Saturday, October 31, 2015

Carcosa: An Undeleted Scene

I've spent the past two weeks basically living and breathing O4S-- well, more than usual. The publisher had sent us the edits for Carcosa (The Order of the Four Sons, Book II) to look over and gave us the opportunity to make some more edits of our own. We're working with the illustrator on the cover art and it's coming along beautifully. (Hint: it has Bathory!) 

Last night, Coyote and I finished doing our hand-written edits (because we're old-school that way). I just got them all plugged into the Word doc and sent them back to the publisher. 

Hopefully, Book II will release sometime in December. 

To celebrate, I thought I'd share with you all an undeleted scene-- Coyote and I had written a lot more of Clayton and Alyssa's backstory for Book II and ended up cutting most of it. Here is a section we decided to put back in, as it becomes important later for Books V-VI. 

Enjoy, and Happy Halloween, everybody! 

New excerpt from Carcosa

The man was dressed sensibly for hiking: sturdy boots, combat trousers and a light jacket. Black-haired, slim and lithe, he moved with great purpose, his strides long and quick. Overhead, the autumn sky was pale gray. A sudden, sharp wind gusted some pebbles across the trail in front of him and he paused, frowning.
After a moment, he resumed walking. All around him, the grass and trees were almost fiercely vibrant against the leaden sky. The dampness of the air enhanced the pine scent of the forest, and along the trail, clumps of yellow and purple wildflowers remained, clinging stubbornly on in the wake of an Indian summer.
But the man was not here to take in the scenery. He quickened his pace, now moving at a jog until he reached a valley. A stream had appeared to his left, snaking down out of the mountains, running parallel to the path. The stream grew wide in the lower country, its banks lush and dark. Up ahead, he spotted a cluster of water birches. Their leaves had just started to turn gold, dappling the surface of the water.
The girl was sitting in the loose circle the trees made on the riverbank, her back to the trail. Nearby, her horse was nibbling at a patch of short grass. As the man drew near, he saw that she held a gold leaf by its stem, twirling it. Without turning around, she asked, “You don’t ride?”
“Not today.” He settled himself down on the ground beside her, legs crossed, palms resting on his knees.
She did not turn her head, but he could sense that she was regarding him, all the same. She tossed the leaf away. “You’re wasting your time.”
“We’ll see.” Taking a pack of cigarettes out of his breast pocket, he shook one out and offered it to her. She made no move to take it. “Go on. I know you smoke.”
“Not my brand.”
He took one for himself and lit up. “You know why I’m here-- to offer you a place in Starry Wisdom.” With a small flourish, a business card appeared in his hand. He passed it to her.
She examined it. “Uh-huh.”
“An apprenticeship.”
“Not interested.”
“You don’t belong with them.”
“You don’t know me.”
“I know there’s never been anyone like you before.”
She said nothing.
When he spoke again, his voice was low and emphatic. “You’ve never been given a choice. Not once. You were born into the Order, Alyssa, but you don’t have to stay with them. You’re a rare, precious thing. It’s not for them to limit you. And that is exactly what they’re doing. That’s all they’ve ever done. How long can you go on like this? You’re so strong. A fighter. You don’t wait for opportunities, you make them. And in this, you’ve always been like us. You have to see that.”
“I don’t want to talk to you. Go away.”
“I don’t think you really mean that. If you did, you wouldn’t be here.”
For the first time, she glanced at him. Then quickly looked away again, blushing.
He grinned, perfectly aware of how handsome he was. Just as she would be aware, whether anyone had ever told her or not, of the traditional relationship in Starry Wisdom between master and pupil. For a moment, he fingered the filter of his cigarette, letting his gaze roam over her form. She shrank from him further, huddled up in her jacket, which concealed from him her body but not that face, that hair and skin. Still grinning, he brought the filter to his lips and inhaled luxuriantly. “Your Order talks a big game. Their traditions, their big ideals, Ma’at. But has that been your experience? Would you say they’ve treated you justly and compassionately? Of course not. They have no respect for you or your potential, except for how it benefits them.”
Drawing her knees up, she wrapped her arms around them. “That’s not true.”
He arched an eyebrow, amused. “Isn’t it?”
“Not all of them.”
“Oh, think you’ve found a good one? It can happen, I suppose. Still, they’ll never give you what I can give you.” He leaned forward. “Freedom.”
An edge came into her voice. “You’re asking me to turn traitor.”
“No, I’m asking you to be true to yourself. I’ve never been inside the Oracles’ sanitarium, but I’ve read reports on the conditions of the place. It’s disgusting. We’ve never treated Oracles that way. We’ve always recognized the value of their gifts. If you stay with the Order, all they will do is use you, just as they’ve always used you. You will live and die as their servant.”
“But that’s not how it would be in Starry Wisdom.”
“With us, you would never be a servant. You would gain power for yourself, to use however you choose.”
Hugging herself even tighter, she rested her chin on her knees. “What if I say no?”
He shrugged. “If you say no, then you say no.”
“That’s it?”
“That’s it.”
“You’re not gonna break out the chloroform and the tranquilizer darts? Bag me, tag me, drag me off?”
“No. Though I’m sure some of my colleagues are planning just such a stunt.”
“But you’re, like, above it?”
“Would it benefit me anything? I don’t think so. And I have every faith in your ability to avoid such an eventuality because I have faith in you. Can you honestly say the same about anyone here—your classmates? Your teachers? Your parents?”
“I have a new family.”
“Are you referring to the director? Or that professor of yours-- what’s his name? The Slav?”
Her face darkened.
The man pretended to search his memory. “Oh, yes. Arcady Petrovic. He’s what, thirty? Having an affair with a fifteen-year-old student.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“What’s not to know? Here you are, a beautiful, vulnerable young girl. And here he is, an older man, an authority figure—”
“It’s not like that!”
After a polite pause, the man said kindly, “Of course it isn’t. Perhaps we should discuss your foster father instead.”
“I see what you’re doing. It’s not working.”
“What am I doing?”
“Trying to discredit them. But you can’t. You don’t know them like I do.”
“I’m just making observations. If I had a way of truly discrediting them, trust me, now would be the time.”
“But you can’t.”
“I’m sure they both mean well. One man who gets to enjoy seeing you in his bed. And then the director, who, besides filling a void in his personal life, has found himself one hell of a resource. I’m sure you’re aware that since he took you out of the Dormitory, his security detail has increased. And around the Academy-- arranging this conversation was certainly a challenge. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure his motivations were purely altruistic. But once you were out… well, Director Grabowski is an intelligent man and a tactician. He knows what he’s got. And so do I.”
“No.” She shook her head vehemently. “That’s not true. It isn’t.”
“I think we both know that it is.”
“Clayton adopted me.”
“Yes, he did. And now you feel indebted to him. So when he asks you to do something, as he eventually will, you won’t hesitate. Oh, I know what you’re going to say. I’m sure he would never deliberately put you in harm’s way. But there will always be the greater good. That is a priority that will always take precedence for him—even over you.”
“And I’m sure your intentions are nothing but pure.”
“No, my intentions are quite selfish. I just happen to be honest about it.”
“You’re saying Clayton isn’t honest?”
“I think there are points where Clayton isn’t honest with himself—”
“Director Grabowski, please,” she corrected. “I can call him Clayton. Not you.”
That caught the man off-guard. For a moment, he gaped at her. Then he threw back his head and laughed. “See? You sound like one of us.”
“I already told you, I’m not interested.”
“Fair enough. And when you’ve finish training here, what then?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“I just hope the choice remains yours.”
She did not reply.
“They’ll want you as an assassin, of course. They won’t call it that, it’ll be some kind of field work. But make no mistake. You’ll be encouraged to take classes to help you be as versatile in as many environments as possible, stealth, infiltration, tactics, combat magic...” He paused, as though contemplating. Then: “What about the Terminus?”
She stiffened. “What about it?”
“The Order has never found a way to evade it.”
For the first time, she turned to him. “And Starry Wisdom has?”
“The Order wouldn’t think it was important. We would. And we have resources the Order does not.”
She closed her eyes. “So you haven’t found a way either.”
“There’s never been a case like yours before. A fully cognizant Oracle—”
“Blah, blah, blah,” she rested her chin on her knees again. “I’ve heard it all before.”
“No, you haven’t. Because I’m telling you, such a thing is possible. You’re an Oracle and a mage. You could undergo the rite.”
She sneered. “Who wants to live forever? Not me.”
“Is that how you really feel, or is that resignation I’m hearing?”
“Death is inevitable. You have a death in your future. Would you like to hear it? The date? The means?”
He waved his hand, still holding the cigarette. “Irrelevant. There’s only one thing that is truly uncertain in the world and that’s the future. It’s one thing to say you don’t fear death now, at age fifteen. It’s another to hear that tick-tock approaching. Forever is a very long time.”
“I have your card.”
“You do.” He stood to go, then paused. Lightly, he touched her shoulder. “In all the world’s history, perhaps in any world’s history, there has never been anyone like you, Alyssa Calderon. And rest assured, all of us understand your value as a resource, whatever we may say. But ultimately, the Order views you in terms of how you benefit them and their view of the world. I view you in terms of how you could benefit yourself. Just bear that in mind. In the end, it does make a difference.”
She stared out into the distance, his card still held loosely in her fingers. She did not turn to watch him leave, but his voice floated back to her, easy and unconcerned.
“Don’t worry. Everyone says no at first.”

* * *

Afterwards, the only person she told about the man’s offer was Arcady. Arcady held her while she talked. He lent her his lighter so she could burn the business card.
Not that it mattered. Just knowing the man’s name, Kang Han, was sufficient. If she wanted to reach him, she could. And he would come.
All the same, she watched the flames eat through the expensive stock, the embossed ink.
She was just starting to feel calm again when Arcady said she should tell Clayton.
They argued. It took a lot to convince Arcady not to pick up the phone and call the Director’s office right then and there. But if Clayton found out-- at best, she’d be pulled out of the Academy. At worst, Clayton might take it as a shot fired. She knew he was perfectly capable of starting a war.
A war. Over her.
She wasn’t about to let that happen.
Reluctantly, Arcady acquiesced.

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