like, this underground war they were fighting—them against everyone else. And now she was getting a different view of it.
They found a hiding spot behind a stack of the supplies, and after listening to Diego for a while, she found that she didn’t think the guy was half-bad.
Diego told her all about the streets of Spain, how he’d been a Were as long as he could remember. Maybe even born into it, but he hadn’t ever known his parents.
It had been survival first, everything else a distant second, in his experience.
“How about you?” he asked at a lull in the conversation. “I mean… am I just talking nonsense here?”
Sandra looked like she was about to answer, but Valerie held up a finger and said, “No, it was the same for us.” She noticed Sandra’s look of confusion at her lie, but went on. “We never fit in with society, always on the run. It’s the same now, and who knows, maybe we’ll come to this city of gold you mentioned.”
His expression turned to worry, and she was about to ask what was wrong when she noticed he wasn’t looking at her at all, but past her to the window.
A shadow was passing them, and in an instant she was at the window, watching as two large blimps moved into attack formation. One of them sported the modified Jolly Roger—but instead of a skull, there was a vampire face with blood dripping down from long, sharp fangs.
“At least we know this legend is true,” Diego said. When both Valerie and Sandra looked at him like he was crazy, he added, “What? I’m just saying, I like to know what’s true and what isn’t in this world.”
“Know this then,” Valerie said, pulling out her sword and turning toward the bay door. “If we don’t save this ship, none of us will be making it to that fabled city of yours.”
He gulped at the sword, and rightly so. It was solid steel underneath, but the silver lining etched into the blade and used to fortify the tip meant members of the UnknownWorld had extra reason to fear her.
“Then let’s make sure they leave here in pieces,” Diego said. He stripped quickly, both women glancing to each other and back at him.
In a blink of an eye, he was gone, replaced by a ferocious looking, if a bit on the smaller side from what Valerie was used to, puma.
Her favorite shoes had been a vintage pair of Pumas found in an old abandoned warehouse, so in spite of his size, she found herself liking him a little bit more. Still, she wondered about his ability in a fight. Rolling her eyes, she had to wonder at her own ability to make decisions, if she was willing to like this Were because of her fascination with a pair of shoes that hadn’t been manufactured in decades.
While Valerie was among the best of them when it came to training, her recent experience with a real battle and the taking of lives gave her reason to worry. This Were kitten didn’t help her confidence any.
But she had a mission, and right now those pirates stood in her way. She’d have to suck it up and make them pay, and just hope that Diego could do his part.
FROM JUSTIN >>> The good stuff is just getting started, but don’t worry, I’ll post another snippet Friday. It’s a promise! This section is chapter 2 and introduces you to one of the main characters, Diego, who I think you’re going to learn to love – let’s just say that he’s cool cat. If you’re curious about him, you can find out more about the Sacred Clan in Michael Anderle’s Kurtherian Gambit series (though Diego doesn’t appear there). Let me know if you have any thoughts or questions!
You can also get the snippets (1-4) on your e-Reader by grabbing the sneak peek over at Instafreebie.
And as always, I want to end these snippets with a recommendation, so today let’s take a look at author John L. Monk’s book:
John L. Monk has quickly become one of my favorite authors with his book KICK and the rest in that series, and then HELL’S CHILDREN came along and took the world by storm.
Description: The world has gone to hell and it isn’t coming back. It happened in a year: starvation, gangs of kids with guns, and every adult in the world dead from the Sickness. Houses are now mausoleums. Civilization lies in the hands of children who’ve never had to feed themselves or survive a winter without gas or electricity. Most will die. Others — a bare few — will tread a different path.
Fourteen-year-old Jack Ferris is a survivor — because his parents raised him that way. Leveraging qualities rare for his age, he must lead his desperate companions to a secret refuge. Too late, he learns that safety is a mirage, and that the high price of hope is paid in blood.
So go check out John’s book, and don’t forget to preorder Justice is Calling for only $0.99. You’ll love them both!