No, I have not become a chihuahua. I am still human (remotely). I have been turned into a busy person, however!
When I last posted a sneak peek of the new work-in-progress: Bloodmoon, I was barely at 10,000 words. Little over a month later, and this badboy is standing at a fantastic 80,000 words. That's not too shabby, as far as I'm concerned. In fact, I'm grinning like a fool at the time of writing this. This is possibly the fastest I've ever written a book. There have been facedesk moments, there has been much bourbon, but primarily, there has been progress. As it stands now, you could be seeing this book by early summer. Which, according to the massive whiteboard hanging above me like the sword of Damocles, is RIGHT ON TARGET. Shots are on me.
In other news, I've just commissioned the second audiobook in the Emaneska Series. Pale Kings will soon be joining The Written in the ranks of the world of audio. The Written has been going down a treat with the audience over at Audible.com. If you've been enjoying it as well, then you won't have to wait long for the next instalment of the Series. Pale Kings should be finished and cleared for release in a month or two.
In other, other news, I've also just commissioned the book cover for Bloodmoon. After the warm reception Bloodrush got from all you cover geeks and fantasy fans out there (guilty hand up) I'll be making sure it's even better. Though no Lurker for the front cover this time, you'll be meeting a new and very special character indeed. Yara Mizar, or Yara the Lightning.
Now enough news. On to the sneak peek! Now as usual, this is unedited and raw, fresh from my writing desk (it's actually an IKEA foldout table but hey, who cares). So please do ignore any grammatical horrors or misspelt words. It'll all be edited once it's finished. I've combed this one for spoilers as well.
Hope you enjoy, and let me know what you think on Twitter and Facebook, or in the comments below. Right, where's that bourbon...
29th June, 1867
The day had held nothing but sunshine and sewer-stink. Say one thing for the grandness of London, for all its lofty marble heights and glittering glass, and that is it stank like any other city in the summer.
Today however, was worse than usual. Some sort of sewer workers’ strike, from what the paperboys were yelling.
There is something indiscriminate about excrement. Something just. It brings everybody to the same level. No matter who you are, everybody’s cheeks had met the cold porcelain of the chamber pot. Now they were walking in it. Velvet-clad traders, frock-wearing ladies, kingly lords strutting about, they all had shit on their boots like everybody else.
At least, that’s how Gunderton saw it, watching it all with quick eyes. His hood made a mockery of the sunlight, now waning as it slipped below the countless spires of the city. His beard covered the rest of his face. It itched something awful in the heat. Part of it longed to rip it out with his calloused fingers, but he preferred the anonymity.
Gunderton lingered by a stand selling sweetcakes and greasy mutton sandwiches, letting the sweet smells replace the stink in his nose for a moment. He feigned interest in the wares while the stand-owner prattled on about fine ingredients and cheaper prices than “him over there”. Gunderton was watching somebody.
Fortunately for him, that somebody was as predictable as the ticking of his old father’s battered watch, lingering somewhere against his breast, under his cloak and grubby waistcoat. Gunderton shook his head.
He left the stand-owner to badmouth his competition and shadowed the man as he moved along the street. Like all the others in the street wearing a suit and finer, he did his best to avoid the smears and sun-baked puddles amidst the cobbles. The street-cleaners had done what they could, but it never hurt a little to remind the upper classes why they were needed.
The man held a handkerchief rightly against his face, cursing every now and again his black leather shoes skidded in something altogether disgusting.
Gunderton did not care one bit. A month or two of living in the London docks could soon alter your perception about where shit should and could end up. His sturdy boots clomped across the cobbles, keeping pace.
The man he was watching stopped to pay a paperboy a penny and read a newspaper, irritably flicking through the pages, looking for something in particular. Apparently dissatisfied, he donned his hat again and strode off. Once more, Gunderton kept level with him, following him south down the dead-straight path of the Queensgate, leading away from Jekyll Park.
‘Where are you going, Witchazel?’ Gunderton mused. He should have been heading east, to Convent and his townhouse, guarded and safe. It would be dark soon, and the darkness hides all manner of things.
Gunderton cast a look over his shoulder, eyeing the others coming to and fro. His gaze hopped about through the crowds, gauging expressions and intentions. There. A few men huddled together, walking close, eyes fixed on something down the street. Their hats were low and their coats grey and nondescript. Gunderton noticed a few marks on the hands that swung purposefully by their sides. Symbols, painted in greying ink. Even from across the street, Gunderton knew what they meant.
In his pockets, his fingers caressed the fraying leather handle of his favourite knife, savouring the cold steel wrapping around his knuckles. His hand felt right at home.
‘This is why I told you to leave, you silly bastard,’ Gunderton grumbled, stepping off the kerb and waiting for a carriage to rattle by. Some crest or another was painted on its door, but Gunderton paid it no heed.
Once he had slipped into between the three men and Witchazel, still oblivious to anything behind him, Gunderton cast another look over his shoulder. The men walked three abreast, making others step aside instead of folding. Women tutted and gentlemen grumbled, but they walked on without a word. Gunderton stayed a dozen paces ahead, looking for all the world like a vagrant stumbled onto the wrong side of the city.
Half an hour passed, filled with nothing but crafty looks and the clomping of boots. Four stalkers, one prey. Witchazel remained oblivious to it his followers, hurrying south to somewhere or another. Wherever it was, it seemed important. Gunderton wished he knew. The sun was now hiding behind the mighty buildings, painting them black and the sky a burnt orange. It would have been beautiful on any other night.
Witchazel took a right down the Kingsroad, and Gunderton heard a muttering behind him. He turned right as well, and sure enough, so did the three men. Now he knew for sure. He held the knife a little tighter as he carefully slipped it out of his pocket.
The lawyer seemed to be heading to the river. He took a left, then a right, leading them a merry path through the narrower streets, where the stench was foulest. Gunderton closed the gap between him and Witchazel, almost imperceptibly, and after the next turn, ducked into the shadows of an alleyway.
He waited until the boots were close before he struck. A sweeping move, blade held flat and to the side, slashing across the face of the nearest man, then hammering into the face of the one in the middle, steel knuckles breaking bone. One went down with a howl. The other fell silently, like a corpse into a grave. The third put up a fight, swinging left and right with white-fingered fists, driven by surprise and a little pinch of something else.
Gunderton knew it immediately, and moved quickly while he still had the chance. The blade caught him on the inside of the arm, enough to slow him. Enough for Gunderton to drive a blow to the man’s ribs with his free hand, and then head-butt him to the ground, where a boot put him out of his whimpering.
Gunderton turned and ran, not wanting to miss Witchazel in the bending alleyways. He took a left, then a right, like a ferret through the pipework, hoping to catch sight of a coattail or a top hat.
He spied something under the pale glow of the gaslamp, a shadow ducking behind a corner. With his blade and bloody, he ran, boots now almost silent on the cobbles.
‘Witchazel, what have you gotten yourself into,’ he whispered to himself between gritted teeth.
Gunderton poked around the corner and spied the lawyer walking briskly away from him, but in plain sight, a good fifty yards away. Gunderton jogged softly to catch up. Witchazel was almost at a busy junction. He could see the shapes moving under the gaslights now. These damn eye-things, he cursed to himself. He growled and ran a littler faster. He might lose him in the crowed.
Before Gunderton could close the distance and grab his friend, somebody else took the initiative, and beat him to the punch. A carriage skidded to a whinnying halt between him and the lawyer. There was a shout, a scuffle, and then a slam of the door. The crack of the whip sealed the deal, making the horses burst into life, and hurtle down the street and into the night.
No matter how fast Gunderton ran, he could not catch it. No matter how many buildings he climbed, roofs he slid down, pipes he shimmied, it was always more than one step ahead. It lost him somewhere on the riverbank, in amongst the other carriages and the crowds come to gawp at the Bellspire. Gunderton slipped back into the shadows, lurking in the grounds of the Admiralty, pulling this hood down beneath the pines and waiting.
He waited for them to come looking for him. To bring the dogs and the lanterns. Bring the guns. He waited almost for an hour, barely moving. A hood statue to keep the trees company for a while.
But nothing came, as if often did, and he shrugged to himself, shrugging off the paranoia. ‘Damn that Scarlet,’ he cursed beneath his breath, before creeping off into the grounds.