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The Books of Winter: Book One
Copyright R.R. Virdi 2016
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
“Uh, we’re going to visit a crappy car?”
“Not a Grand Marquis. The Grand Marquis.”
“Oh, thanks for clearing that up.” Cassie rolled her eyes. “You think they can help us with this mess?”
I can hope. “I believe so.”
With a twist of her hips, she flung her legs off the seat and bounded to her feet. She teetered, spreading her arms out wide as she tried to balance herself. “Woah, okay, I’m good.” She took a few deep breaths. “Alright, let’s go.”
I nodded for her to follow me as I walked to the furthest end of the main room. A single door made of honest iron, not steel, blocked the way.
“What’s back there?”
“A lot but, for now, you’re going to want the first door on the left. When you’re done, go to the next door down. That’s it.”
She crossed her arms, giving me an oblique stare. “What’s down there?”
I opened the door, giving it a gentle push. An endless hall of cobbled stone stretched before us. A never-ending number of doors were set into it. A single, curved metal rod hung on the side of every door, adorned with a single bulb emanating pure white light. The carpet was the style of those used in Hollywood events, reserved for silver screen stars. It was a hall that had no end in sight. The only visible thing was a carpet disappearing into darkness.
“Woah. It’s bigger on the inside than the outside.” She looked up at me, staring. “You’re how old again? Please tell me you’ve got a screwdriver in your pockets.”
I snorted. “You need to be clean when we visit. Old world, old rules. Traditions and appearances are important with the supernatural. A tip to remember.”
“Noted.” She hooked a thumb to the door I advised her to enter. “So, where’s that lead?”
“Marry me,” she mumbled. “It’s been so long since I’ve had a long, hot, good one.”
I stared at her.
“You know what I meant.” She shook her head and huffed. “Perv!”
I adopted respectful silence.
She all but pounced at the door, leaping forward and swinging it open.
“Towels are inside.”
“What, you keep your bathroom stocked and prepared for guests or something?”
“Every room is stocked and prepared, always, forever.”
Her eyes widened and she turned to look back down the hall, staring for a long moment. “How many rooms are there?”
“If we survive this, I’ll show you. Go shower. Next room is a closet. Pick out something clean. A dress would be…” I trailed off when I felt her stare.
“Dress? Yeah, not happening. Nice try, though. You’re adorable.” She stepped into the bathroom, hooking her foot around the door and pulling with it. The door slammed shut.
Some creatures are partial to dresses, fine clothing, and regalia.
Shaking my head, I left the hall, making sure the door remained wide open. I did not need it to shut while she was behind it. Research. I need to do research. I leaned over to place my hand on a nearby table. I may have gotten a brief reprieve with my nap, but it wasn’t enough.
My leg spasmed.
I winced as the dull ache rolled through the limb. The clock ticked, and I debated throwing something at it. Being immune to time’s effects does not make one a fan of being pressed by it. Patience does not develop with years. In fact, it leads to an increase in stubbornness.
It was going to be my death.
My finger trailed over the edge of the table, running its way to the end and brushing against the siding of a bookshelf. I paused, pursing my lips as I looked at the rows of books. A single shelf fitted a hundred novels wide. The shelves went to the ceiling.
I’m fond of books. I shouldn’t have to defend myself. There is no knowledge that is not power, more so in the paranormal world.
My eyes felt dry and compressed. I knuckled them for a few seconds, hoping the pressure would alleviate some of my fatigue. It didn’t help. I stifled a yawn and searched for a certain book. In my library, that was a task.
Ten minutes passed before I found a large tome wrapped in a blue cloth. I thumbed it open, flipping through the various mythos within. Fifty pages or so passed before I found what I was looking for. My lip curled as I took it all in. A heavy knock pulled me from the book.
Cassie stood in the doorway, a plush white towel pressed to her head as she rubbed her hair. She wore a tight red shirt featuring a white puppy head winking, with its tongue out. A cowboy hat rested on its head and crossed revolvers sat below. Dark blue jeans, slim-fitting and in far better condition than her previous ones, hung from her hips. It would be a lie to deny that they looked appealing on her. She had replaced her sneakers with a bright turquoise pair bulkier in size than the last.
“Where did you find those?”
“In the closet. Your place is dope. It’s like Hogwarts with electricity, minus the moving staircases.”
I stared at her.
“Wait, you don’t have those do you?”
I snapped the book shut, nodding to the wall where my clock rested. “Come on.” Cassie fell in step as I walked her over to a rack sporting a variety of dangerous and unique implements.
“Oh, my God, you’re a psycho serial killer and you’ve lured me into your torture dungeon of doom!” Her voice morphed into something cartoonishly ominous as she waved her hands in an animated manner. “But, seriously, what’s with all the weapons?” Cassie’s finger moved from side-to-side through the air as she went over the rack.
“Things I’ve collected over the years. They’re going to be handy.”
She arched an eyebrow. “You think we’re going to need these where we’re going?”
I looked back at her, mimicking her expression.
“Yeah, right.” She sighed. “Stupid question.”
A fist snapped out.
I groaned and rubbed my arm, glaring at her. It was a good punch. I hid my smile. If she was that feisty, we would be fine. The supernatural world was not nice. It didn’t care for the innocent or the ignorant. Venturing into it was certainly not for the faint-hearted.
I picked up a braided thong of cord wrapped in leather. Eight feet in length, the handle was simple smooth wood, polished and unadorned. The tip of the weapon ended in a thin barb no thicker than my pinky finger. I pushed it towards her.
She held up her hands, taking a step back. “Uh…a little inappropriate right now, isn’t it?”
“Do you know how to use one?”
Cassie shifted her weight, resting one hand on her hip. She shot me a look like I had said something incredibly stupid. “I can be as kinky as the next girl if the situation calls for it but, no, I don’t crack that whip.”
I couldn’t suppress the laugh. “Hold onto it anyway. Trust me, it can come in handy.”
“Where exactly are you taking me?” She looked a bit hesitant but took the whip from me.
“It’s light, versatile—”
“And leather is always in.”
I gave her a look.
“Sorry.” She gave me a weak smile.
“Its length will be handy in keeping things backs, and the end is iron-tipped.”
“And that’s important because?”
“Next lesson. Pure iron is a substance of man’s world; it belongs on our side. It’s a tool used to craft our weapons, shape our world. Outdated, sure, but even steel needs iron. It’s everywhere here and nowhere in the Neravene. To many creatures from that side, iron is poison; it’s their bane. Think of it as radioactive material. Iron can cause many creatures to fall ill or worse. It can kill them.” I let the last words sink in.
Her fingers flexed, tightening around the whip. “Oh. But wouldn’t steel be more practical? I mean knives and swords are steel. Heck, what about brass? Please tell me you’ve got some guns around here.” She extended her first two fingers as well as her thumb, tilting her hand sideways. “We could cap some trolls.”
“Bullets are brass, and, no, we’re not…capping some trolls.”
She wasn’t enthusiastic about that.
“Steel works, though not on all creatures.” I reached back without looking, wrapping my hand around a slender handle. It pulled free with a snickt. I flipped it over in my grip, pinching the curved, polished blade, as I handed it to her.
“Woah.” Cassie took the dagger in hand, holding it up in the light to examine it. Its handle was gleaming black, inlaid with gold filigree. The blade was slender and sharpened to the finest of edges. “This, I can work with.”
I smiled. “Here.” I handed her a dark, aged-leather belt with a series of loops hanging from it.
She took it without a word, slipping it through the waistband of her jeans. The whip hung from her side, tied in place. Its dark iron point absorbed the nearby light. With a bit of effort, she managed to get the dagger into the sheath dangling on the opposite side of the belt.
“Thanks, always wanted to get my G.I Jane on.”
I blinked, not sure what to make of that statement. Instead, I knelt, taking hold of a black metal toolbox resting beside the rack. With a snap of my thumbs, I flipped the latches and lifted the top. I fished through it.
“Seriously, dude, some people collect stamps. You’ve got sharp and pointy things. You ever think about stamps? They’re small, portable, cheap, safe. And hey, some come with pretty nifty artwork.”
I snorted and wrapped my hand around a piece of metal a tad thicker than my thumb. The switchblade tumbled through my fingers as I played with it for a moment. “Stamps can’t do this.” I depressed the button and the blade flicked out. I locked it back in place, rolling it through my fingers before passing it to her. “An extra knife never hurts. Hide it. Tie it to yourself somewhere discreet.” I held up a thin length of fabric.
Her fingers closed around the knife and piece of cloth. She pulled up the cuff of her jeans, holding the blade against her calf as she tied it in place. Pushing the pants back down, she looked to me. “What about you? I mean, if I’m going all Tomb Raider, this place isn’t going to be friendly. What are you taking?”
Between the rack and bookshelf was an empty space large enough to shove a broom inside. Well, not so empty. The saber was a little over three feet long, slightly curved and well-aged. The handle had held up well over the century. The guard was gilded.
“You steal that from the History Channel?”
“First man I killed.” My words fell with a great deal of weight. Silence.
Cassie licked her lips, eyeing the saber, then me for close to a minute. “Who was it? When?”
My mouth twitched. Killing someone is never easy. It’s not like killing monsters. It isn’t. Some people can be as close to monsters as possible—terribly evil—but most aren’t. Most people are misguided, prone to giving into their darker nature. That doesn’t make them bad. It makes them something else. I don’t know what and, believe me, I’ve thought about it for a long time. But you never forget the first life you take. You don’t let yourself forget.
I cleared my throat. “America was at war then.”
“Oh, so you are old.”
“Which side did you fight for?”
“Home,” I said, shutting my eyes.
“Here. New York.” I hefted the sword, examining it. My mind flashed back to bright skies without clouds, and thunder cracking throughout the day. “He didn’t need it anymore.” I didn’t know what had happened to the sheath; in a hundred years, I had lost a lot of things. I fastened it to my coat, wedging it under the jacket’s belt.
“That’s it? An old sword?”
“I’m already carrying all I need.”
She looked at me for an answer.
I tapped my temple. “Knowledge is the best weapon there is.” I didn’t mention what else I was carrying.
“Yeah, well, can you kill those trolls with your mind? Didn’t think so, Vader.”
Youth today have developed a variant of English that I really needed to learn.
I ignored the comment and cinched my coat. “Let’s go.” I nodded towards the iron door.
Cassie followed without making a sound. I could feel her stiffen as we entered the hall. “No lie, this place is trés creepy.”
“Want to know something, Cassie?”
“This place still scares me.”
I walked over to the second door on the left, opening it. Long coats, a variety of boots, simple shirts, and well-made suits filled the closet. I looked back to Cassie, whose mouth hung open.
“When I came in here, the room was decked out like I’d won a shopping spree and raided the mall. Now it’s all changed. How?”
“It’s a mystery,” I said, my voice not quite convincing her of the lie.
“Mysteries are bullshit,” she muttered.
“I’ll tell you another time. Come on.” I shut the door, walking off.
Cassie sidled up beside me, keeping pace, refusing to let me out of her sight.
I stumbled a bit, placing my hand on the wall as Cassie sidestepped and bumped me with her hip. I eyed her.
She gave me a similar look.
I pinched my forefinger and thumb together, dragging them across my lips. “It’s a secret.”
“I’ve got two knives and a whip,” she said.
I felt it wiser not to say anything further. We moved past a dozen doors before I came to the one I was looking for. It looked like all the rest.
Don’t ask me how I can tell them apart. It comes with living in the place.
I opened the door and Cassie sucked in a breath. The room had that effect on people. I had found it when I first came across the property seventy years ago. It was one of the reasons I bought it.
It was like standing above a sea of storm clouds that stretched out as far as the eye could see. They sank and rose, expanding like they were breathing. Roiling through an infinite expanse, tendrils of electricity arced and crackled along.
Cassie stared ahead, lost—mesmerized by it all.
It got me too. It always did.
“Oh my God.” She let out a heavy breath.
“Look up.” I put my index finger below her chin and pushed with a gentle amount of pressure.
Gaseous clouds of purple, pink, and red blurred together into a heavenly scene, all woven into a tapestry of galactic black. Innumerable balls of tiny white light pulsed and flickered at an unreachable distance. One such orb floated closer than the others, noticeably so. Another rolled by on our right. Twin moons.
“Where are we?”
“Right now, we’re in my home.”
“And this is?”
“The Way to where we’re going.”
She turned her head, looking at me while not quite taking her attention off the scene before us. Her body shuddered and she grabbed her shoulders, rubbing her arms. “It feels weird. It’s cool, like a nice breeze.”
I felt nothing. I kept that to myself.
“I’m creeped out, John. I feel something here.” She pointed to her stomach. “Like in my navel. Like there’s a hook in it and I’m being pulled. And there’s an invisible rope around my waist, helping that hook. What is it?”
“That’s what this place is, a natural Way. They exist in the world on their own, hidden. Most of them are buried or snatched up by and into the domains of powerful creatures. Not everyone and everything can open a Way of their own accord. I certainly can’t. It takes a combination of skill, power, and knowledge. In that regard, I have none. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t find my own path into the Neravene. It’s why I paid an exorbitant sum for this place.”
“Because there’s a Way here?”
I shook my head. “No.” I backpedaled from the door without looking away. My fingers clasped around another doorknob. I twisted and flung it open. The space behind me inhaled, pulling a rush of air past us.
Cassie turned to look at the newly revealed room and Way. Her eyes widened and took on a special light like two glimmering pools of fiery opal. The color in her face paled a shade. Her mouth moved but no sound came out.
I shut the door and gestured around me. “I bought this place because of them.”
She nodded and swallowed. “Yeah, makes sense.”
I placed a hand on her shoulder, turning her back the other way. “Come on.” I walked back to the other door with her. Fingers of white lightning streaked through the space above us, impacting the clouds. It dispersed seconds later. Lingering static occasionally spurted from random clouds.
“We go through.” I patted her back in a reassuring manner.
“Yes. Close your eyes.” I pushed her into the Way.
I’m not a terrible person for shoving her through.
I dove in after her.
End of ARC chapter four
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