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Authors: Brian Knight

The Crimson Brand

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Book II - The Crimson Brand

 

 

By

Brian Knight

 

 

 

JournalStone

San Francisco

 

 

Copyright ©2014 by Brian Knight

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

JournalStone books may be ordered through booksellers or by contacting:

JournalStone

www.journalstone.com

www.journal-store.com

 

The views expressed in this work are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.

 

ISBN:
978-1-940161-37-2
(sc)

ISBN:
978-1-940161-38-9
(ebook)

 

Library of Congress Control Number:
2013956491

 

Printed in the United States of America

JournalStone rev. date:  March 14, 2014

 

Cover Design:
Denis Daniel

Cover Art:
M. Wayne Miller

Edited By: 
Dr. Michael R. Collings

 

 

 

To my muse, as a bribe to come back and visit more often.

 

If that’s not enough, then come for the coffee and pizza.

 

 

 

Acknowledgements

 

I owe thanks to a lot of people, too many to fit between the covers of this volume, let alone the very limited space allowed for acknowledgments. 

 

Here are a few.

 

Amanda Richards, Lauren Doll, M. Wayne Miller (Mr. Eye Candy himself), Frank Errington, Karen Bryant Doering, Susan Matute, Lost Lenore, Debra Lobel, Rhonda Cash, Norman Rubenstein (Godfather of The Phoenix Girls), Carol Weekes, Dr. Michael Collings, Christopher Payne, Robert Fleck, Rob Miller, Sharon Fitch, Geoff Guthrie, Scott Tyson, Jamcat Cook, Judi Wutzke, Judi Key, Ellen Knight, Christopher Kennedy, Kecia Serene, Shawna Knight, Judi Snyder, Rocky Snyder, Nshara Key, Dave Lancaster, and really just too many to list.

 

Most of all, thank
you
.

 

Contents

 

PART 1:
The Circle of Friends

Chapter 1:
Relics

Chapter 2:
Birthday Girl

Chapter 3:
Making the Circle

Chapter 4:
The Party Poopers

Chapter 5:
Memories

Chapter 6:
Temptations

Chapter 7:
Unfinished Business

PART 2:
Night School

Chapter 8:
Night School

Chapter 9:
How to Fly

Chapter 10:
The First Magic

Chapter 11:
The Snake in the Grass

Chapter 12:
Fishes and Sharks

PART 3:
The Crimson Brand

Chapter 13:
Cutting Her Roots

Chapter 14:
Into The Fire

Chapter 15:
Just Like Sisters

Chapter 16:
Homunculi

Chapter 17:
Little Gray Man

Chapter 18:
The Rescue

Chapter 19:
Closing the Deal

Chapter 20:
The Crimson Brand

Chapter 21:
The End … For Now

About Brian Knight

 

 

 

 

 

Book II - The Crimson Brand

 

 

 

 

PART 1
The Circle of Friends

 

 

Chapter 1
 
Relics

 

When Ronan stalked, he moved with all the stealth and grace of any other, any normal fox.  It was something he’d perfected in the past few years, as much practice as instinct, because Ronan was not a normal fox.  In fact, Ronan was not normal in any sense of the word.

He got around, wandering far away from Aurora Hollow and learning the countryside.  During his solitary years before the girls had come, there had been nothing else to do, so he spent his time pretending to be normal, and he’d gotten quite good at it.  Mostly he moved about with his body dimmed so that others couldn’t see him, but even when he crossed paths with one of the very few people who could see him, they hadn’t seen him for what he was.  To them he was just like the other wild foxes that occasionally roamed close to town. He’d been shot at a few times, though never hit.  Extraordinary or not, it might take him some time to shake off a bullet wound.

He had also learned to hunt, an unfortunate necessity during his extended stays in the area.  He had no objection to the occasional taking of life.  It was, after all, how natural foxes survived, but he had always preferred to take his nourishment in more enjoyable and less messy ways.

He was not hunting rabbits or field mice today.  The objects of today’s hunt were much more important than simple nourishment, and the longer they remained unfound the greater the danger they posed.  It was only a matter of time before someone found one of them and opened a door best left closed.

 

*   *   *

 

Dogwood’s landfill was several miles beyond the border of the town in an arid scrap of valley too dry and stony to produce anything but weeds.  The man who ran it was youngish, with a long dark mane of thinning hair and a love of shooting anything that moved on four legs.  Ronan had seen him at it, sitting on an old patched recliner on the front patio of the little camper where he lived and worked, a .22 rifle with scope pressed to his shoulder, scanning the junkyard for rats and rabbits, stray cats and dogs, and, on two occasions, Ronan himself.

Unfortunate luck, really, this unpleasant guardian of Dogwood’s garbage being one of the very few who could see beyond the purely physical world, could see Ronan even when he didn’t want them to.

He’d missed both times, which Ronan counted as
good
luck.  Ronan had watched the man at work since late that previous fall, and he rarely missed.  The place stank of his kills, the carcasses rotting among Dogwood's garbage. 

It was not the carcasses or the garbage Ronan had come for, but a half-collapsed structure standing at the far end of a labyrinth of old sofas, refrigerators, and other human castoffs.

Leaning against a ruined and charred trailer was a partially burned false front in the shape of the monster that had terrorized Dogwood’s children last fall during the annual autumn fair.  Only his girls (for that was how he thought of Penny, Zoe, and their new friend Katie) remembered the monster as it truly was. 

The leaning false front, now damaged by both fire and the elements, was a giant effigy of The Birdman, who had come to town in the guise of a magician, one of The Reds who’d frequented the annual fair in years past.  When the monster had abandoned his burning house of horrors, he had left behind some very dangerous toys.  Those toys, those potentially dangerous relics, were what Ronan hunted.

 

*   *   *

 

Ronan crouched low in the tall grass across the putrid little valley, waiting for the man to go inside.  The sun had fallen low in the sky behind him while he waited, painting the wasteland below him with its surreal, deepening orange until the place was almost beautiful.  Ronan was patient.  He had to be.  He’d found some of them already, along with a few other unexpected surprises, but if the girl’s description of that strange door-lined hallway was accurate, there were still three to account for, and if something happened to him, if he was unable to recover them all, the results could be disastrous.

The Phoenix Girls always attracted a certain amount of trouble.  It was unavoidable, but the new Phoenix Girls came with extra complications.  The crow had almost certainly talked when Penny and Zoe had sent him back to his world unarmed and helpless, so chances that their return had gone unnoticed were slim.  They were not ready for the trouble that was sure to come their way, and though Ronan had kept a careful ear to the ground and heard nothing telling, he feared that trouble was coming soon.

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