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Authors: Clay Griffith,Susan Griffith

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BOOK: The Rift Walker
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Adele got the glint of adventure in her eyes. “Are we going to look for him?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

“Here.” Mamoru stopped at a corner.

Adele said, “So Alexander was buried here? Hmm. Now his neighbors are a bank, a hotel, town homes, and shops. Likely not what he had in mind for eternity.”

“What do you feel?”

She shrugged. “What do you mean?”

Then, beneath the assault of horses and hoarse voices, the clatter of wheels and wheezing of motors, and the strangling stench of humans and chemicals, she did feel something. Warmth opened inside her and filled her with calm. The noise faded, and confusion seemed unimportant.

Mamoru could see the change come over her. “You sense it so quickly. There is a rift here. Come. Let's move somewhere more conducive to conversation.”

He led the way into the sumptuous lobby of the massive Hotel Saladin, where bellmen bowed deeply. Patrons sat in clutches, smoking cigarettes or pipes, sharing a cocktail, laughing or deep in conversation. Gas chandeliers glimmered overhead. Adele could still sense the heat emanating from the rift, but it was just a warm glow, distant yet comforting. Mamoru angled to a dark, wooden door set into an alcove surrounded by luxurious palms. He slid between the foliage and opened the door.

The princess stared wide-eyed after her silent teacher. She lifted the hem of her robe and followed. “Is this your secret geomancer society?”

“No. Could you please not say ‘secret geomancer society' out loud?”

Adele was awash in the stench of burning hashish. She instantly covered her nose.

Mamoru turned back. “Ah yes. I would recommend you not breathe too deeply. Unless you have a predilection for hashish I am not aware of.”

“Funny.” Then Adele asked from behind her hand, “What is this place?”

“It's a hash den, of course. Please step in.”

She entered to find the most well-appointed hashish parlor she'd ever seen. Not that she'd seen one, but she'd read about the vile coves of sin in a few of the penny dreadfuls. This place could have been a fine coffeehouse on the Rue Rosette or the ultrafashionable Rue Sherif Pasha. Overhead fans turning slowly were reflected in the dark, lush wooden walls studded with brass fixtures. Comfortable divans nestled in private alcoves along with full-curtained opium beds. A small Turkish band droned from the corner. It was quite crowded; obviously, it was a very popular hash den.

Adele almost pointed and instead exclaimed in a hushed voice, “Is that Lord Gillingham from Treasury?”

Mamoru arched his eyebrows. “Yes. I believe it is.”

“That's not Lady Gillingham with him.”

“Definitely not.”

Startled by a familiar face glimpsed through the hashish haze, Adele backed behind a large leafy palm. “You criticize me for walking the back streets, but you bring me here? There are people I know. What if I'm recognized?”

Mamoru turned calmly. “No one even noticed you until you leapt into this shrub.” He moved close to her. “This is simply a hashish parlor favored by certain men of the city. It is quite safe.”

“Mamoru, do you take hashish?”

“Don't be silly.”

“Good evening, Mamoru pasha.” A white-robed man in a tarboosh bowed to the Japanese visitor. “Good to see you again. Your usual room is ready.”

“Thank you, Khalifi.” He turned back to Adele. “Are you capable of crossing the room without breaking into an impromptu scene from a drawing-room comedy?”

Scowling at her mentor, Adele stepped away from the plant, her hand at her waist where her Fahrenheit dagger lay beneath her robe.

Mamoru regarded her blandly. “This is a gentleman's club. It is doubtful you'll have reason to stab anyone.”

“I'm not sure what to expect anymore.”

They crossed the parquet floor. Adele kept her head down and her shoulders hunched. Few paid her any attention, although there were occasional eyes tracking the nattily attired Easterner and his veiled companion. Mamoru pushed back a sliding panel and ushered Adele into a spacious private room. Large pillows surrounded a low, brass table in the center of the room. Several plush divans lined the walls, which sported beautiful tapestries.

The waiter asked, “Your usual, Mamoru pasha?”

Adele tensed in surprise as Mamoru told him yes and correctly ordered green tea for her. When the waiter withdrew, she barked, “You have a usual?”

“Yes. Turkish coffee.”

“Oh.”

“I assure you, Highness, I am not an opium eater. I use this room because it is private; everyone minds their own affairs.” Mamoru paused as the waiter brought a tray of drinks and sweets, then left dutifully. “What do you feel?”

Adele took a deep breath and concentrated. She thought she felt something but wasn't sure. Her heart sank. Something was wrong. She felt nothing. The warmth was gone, crowded out by growing confusion.

“You're trying too hard now,” Mamoru said. “Stop thinking about it and listen to me. And sit down, please. Using the furniture won't make you an addict.”

She settled with a sarcastic tilt of her head onto a couch with her tea.

Mamoru paced. “All nature can be described by science, although we may not possess the knowledge to codify it. What we do not yet grasp or accept is often described by rules called superstition or magic or religion. These rules are vaguely comprehended, like some aspects of chemistry or physics. However, if properly understood and applied, these occult rules describe a science as reproducible as any chemical process.”

Adele interrupted. “But at Sir Godfrey's I wasn't doing anything consciously. I wasn't exercising any knowledge.”

“Do you know individuals who are natural athletes or musicians or mathematicians? Or have extraordinary memories? While others, try as they might, simply never excel?”

Adele shrugged in assent.

He continued, “While all humans have shared abilities, there is a wide range of variation within humanity.”

“Like speed in horses?”

“Yes. We understand the nature of breeding animals for particular traits. Humans are animals. All aspects of our nature are created by our composition; we simply don't understand fully the mechanisms of those traits. You have brown eyes. Your children will likely have brown eyes. Why? We don't know—some pieces of information that migrate from you to your offspring.”

“Why do we—?”

Mamoru waved his hand. “I've gone too far afield already. I am not a biologist. I am a geomancer, so let me confine my comments to that discipline. Throughout time, many people have sought to make sense of their place on Earth with concepts typically known as magic or faith. Modern geomancy has gone far beyond that to create a sophisticated system of knowledge. It is not yet an accepted system. It is not yet complete, as is chemistry, for example. We cannot yet answer all the questions our science raises, which is the great test of a science. But that will change with you.”

Adele looked at him with surprise.

He said, “It's true. You are the transcendent figure in the geomantic sciences. You will allow us to codify the science, first by experience, and then by interpreting that experience into human terms. Geomancy will usher in a new age for humanity. We will advance more in the next century than we have in all previous history.”

Adele slowly raised her hand like a confused student.

Mamoru pointed at her. “Yes?”

“I am going to do all that?” Her disbelief showed in the slow rise of her eyebrows.

Mamoru sat next to her with a comforting sigh. “Not you alone. I will be with you every step. Teaching you, and, I suspect, learning from you. And there are many others around the world ready for the revolution of ideas. Ready for you.”

He leapt to his feet again. “I can't tell you how eager I am to be under way. I have bided my time for so long. I knew you were the right studentut, but the court controlled you. Lord Kelvin and his technocrats are not friendly toward explanations of the world that do not involve combustion or pig iron.”

Adele's elation was tempered by a little trepidation at being part of some vast secret scheme. But she had seen the force of this power and knew it could be a key to help destroy Cesare and protect her people, and all humans.

She asked, “How do we proceed?”

“What do you feel?”

A searing excitement passed through her. It had come on as she watched Mamoru spring in front of her like a boy. It was more than that, however; she had again invited some omnipresent energy to filter through her. She could stretch out her hands, but there was no limit to her reach, across the city, or wherever she wanted.

“Yes,” Mamoru said quietly. He reached into his coat pocket and removed a white crystal several inches long and placed it in her hand, jarring her awareness back to the room.

Adele felt heaviness in her hand and a drag on her arm as she moved it through the air. She tilted the crystal, and it was as though her hand had plunged into a stiff flow of warm water. Through her motions, the current shifted in one direction or another. Every time she moved the crystal, she felt physical reactions all around her. She was inside some great river of energy, but was altering its course with her movements.

“I don't understand. What is the crystal doing?” she asked.

“It is a focus for your natural talent. It's a lever and you are the fulcrum. You are moving the earth.”

“What?”

Mamoru chuckled. “Since you are near a rift, the earth's energy is close and thick. You feel it. The crystal allows you to engage it, although I'm surprised you can touch it and still talk to me. Such a feat normally requires total concentration from even the most adept of geomancers, but you wield it like it's a simple act.”

“Am I hurting anything?” Adele continued to twist the stone, enraptured by the sensation of pushing herself through some unknowable flood.

“No. The power is so vast it barely notices you. Yet.”

“Is this how Selkirk does his magic?”

“It isn't magic. But yes.”

“So would vampires see me now?”

“Yes. You are simply dipping into the sea. You are not directing the waves.”

“Will I learn to control it on command?”

“Soon enough. The crystal, please.”

Adele gave a few more twists, exulting in the sensations under her skin. Then with a disappointed huff, she passed the stone to her teacher.

Mamoru shouted and drew back his arm. He grasped his hand in pain. The crystal hit the floor with a splatter. Silvery drops splashed and a tiny sliver of stone lay in a small pool.

Mamoru forgot his scorched hand as he stared at the liquefied crystal.

She saw the incredulity etched on Mamoru's face. She had never seen him truly surprised and found it disturbing.

“I'm sorry,” she said. “I ruined it.”

“No, Highness.” He exhaled and sat down heavily. A slow smile drew his lips up. “Not at all. It's just a bit unnerving to finally see one's dreams made flesh.”

 

C
ESARE'S INVITATION HAD
been vague. “An event” the messenger had said. The leaders of the new Grand Coalition would all be present—Draken, Ashkenazy, Fen, and of course, Prince Cesare as master of ceremonies. The event was being held north of London, well north, at a pointless town named Hawkshaw. Gareth had never been there, although as Greyfriar he'd heard it mentioned by humans in Britain as a place relatively free of vampire threat.

Gareth suspected that his brother preferred he not make an appearance because Cesare's interlocutor had appeared with the message at the doors of Gareth's London abode mere hours before the event was to begin. However, he felt compelled to rush northward in case Cesare was testing the strength of their new fraternal bond. And it was yet another opportunity for Gareth to find out all he could about his brother's scheme.

Gareth drifted over the rolling green northwest countryside, noting the fields were rustling with new crops. But it wasn't long before he sensed something else beneath the temperature of the air. Uneasiness flared as his skin crawled. He knew the sensation well, for he felt it every Sunday in Edinburgh when mass was held by his flock in the massive St. Giles Cathedral. Gareth's curiosity and apprehension flared as a figure rose from a wooded copse below and approached. It was Cesare's bailiff.

“Prince Gareth,” Stryon said flatly with his teeth clenched against discomfort, “how good of you to come. Won't you join the party below?”

Gareth didn't reply, but merely followed the lanky servant toward the ground. The scents of numerous vampires filled his nostrils, including one that jarred an old memory, an old and unpleasant memory. They descended through the leafy canopy into the cool, shaded forest where vampires turned to gaze at Gareth with surprise and disdain. The clan lords stood in agitated clumps, whispering at the new arrival, but wary of showing open distaste for the king's son.

“Gareth!” Prince Cesare separated himself from a crowd and approached with a smile of satisfaction. He clasped his elder brother by the shoulder. “Delightful to see you.”

“Thank you for the invitation. I was glad I could make it.”

Cesare pulled his brother toward a group that included the foreign rulers, as well as a very familiar female. “You remember our great allies, King Draken, King Ashkenazy, and Queen Fen.”

Gareth bowed.

“And, of course, you know Lady Hallow. She is my right hand.”

Gareth stiffened, but held his emotions in check as Hallow's luminous face stared at him openly. Her familiar and dreadful scent cut through him. He silently cursed his brother for bringing her back to court.

“I do know her.” Gareth kissed the female's long, pale fingers while glaring into her blue eyes. “Though it has been years since we've spoken.”

“Prince Gareth.” Lady Hallow smiled with what appeared to be warmth. She was tall, quite half a foot above Cesare, and slender. Her frame was elegant and smooth like ivory. Her face was distant yet inquisitive; she seemed interested in everything yet unaffected by any of it. She exuded a demure sweetness that made her seem unthreatening.

Gareth knew better. “It's surprising to see you in Britain again.” He kept his responses cordial and monotone.

Hallow nodded politely. “I go where my lord needs me.”

Cesare said, “Lady Hallow's skillful diplomacy had much to do with the coalition we see today.”

“Yes,” the corpulent King Draken snorted agreement and touched the incandescent Hallow on the arm. “If I hadn't had so many queens already, she'd be my sixth.”

The lady bubbled with polite laughter. “Your Majesty does me great honor.”

Gareth knew Hallow would just as soon gut the disgusting bulk from Munich. However, the bloody deed would have been done already if Cesare's previous right hand, Flay, had been the subject of Draken's lechery instead of the politic and well-bred Hallow.

“What is that stench?” King Ashkenazy interrupted with a bitter face. His writhing was more pronounced now due to his discomfort. “I noticed it before, but it seems to be growing stronger. I do not like it.”

“That is our entertainment for the evening,” Cesare replied. “Just beyond this forest is a town called Hawkshaw where, I am informed, the humans have not encountered a vampire for a generation or more. You will all recall that stench from before the Great Killing? It's the abhorrent smell of free humans doing as they please.”

Queen Fen snarled at Cesare as she sidled next to Gareth. “So you dragged us out here to clean out your rebels, Cesare?”

“They aren't rebels, Majesty.” Cesare's kept a plastered smile on his face. “They are merely unaware. I thought we might all enjoy a hunt this evening. My gift to you: a human town to slaughter.”

Gareth's stomach turned and his hatred for Cesare spiked. He could smell the town as well, and it reminded him of Adele. It wasn't the smell of “free humans” per se; it was the scent of their power. Gareth was inured to the odor, as well as the uncomfortable tension and warmth that wafted through the air. He was, however, disturbed by the thought that perhaps he had avoided this area as Greyfriar because of the discomfort it may have caused his vampire self. The people of Hawkshaw were just the type he should have contacted. Soon they would all be dead and there was nothing he could do about it.

Queen Fen huffed dismissively as she brushed against Gareth. “I haven't lived this long and worked as hard as I have just to go back to the old days. If we wanted to hunt our meals, why did we bother to destroy the humans in the first place? You poseurs go and pretend you're still living in the wild, if you wish. I have no need for such fantasies, thank you.” Painfully, she lowered herself to the mossy ground.

“As you will.” Prince Cesare soldiered on, unwilling to let the cranky old crone derail his party. “I'll have something sent over to you. For the rest, sharpen your claws. The moon is up.” The young prince rose into the boughs and the rest of the party followed, laughing with vicious anticipation.

Gareth struggled to think of something he could do to prevent the coming destruction. His nearest Greyfriar stash containing his weapons and costume was many miles away; by the time he got there and returned, the deed would be done. He couldn't fight all these vampires. He couldn't warn Hawkshaw; death was on them already. He knew that thousands of humans were threatened with death every day across the north, and that Greyfriar saved only the smallest percentage of them. That realization still didn't dull the pain of watching it happen.

“Are you not participating in the party?” Lady Hallow's voice broke into Gareth's dire thoughts.

He realized he was scowling in revulsion, so he resumed his blank regal face. “I will. Shouldn't you be at Cesare's side? You did arrange this event for him, didn't you?”

She raised an eyebrow at the edge in his voice. “No, my lord. This event was all Prince Cesare's idea. He learned of this place and their miserable activities. And so he decided to deal with them and amuse his guests at the same time. Quite intelligent.”

“It's wasteful. Typical.”

Hallow remarked, “You are your father's son in some ways, aren't you?”

“Thank you,” was Gareth's clipped reply, unsure if she meant it as a compliment.

“King Dmitri always preached against waste; I remember it so well.”

“Did you learn anything from him?”

“While he hated waste, he didn't believe in coddling humans. They're food. You know, Gareth, I hardly recognize you as the same war chief who killed a regiment of human soldiers on the moors outside Fort Augustus. Do you remember that night?”

He stared coldly. That night was long ago, and it was the last time he had touched her with anything resembling affection. He looked away. “I must go. I'd hate for Cesare to slip in blood with no one near to lift him to his feet.”

Hallow murmured sarcastically, “I don't recall you ever having concerns for your brother's welfare. Why are you suddenly so solicitous to Cesare?”

“Times change.” Gareth shook his head, impatient with her sparring. “It used to be we all lived in tombs and holes in the ground. We've come far as a people.”

“They say you treat your Scottish herds well, that they volunteer their blood out of love for you. Is that so?”

He exhaled through his nose. “Do you have a point?”

“I'm just curious. It's been decades since I laid eyes on you. We were close once.”

“Once,” he snapped quickly.

“Who changed? You or I?”

“Both. Now we both love Cesare.”

Hallow asked with an undertone of sincerity, “What happened to you, Gareth? You could have been king, a great king. Now Cesare is carrying all the clans before him, and you merely step aside.”

“I don't want to be king. Look what it did to my father.”

Disappointment washed over her features. “What will happen to you when Cesare succeeds King Dmitri?”

Gareth shrugged with cavalier disregard.

“I think you know the answer, Gareth,” Hallow continued. “He'll kill you.”

“Has he confided it to you?”

“No, of course not. He never tells me any more than I need to know for my mission. But he'll have to kill you. You're the heir.”

“Am I?” Gareth smirked coldly. “Perhaps you haven't heard, but I'm eccentric and weak. Practically impotent. I'm no threat to anyone.”

Hallow stepped close to him. “Cesare does not underestimate you. He may demean you in public, but he hates you. And he fears you.”

“Thank you for the warning, Lady Hallow. Surely he'll keep me as fodder for his war.” He wasn't sure what new cruel game she was playing, but he wanted no part of it.

“Cesare doesn't intend to fight a war. If the war with the humans begins, he believes he has lost. He knows the fight will be in our territory. Therefore, he intends to stop the war before it begins.”

“He tried that, and failed.” Gareth lifted into the air to head for the village to do what he could, but Hallow's next statement brought him back to the ground.

“He has gathered knowledge that no vampire has dared touch. Knowledge from humans who know about religion and the magic of the earth. Gareth, you make the mistake of underestimating him because you hate him, but Cesare is remarkable. He is plotting strategies that no other clan leader has ever conceived. He has brought in humans with specialized knowledge that he values and given them certain freedoms in return for information.”

“Impossible.”

Hallow rolled her eyes. “Stop being shocked. It's so. Believe me.”

“Why? Why would any human cooperate with vampires?”

“Because,” Queen Fen croaked from her spot on the damp ground, “there are humans who are more interested in their personal welfare and comfort than the good of their own kind. Imagine that. Cesare has humans in his thrall even in the south.”

Gareth and Hallow glanced at the crone, having forgotten she was even there. The old queen struggled to her knees and then, with the aid of her cane, rose unsteadily to her feet. Fen waddled forward and tapped Gareth on the shoulder. “If your brother wasn't so personally unctuous, he'd be a great leader. And you, you let him do as he pleases. What in hell became of Dmitri's offspring? Now Dmitri was a wonder to behold.”

Hallow lowered her face to cover a wan smile.

Then from the distant darkness came the sound of screaming, and the hissing and feral cries of vampires. Gareth sprang into the air and streaked toward Hawkshaw as the smell of fresh blood and fear filled his nose. His brethren flitted through the starry sky, dropping into the narrow lanes of the town. Figures raced wildly through the shadows, seeking escape, but there were far too many vampires. The great clan lords and their chief retainers unleashed their pent-up savagery, killing with joy, not feeding, merely killing.

Even Gareth felt hints of the old power welling up in him unbidden. The scene below him was reminiscent of so many from the Great Killing; there was a piece of him that glowed at the sounds and smells. To Gareth's relief, the stronger senses in him were terror and disgust as he clutched onto a tile roof over Hawkshaw. Figures settled on either side of him, and he turned to see Cesare and Lady Hallow perching beside him, also watching the scene below.

The hunting was sloppy. Many of these nobles hadn't attacked true prey in more than a century. Add to that the abhorrent power resonating in the town and vampire blows were ill-timed and weak, leaving humans sprawled on the ground, screaming in pain, crawling for safety. With shuddering laughter, the vampires would race after another poor target to savage and leave lame in the dirt.

“Look at this,” Cesare muttered ruefully. “Disgusting.”

Gareth exchanged a look with Hallow, who seemed as surprised by the younger prince's outburst as he was.

Cesare looked at Gareth with a rare open expression of confidence. “I've never been so ashamed of my people. It reminds me of the first time you tried to kill.”

“You're ashamed?” Gareth said hesitantly, ignoring the insult. “But you planned this slaughter.”

“I know. I wish I wasn't here to see it. Look at them. It's as if they have forgotten everything. The greatest of our nobles. Slow. Pathetic. In the old days, this town would have been dead by now.”

BOOK: The Rift Walker
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