Authors: Leah Cutter
Tags: #shape shifters, #Seattle, #magic, #Vipers, #Contemporary Fantasy, #Tigers, #Hounds, #The Raven and the Dancing Tiger, #Leah Cutter, #Fantasy, #The Guardian Hound, #Book View Cafe, #Crocodiles, #Ravens, #War Among the Crocodiles
Book Two of the Shadow Wars
Copyright Â© 2013 Leah Cutter
All rights reserved.
Published 2013 by Book View CafÃ©
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Cover by Joe J Calkins
I've always called myself a
writer. When I get the idea for a novel, the entire book arrives at once. I see the first couple of chapters, some parts of the middle, and the ending. I have no idea how to get from one part to the otherâthat's the fun for me, figuring out the journey from point A to point Z.
While I was writing
The Raven and the Dancing Tiger
, about two-thirds of the way through, I sat down for my evening writing session and wrote two sentences. Suddenly, the entire novel of
The Guardian Hound
appeared, from Lukas' first nightmare to the final battle. There were many things I had to figure out, and the final path is slightly skewed from the original idea. However, it's very close to the original vision, complete, and now, in your hands. I hope you enjoy it!
Although this novel is a sequel to
The Raven and the Dancing Tiger
, it can be read on its own, without reading the first book, as will be the third (and last) novel in the Shadow Wars Trilogy,
War Among the Crocodiles
, which is planned for fall, 2014.
A huge thank you to my first readers, Melissa, Heidi, and
. This novel wouldn't be complete without you.
Hans reached for the falling beaker, but it was too late.
Silence filled the lab after the sound of shattered glass, all the scientists at their stations standing perfectly still.
“Just a harmless solvent,” Hans called out. No acid to eat through the pristine white countertop, no noxious gas to make them all flee.
However, the scent of the bitter chemicals overwhelmed his sense of smell: He wouldn't be able to scent or track anything for the rest of the day. Luckily, despite being a member of the hound clan, he didn't need to. They lived in a city now, not the country, and he didn't live by his nose, not like Grandpapa had.
!” shouted Master Koenig, striding from the front of the lab to the back corner where Hans had his equipment set up. “What were you thinking? You weren't, of course,” Master Koenig blustered on. “You must be more careful.”
“It was just a solvent,” Hans said weakly as he gingerly lifted away the pieces of broken glass, putting them into the waste container on the floor.
At least it hadn't splashed and stained Hans' white lab coat. Then he looked more closely and sighed at the splatter marks down his right side. He couldn't afford to get it cleaned so soon; maybe he could wash it in the kitchen sink at the house. After a quick glance all the way down, he breathed a bit easier: He hadn't ruined his shoes. Again.
“Yes, yes, we all know that, we all heard it. But what if your clumsiness had upset someone else's experiment?” Master Koenig paused and pulled his own lab coat tighter across his expansive chest. “I was with poor Wilhelm up front. What if your inexcusable noise had startled him at a crucial part of his process? Hmm?”
“But sirâ” Hans started. He should have known better. Once Koenig got going, nothing short of an explosion would derail him.
“Now, I promised your father and his friend that there would be a place for you here at the
Hans didn't groan, though he wanted to. Of course, Master Koenig would bring Hans' father into it. Hans continued to focus on carefully,
, picking up the shards of glass and disposing of them.
they went as they broke against each other in the container, a soothing sound.
“And you do have a place here for the rest of the year.” Master Koenig gave a dramatic pause. “But.” He sighed.
Hans found himself holding his breath.
“Only until the end of the year. Then you should seek employment somewhere else.”
Hans wasn't surprised. He'd known his position as a lab attendant at the
was in jeopardy since the first week, when he'd misread the instructions for the experiment he was conducting, verifying a scientist's work, and the resulting acid had poured out over the shining white counters and all over the floor, ruining Hans' shoes as well as the work of several nearby researchers.
Still, Hans turned to Master Koenig and said, “But sirâ”
Then he realized his mistake.
He'd just swept his hand through the remaining glass.
“Oh, for heaven's sake, man,” Master Koenig said, grabbing Hans' hand and examining it. “You didn't cut anything major,” he said sourly.
“I'll get a plaster for it, sir, then finish cleaning up,” Hans said grimly. It didn't hurt, not really, but blood was already welling up and trickling across his skin. The salty scent threaded through the bitter chemical smells, faint but reassuring. Maybe his hound nose wasn't completely ruined.
“No. Leave. Get that seen to and don't bother returning until tomorrow.”
“Butâ” Hans deflated at Master Koenig's stern look, the way his arms crossed over his barrel chest. Even the points of his white mustache quivered with disapproval and disappointment.
“Yes, sir,” Hans said. He grabbed a towel from the cabinet and wrapped it around his wrist, holding his hand high so the blood flowed into it and didn't drip onto the floor.
Hans pretended to be busy with the towel and his hand as he made his way to the front of the room, past all the other attendants, so he wouldn't hear their sniggers, wouldn't see them laughing.
He still heard their comments in his headâhe'd heard them all his life.
Clumsy, awkward, no good Hans.
He'd always been a disappointment, to his father, the hound clan, and himself. He wished more than anything that there was something he could do to prove himself, or, at least, to stop making so many mistakes.
# # #
Hans hurried down the quiet
wanting to get back to the house ahead of Father. The row houses that lined the street were half-timbered, old, and falling apart. However, the front gardens they shared were often beautifully tended, full of the first spring daffodils, brilliant purple Prague flowers, and white crocuses.
None of those modern automobiles came down this quiet road; no one living here could afford one. It was one of the reasons why Hans and his father lived in this neighborhoodâthe smell of the smoke from the engines was noxious and gave them both headaches. Hans didn't know how the humans stood it.
Hans paused when he spied the leather-like leaves and light mauve blossoms of a Lenten rose. If they'd still been living at home, in the country, he would have made a point to tell Grandpapa about the plant. It was a good repellent for insects and rodents.
Grandpapa had taught Hans about all the flowers and plants. He'd been the village
, an old country doctor, not one of those city types with a degree who had no idea what they were doing. He had cases of books with recipes for potions, spells, and charms.
Hans and his father had moved to Hildesheim when Grandpapa had died, selling the old house. Father had always claimed that he had a better nose for numbers than for smelly plants and potions, so they'd come to the nearest large town.
However, they didn't have the family connections or money for Father to become a banker. Instead, he worked as an accountant, drinking more heavily every day and grumbling about other people's mistakes. He was too proud to go to the hound clan to ask for a recommendation for himself: He refused to go begging to the sight hounds. He'd used his own connectionsâa cousin's friend's brotherâto get Hans a job at the
Father and Hans were scent hounds. They would make their own way, as they always had. The courtâcomposed of sight houndsâwanted nothing to do with them.
Hans missed the countryside, missed Grandpapa, missed his cousins and his uncles. He would have missed his mother if he remembered her, but she'd died when he'd been young. He only vaguely knew her scent from the kerchief of hers that Father kept.
Grandpapa would have made a joke about the lab today, telling Hans that he was just a pup who hadn't grown into his paws, giving Hans hope.
Hans paused, looking at the Lenten rose, thinking furiously.
books had cures for everything: From wasting diseases to falling down sicknesses, from childbirth to passing stones.
Father hadn't liked
work, and he'd insisted that Hans be a true scientist instead of following the old ways. Not that Hans had wanted to become an
âhe'd followed Grandpapa around out of love, not because he was any good at herbs and spells.
books held wisdom still, as well as a cure for Hans' current dilemma. There wouldn't be a spell for fixing his life, but if only he could be a little smarter, or braver, or something.
Hans hurried the next few blocks to their house, barely nodding to the two cross old women dressed in black along the way.
The row house had originally been owned by a pair of elderly sisters. Their children rented it out but hadn't bothered to redecorate it. While Hans wasn't a muscle man, the pink, white, and rose paint and wallpaper stifled him. He tried to be out of the house as much as possible. The backyard was acceptable, even though it was just a small patch of grass with roses and more roses growing along the edges.
Luckily, Father's coat didn't hang on the white-painted coatrack next to the door. Hans threw his own suit jacket on the rack, as well as his hat, not bothering to unlace his light, leather “dandy” shoes (oh, how he missed his field boots!). A narrow white staircase went directly from the door on the ground floor to the first floor, the walls decorated with framed, poorly drawn pencil sketches of the town, done by the sisters.
Hans raced up the stairs, then paused in the hallway. The first room was his, smaller and overlooking the street. The second, in the back, larger and more quiet, was Father's. More awful sketches lined the hallway, along with some truly hideous watercolors.
In the center of the hallway, a long black cord hung from the ceiling. It opened the trap-door to the attic. The ladder they used for access rested against the wall, skinny, shaky, and painted white, of course.
Hans had to jump for the cord, but he caught it first try. The smell of old paper, storage straw, and cotton batting drifted down. Hans placed the ladder carefully, making it as stable as he could, before he climbed up.
The attic was directly under the steep-pitched roof. Just the center of the room had a floor, composed of rough planks. The center was the only place Hans could stand straight up. Bare, coarsely hewed beams ran from underneath the small center platform to the edges, where the roof sloped down. A layer of cotton batting, serving as insulation, ran between the beams. The ceiling was bare wood as well, with nails sticking through.
Small windows set high in the peak of the ceiling on either side of the attic gave Hans enough light to see his prize:
old trunk. It was made out of green leather, with wood reinforcing the square bottom, and thin tin strips running across the domed cover.
Hans picked his way through the other trunks containing their winter things: jackets, boots, heavy blankets, and quilts. Hans grunted with pain when he closed his hands around the aged leather handles of
trunk. He ignored his injury and tried to pick up the trunk anyway, then quickly put it back down. It was heavier than it looked and the handles grated against his injured palm.
He looked at the chest, then at the opening to the downstairs. He'd never be able to carry it alone, particularly not injured. With a sigh, Hans sat on the cold, rough boards and opened the trunk.
The musty smell of dried rosemary, bitter geranium, and delicate lavender floated up. On top lay one of
old journals, hand bound in leather.
Hans eagerly opened the book, marveling at the perfectly preserved yellow pansy pressed between the first pages. He recognized this book. Grandpapa had written out his observations and notes on his experiments in it. He had been forever trying new combinations of herbs, flowers, weeds, roots, leavesâanything he found in the woods that he hadn't seen before.
It was a wonderful reminder of Grandpapa, but not the book Hans sought.
A packet of letters neatly tied together with red ribbon came next, followed by two more journals, and
military service record, recorded on heavy red and blue paper.
Finally, at the bottom of the trunk, Hans found the black book he'd been looking for, bound in thick leather with gold embossed writing on the cover:
Hans carefully put the other items back in the trunk, though he hesitated over the journals. Maybe another day he'd come and fetch them. He closed the trunk with regret. It was all he had left of Grandpapa. The ache in Hans' heart made his breath catch. He missed him so much.
Now, he had to make his Grandpapa proud.
With the book firmly wedged under his arm, Hans backed his way down the narrow ladder, breathing a sigh of relief when he reached the ground still holding it. Hans leaned the ladder back against the wall, then pushed at the trapdoor.
It didn't budge.
Hans jumped and pushed it, snapping it shut with a loud bang, making him jump.
“What's that racket?” came Father's voice from downstairs.
“Nothing!” Hans called, hurrying down the hall toward his room. If only he could get the book put away before his father saw itâ¦.
Of course, Hans' luck was never that good.
“What are you doing?” Father asked as he topped the stairs, his face as ruddy as if he'd already had three shots of brandy. He wore his office suit, black and formal, though his magenta tie was askew.
“Iâ” Hans started.
“What is that?” Father asked, striding forward and slipping the book out from under Hans' arm.
This time, Hans didn't try to explain. How could he? He was already such a disappointment to everyone. It had been a stupid idea, to think that one of
potions could help his mess of a life.
“Huh,” Father grunted, handing back the book. “You worried about your hand?” he asked, indicating the bandage Hans had wrapped around his palm.
“Yes,” Hans said instantly, relieved. He did have a good excuse to have this book! “It was just a solvent beaker, but it burned like acid,” he lied.
“You take care of yourself, then,” Father said, almost gently. “And don't go burning the neighborhood down with any concoctions you make,” he threw over his shoulder as he marched down the hall, going to his room at the back and slamming the door.
Hans took a deep breath. Now, he didn't have to hide anything.
All he had to do was find something that would help.