Excerpt #1 is a freewritten background sketch for a college professor in 2030s Manhattan who runs a little esoteric shop and bookstore. Back in her (much) younger years, she found herself in Alberta, Canada…
The tribe was singing a mourning song, beautiful and haunting. It sent shivers down her spine, though not because of its beauty.
“Who died?” She whispered. No one had been out hunting today, she’d thought.
His arms tightened around her waist, breath warm against her ear. She could feel his heartbeat as she leaned against his chest, heard him take a deep, almost ragged breath before he spoke softly. “No one yet,” he said. “But they’re playing it for us. For the pack.”
Rebecca stiffened, staring up at him. Ioan was staring back at the fire, at the circle of singers clustered in its flickering light. His jaw was set, but it quivered a little, betraying him. It was weakness he’d never show to anyone else.
But they belonged to each other, and she’d have seen it where no one else would have.
“Ioan, why would they do that?”
“I have to ask you something,” he whispered, ignoring the question. “To do something, but you’re not going to say no this time.”
Her brows knit as she stared at him. “What is it?”
He hesitated, closing his eyes for a moment before he looked at her square. “You need to stay behind this time.”
“What?” Why would he– “I’m the best shot the pack has, Ioan, and you’ve said yourself that without my cover fire, half of what you’ve accomplished wouldn’t have been possible. I’m not letting you guys go into that place without me.”
“I’m not risking you,” he growled, letting go of her waist. He took her face in his hands instead, scarred, calloused thumbs stroking her jaw. “You’re staying here. So I have a reason to make that music into a lie.” He nodded toward the fire, to the singers and their mourning song. “They don’t expect us to live through this. It’s a suicide mission.”
“And you volunteered for it anyway,” she said softly, eyes widening. “Ioan, why?”
His expression softened and he rested his forehead against hers. “Because someone taught me that there are things that need doing, no matter how dangerous, for the good of the whole.”
She slumped. “My father.”
He shook his head slightly. “No. You.”
She drummed a pencil against the blotter, brooding out the window in front of her, at the coastal view. The city glittered like a jewel in the night, vibrant and lovely. It was almost easy to forget how dangerous her streets were, especially by night.
The phone at her elbow started to ring. She would have ignored it, but it was Rebecca calling, and she was the only person she trusted implicitly—and still had as eyes and ears inside of the city.
So she answered it on the third ring. “Becca?”
“Cameron. Are you all right? Is he staying?”
Her pencil fell still against the blotter. “Yes,” she said quietly as she got up to make sure the door to her study was closed. “Yes, he’s staying, though I don’t know for how long. He chose to live, though, instead of following him to his grave. I’m not sure if it was cowardice or hope that did it…but who wants to die?” I didn’t want to die. I chose existence over lack thereof, when I was offered the choice. Maybe it wasn’t the right one to make, but I picked the bed and now I have to lay in it.
“None of us, I suppose,” Becca said. “I’m sure he’ll come around, Cam. He’s just upset, that’s all. Andras’s death is a lot to take. You told me how long they’d been together.”
“He’s not just upset, he’s bloody well pissed with me, Becca.” She sighed, slumping back into her chair. “And he has every right to be. I abandoned them.”
Becca snorted derisively. “You did no such thing. You left, yes, but it’s not like you didn’t tell Andras you were leaving.”
“In a note, Becca. I left him a note that said I couldn’t stay, I had to go.”
“You called him after, and you wrote. You stayed in touch.”
“It’s not the same. Not enough.” Her eyes focused distantly, staring at the city lights, at the chop on the water. “Maybe I never should have left,” she whispered. “Maybe this wouldn’t have happened.”
“Cameron Beckett, don’t start that load of shit. You wouldn’t let me wallow in what-ifs and I’m not about to let you do the same thing. None of this was your fault and you had no control over what happened.”
Beckett growled low in her throat, glaring at her vague reflection the glass now.
Becca sighed at the other end of the line. “Cam, I know they’re your demons and they’re your demons to fight, but I’m not going to sit still and let you beat yourself up for something that wasn’t your fault any more than Ioan going missing was mine.”
“What would you say if I told you I promised that I was going to avenge Andras?”
Silence answered her at first, long minutes ticking past before Becca answered. “Is it something you need to do?”
“He made me, Becca. In more ways than one. I owe him at least that much, and I owe it to Elijah. He can’t avenge him and someone’s got to.” She paused. “Besides, there’s the distinct possibility that the primarch of New York and his innermost circle know the truth about me.”
“You mean about your age?”
“Yes,” she whispered. “I think they’ve figured out that Andras and I were closer than just friends or acquaintances. Perhaps they only suspect we were blood-bound. That would be the best case scenario. Perhaps they think I made him, but I suspect they know it’s the other way around.” It was a rare thing for her to admit a fear that deep, that close to her core, that mortal.
But if she couldn’t say it to Becca, who could she ever say it to?
Elijah, once upon a time…
She smothered a wince, even though there was no one there to see it.
“That…is a very valid concern,” Becca said slowly. “So is that part of the reason you’re going to do something more stupidly dangerous than any stunt I’ve ever pulled?”
“Part, yes.” She leaned back in her chair, the old wood and springs creaking. “But it’s more than that. It’s about making sure others are safe—you, Elijah, my sisters and everyone else that they might call down a hunt on. They’ve already called one on Elijah. It’s only a matter of time before they decide its safe to reach further.”
“How much time do you think we’ve got before that happens?” Becca asked softly.
She rocked upright in the chair. “No, Becca. This isn’t your fight, it’s mine. You need to stay out of it. Vampiric power plays are not something you need to get involved in. All I need for you to do is to make sure Elijah’s okay if something happens to me—hell, even if nothing happens to me. I just need you to take care of him. He won’t talk to me right now. I shouldn’t talk to him right now.”
“I’m afraid of what I’d say,” Beckett sighed. “Something tells me he knows a lot of the truths I realized a long time ago, the truths that the elders want you to think are just figments of our imagination.”
“Like what? Like love, you mean?”
“Mm-hmm. That thing we’re not supposed to be able to do, to really feel. We’re dead, after all. The dead can’t love.”
“Except when they can. Are they really trying to sell you on that bullshit?”
“A lot of us are buying, Becca. There’s something twistedly reassuring about it.” She shook her head, staring at herself in the glass. “Can you imagine knowing that you’d have to live with all of your pain for the rest of your relative immortality? Every mistake you’ve made, every minor or major wrong you’ve done? It would drive about half of my kindred insane before they made it six months.”
“So how do you live with it?”
“I cope,” Beckett said. “I hang onto what’s good, learn from the bad and try to right the worst of the wrongs I’ve done. I find balance between woman and monster.”
“Mmm,” Becca said. “We’ll have to continue this discussion later. I’ll call you tomorrow night.”
She must have just looked at the clock. “You have a class to teach in the morning?”
“Linguistics 101. McConaway’s on sabbatical.” Becca paused, quiet for a moment. “Look, Cam, I’ve got my next sabbatical coming up in the winter semester. If I asked you to come with me to Alberta—”
“I would come, but do you really want me to?”
Her friend let out a frustrated sigh. “I don’t know.”
“When you decide, tell me,” Beckett said, starting to get up. “Go get some sleep.”
“G’night, Cam. What’re you going to do?”
“Plan my vengeance. It’s going to be a process, I think.”
There was another silence on the other end of the line, then, “Good luck.”
Becca hung up, leaving her alone in silence.
At some point, perhaps both of these projects will amount to more than just scribblings and half-written plots. Whether or not that’s the case certainly remains to be seen. Both of these characters–Rebecca Reid and Beckett–are figures in the shadows of New York, supernatural players in the world known to be real by only a few.
The men and women of UNSETIC are among the ones who know the truth.
Excerpts copyright 2011 Erin M. Klitzke.