Rhi Etzweiler is back with a brand new except from her book, Blacker than Black.
Contest details are below the cut.
Apparently, my twin and I are two of York’s most notorious criminals. We’ve been Nightwalkers in the blue-light district since the vamps took over the world. Don’t know how many years it’s been. Long enough that a stream of fellow ’walkers have come and gone. Most don’t last long selling their chi. End up face-down in the gutter, or worse.
For us, one night and one sale change everything.
Monsieur Garthelle is the first john to hunt me down. He calls me a chi thief in one breath and offers absolution—servitude—in the next. Maybe I’m a sucker, but I like living and breathing. Strange that such a powerful vamp would show leniency to a mere human. And something’s not right with the chi I took from him. It won’t go away.
Neither will he, and he’s forcing us to spy on his peers. Then a vamp turns up dead, and we go from playing eyes and ears to investigating a murder. This isn’t what I signed up for. All I ever wanted was to sell a little chi, maybe steal some in return. I should’ve kept my damn hands to myself.
This is my story. Look through my eyes.
Chapter Eight: A Little Clarification
The living space offers Jhez a myriad of new points of focus for her cleaning . . . hobby . . . obsession. I don’t see her, so she must be off poking into corners. I drop my duffel next to the plate glass coffee table and explore the couch, sitting down in the center of the brown velvet creation and bouncing to test its pliancy.
Garthelle stands there watching me, hands tucked casually into his pockets. “Do you find it acceptable?” His voice carries a thread of amusement. It tangles in my nerve endings, confusing, disorienting.
I stop bouncing, feeling a blush crawl up my neck. “It’s a nice place.” The couch isn’t as luxurious as the black one he has, which superimposes itself into my vision for a glitched moment, but it will tolerate our abuse well enough. I sit back, closing my eyes to focus on centering my chi. It’s the best way to ward off those . . . hallucinations. Energy-memories.
When the couch sinks down to my left, I drape my forearms over my face to avoid further distraction. Persistent vamp that he is, Garthelle won’t keep his eyes off me; I feel them, an intangible caress, trailing over me.
With an exasperated sigh, I lower my arms and sit up. “Don’t you have more pressing matters to occupy you?” A coup d’état to diffuse somewhere, perhaps? “When are your guests arriving?”
He angles toward me, draping an arm along the back of the couch. His hand is inches away, and the faint scent of incense floats across the narrowing distance between us. The memories send a thread of tension through me.
“They will begin arriving this evening. There was a slight shift in the itinerary, and I won’t be available to either of you as I intended. So I’m here now.”
“I see.” I don’t see. I don’t understand at all. My brain, feeding on the olfactory stimulation, is becoming increasingly muddled. Where’s Jhez? Surely the flat isn’t so large that it would take this long to choose a bedroom and toss her duffel on the floor. Hell, mine didn’t even make it that far.
Tension radiates from Garthelle, an assault crashing against my aura. He leans in toward me, fingers reaching up to rest on my chin. The pressure of his touch is insistent, forcing my gaze to meet his.
“I feel it too.” His voice is husky, strained, his brow furrowed. “If it’s any consolation, it’s ten times more difficult for me to fight against.” Yellow eyes dart frantically over my face. He must see, or sense, something of my suspicions or disbelief, because his mouth twists into a grimace. “You think I did this? You, the chi-thief. You’ve met your match, and you blame me for it?”
“I didn’t do this.” I can’t stand the accusation and recrimination in his tone. My voice is hoarse, but I’ve little idea why. Fear? Or that shot of lust, like liquor in my coffee? “Whatever I took from you, it didn’t cause this. Whatever this is.” I have no idea what’s going on. I feel trapped, unable to break away from his gaze. Strangely lacking in motivation. Lethargic. “I’ve been pulling that stunt for some time. I’m sure of my methods.” Yellow eyes widen yet again. That’s twice now I’ve caught him unprepared. Never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to. When he only continues to stare at me in silence, I gain a little backbone. “The only variable here is you.”
His attention drifts to my lips. I don’t know why he’s looking at my mouth, but just witnessing the diversion makes me shudder. Enough already. I jerk my chin from his hand and stare at the far wall, resisting the impulse to pay him any mind. Just because he’s elitist doesn’t mean I have to stand for it.
Jhez saves me. Her presence gives Garthelle something else to focus on, and he manages to regain a semblance of control.
“You two are going to receive a rather crude introduction to lyche society tomorrow evening.”
My sister perches on the arm of a lounge chair across the room and studies him. I can tell she’s not too impressed. “That’s our first assignment, then?”
He nods. “You’ll have a day to settle in. This evening is purely business.”
“How long is this entertainment of guests going to last?”
“A week at most.”
“After which we’ll be permitted to return home?”
“No.” Garthelle sighs with a note of what feels like exasperation. Watching him from the corner of my eye, I see him glance my way. He keeps his attention fixed on my twin, though. “It’s not so simple a matter as that. The duration of my need for your assistance will be partially determined by how much I can discover in the short time these individuals are in my residence.”
Oddly enough, I find myself trying to imagine a dozen or more vampires crammed into the—albeit substantive—living space in Garthelle’s flat. It’s such a cozy prospect. Not. Thirteen vampires, sitting in a circle, doped up on chi and looking like ventriloquist puppets. Marionettes of the morbid variety. Oh, the dances I could make them do. If I dared. A bark of laughter escapes me before I can even think to stop it.
They both stare at me. Jhez gives me the look she uses when she catches me ogling a random man on the street—a hybrid form of scandalized amusement. Garthelle just observes, unreadable.
“What kind of information are you looking for?” I clear my throat and try to get serious. With him sitting next to me on the couch, it’s difficult. His proximity suffuses me with this strange sense of gratification. I feel lightheaded, unfocused. And weird. I don’t want to trust him, at least not until the hair he ripped out grows back.
“The political kind. The personal kind. Connections, however tenuous, between various individuals.” He shifts on the couch and I suddenly want nothing more than to get away from him. “It’s difficult for me to explain . . .”
He trails off as I stand up abruptly and relocate to the lounge chair Jhez is perched on. My sister drapes an arm around my shoulders and gives me a reassuring squeeze.
Garthelle clears his throat and continues. “. . . Precisely what is important, since both of you are wholly unfamiliar with the nature of lyche society.” His yellow gaze flicks over me, piercing, before settling safely back on Jhez. “Alliances take many forms. So do the demonstrations of relationships. For instance, only individuals who share a certain level of trust would deign to feed in close proximity. Mostly because of the vulnerability that comes with energy thrall. Sometimes that demonstration of trust is used as a means of forging a bond or alliance. It is akin to swearing an oath.”
“The strength of energy thrall varies depending on the level of feeding,” Jhez says, glancing down to share a look with me.
“So the less they feed in a given setting, the lower the level of implicit trust.” It makes sense that way, so hopefully I have it right. “Are we tracking properly?” Jhez and I turn to Garthelle expectantly, and he nods. “What else?”
“None of my guests will be traveling alone. They always have an entourage in tow. Lesser family relations, however distant. Their own collection of Nightwalkers as well. Observing with whom they share their resources is a good way to gauge the nature of their relationships. Sometimes lesser family members will be traded—gifted servitude for a predetermined period of time. Similar to apprenticeship, if you will.”
“So the only persons we’ll be offered to are those you possess an existing relationship with?” I fold my arms and tug on my bottom lip. “That feels self-defeating.”
The vampire shakes his head. “As host, I’m extended certain gratuities. And a level of diplomacy is required of me. In other words, I’m expected to provide unbiased entertainment to everyone. The two of you will have ample opportunity to observe each guest at least once.”
Lovely. I’m looking forward to it. I glance up at Jhez, who blows a soft sigh, arching her eyebrows.
I know that expression all too well. She’s looking forward to this even more than I am.
Don’t forget to leave a comment with your email address to enter the drawings! Look for the next excerpt that picks up where this one leaves off, over at It’s Raining Men (http://rainingmenamen.blogspot.com)! Or, if you can’t wait, get your own copy of “Blacker Than Black” over here at Riptide.
Individual: One randomly selected commenter at each stop will receive a signed cover card and magnet. Open to all, regardless of location (winner selected from all comments posted to blog at 11:59pm EST).
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About the Author
hi Etzweiler spent her formative years seeped in military culture, and many of her writing inspirations bear that mark – with a definitive twist. Her main genres are science fiction and fantasy, but she enjoys spicing things up with a speculative mixture that sometimes defies an easy label. Next to Elizabeth Moon and Meredith Ann Pierce, she still counts Jane’s Defense and Popular Science among her influences. “I used to read these articles about cutting edge technology and science, and wonder what impact it would have on society and culture. How it would change us.”
Her biggest failing is the inability to write a “short” story – they may begin that way, but they rarely stay small. “It’s like asking someone to tell you about their life,” Rhi says of her muses. “Like any real person, once you get them talking, it’s unlikely they’ll shut up any time soon.”
Where to find Rhi: