This is the opening scene from my finished second book in the Soren series, I Trailed a Blood House. It’s unpublished. The first book is, alternatively, unpublished. I figured I spend enough time talking about my work, I might as well show what I’m working on. Soren is haunted. Jack is a shade that has systematically destroyed Soren’s life since he was a toddler while simultaneously training Soren how to work magic. Olivia is a character Soren met in the first book. They like each other.
If you spend enough time talking to your shadow, your shadow talks back.
My toes touched carpet that touched sand, a salt-sea breeze drifting through cinderblock walls. The sun filtered hot through rafters. Two chairs waited, one wedged between a pair of identical full-length mirrors.
He preferred dark, dank, rot, death, black, clau-stro-pho-bic rat-races. I preferred sun, sea, clouds, a Mid-west sky.
I rolled a mirror between my fingers and waited for him. I listened to the ocean waves and waited for him. I lined a series of paperclips on the table and waited for him.
And when he chose, he came: first a reflection of black in one mirror, then a shape in both, and then a discerning step as if he had just exited a stagecoach into solid air. Gloved hand sliding along a ruby-tipped cane. Top-hat, gloved hands adjusting.
He had no face. Perfect pinstripe suit, sport jacket a la 1800’s, grey shirt collars up his neck, chin, and where his mouth, nose, eyes should be—black space. A hollow shadow. Ears, shaggy hair beneath his hat, and one big trick of the eyes between it all.
“Porphyrius Jackal,” I whispered. The word vibrated through the air.
Salt-chalk in my mind, in my pocket, clinking against rings. Clinking against ankh, maple-wood, sage.
He sat straight-backed in the chair, brushing sleeves in a grandiose form of mimicry. As if this place made him feel somehow dirty. I patiently waited, my mirror face-down on the table.
I listened to sea-gulls crackle. Jack looked around, up, then back at me. “Soren Jackal,” he said to me, his voice a hoary echo. My concentration stuttered; my fingers stabilized against the table. I hadn’t expected the name. He smelled like wood-smoke. “Olivia Borea,” he continued.
Here in the Astral, sitting before Jack, the introductions alone could kill.
“Porphyrius, I welcome you.”
“Pro tempore.” He stiffened, his ring tapping against ruby. “We do not play chess,” he replied. “We ci-ca-trix.” It sounded like a corpse’s throat clacking with beetle shells.
He massaged his throat as if he wasn’t used to using it.
I slid the bent paperclips forward on the table, a wall. His side of the room mouldered in the corners with a sickly green pallor. Grave-rot.
“Time for me to talk, Jack. I’ve finally found your name. I’ve finally found who you are. I talk, you listen. At the end of this, I will ask you one question, and one question alone, and I expect you to answer it.”
“Rebirth,” he whispered, and whispered some dead language under his breath. I heard the smile in his voice, almost a chuckle. “Virtus. Simper. Viridis.” He flicked fingers toward the walls behind him.
I waved his archaic words away. “Twenty-six years, Jack. Death. Violence. Abuse.” He stiffened again. I saw his arms tense. I saw him try and adjust. He could not. He was stuck between the mirrors. “I survived. Screwed up, alone, among the dead, but I survived. This is a new story. You took Tara. You took my family. My life. For years, my sanity. You aim to take more. Olivia. Wren. You aim to use me forever.”
He whispered in violent huffs, whuff sounds emanating between syllables. I could only make out ar-gu-men-tum ad ig-no-ran-tia.
“You no longer have all the power.” He splintered the arms of the chair. “Remember the lychee.” He stopped struggling. “I have another guide. I have another teacher.”
More unsettling than his struggles, Porphyrius simply waited.
“I do not need you.”
The hole in his face disappeared, and a craggy, disjointed face stared at me. Solemn, hard, black eyes. Wrinkles on his cheeks that looked all wrong. A beaked nose. Thin lips. High cheek-bones. Sallow-to-powdery white skin. “Cravat,” he whispered, angling his chin forward. Other whispers accompanied it.
“I can let you go.” His face slid away to shadow, an endless misty-black hole. Sixteen hundred years of death had turned him to his base. I nearly felt pity. “Why should I not?”
The question posed, I slid back against my own chair. The wall behind him now threatened to crumble away. Dirt cascaded like black hourglass sand over fully-grown, pale mushrooms. My side of the room remained exactly as I had found it. The paperclips—Jack’s paperclips—continued to serve as a boundary.
He sat. Twenty-six years of his black shadow. Twenty-six years of his blood-talks, his cryptic prayers, his lessons, and he sat. “Frightener,” he whispered.
“Not good enough,” I roared. My hands veritably trembled. I couldn’t touch him. I couldn’t harm him. This room, this talk, was posed as a gift for him to even show up. A trap he wouldn’t fall into again.
“Intuit. Sahv-ior.” His accent reminded me of an Italian man speaking English for the first time. “Hal-cyon.”
“I earned those names! You gave none! Why should I not?”
The insult sparked his rage. The house shook. I heard the enlightened dead rustling upstairs. He tore against the mirrors, but he remained bound. He roared like a gale wind.
“Don’t make me ask it a third time,” I whispered.
“Fer-ru-lous.” I opened my mouth to speak, and he cut my intake of breath with a hurried, “Truths.” He spat the word, worming his head against the back of the chair as if avoiding a flame under his chin. “Truths and truth.” He clicked in his throat, pinstripe suit splitting with mold. “Ci-ca-trix,” he repeated. When I didn’t react, he tried to lean forward. I felt his power radiating like a Tesla coil. “Even ground.”
Tiny puffballs like pimples broke across his shoulder. He cocked his head to one side.
He offered truce.
“Good enough,” I whispered, picking up the mirror. The moment it reflected him, he exploded to mist. The astral mirrors smashed against opposite walls. The wall behind his chair collapsed.
“Vale,” he whispered, nothing more than a pile of spores and dirt.
A truce hard-won. I woke, sweating in my bedsheets, knowing I owed the most powerful of dead philosophers a favor.