EXCERPT: STRINGS

My music made a lovely magic. It was tiny magic, sure, but effective: it thickened the air and deepened the candles’ warm light, caressed the listener like intimate fingertips and teased sleeping nerve-endings toward a gently quivering wakefulness.

Go, me. I made it all happen.

Generally speaking, humans suck at love. They go into it selfishly, thinking of themselves and not the needs of the other, already planning in their little heads what they’ll do when it doesn’t work out. Idiots. Does anything else work that way? Can you learn art or become a mechanic without devoting yourself to those crafts? Can you graduate from college without paying attention to a coursework’s needs, without being willing to spend time feeding it what it requires?

Well, yes, you can, but not well. And yes, colleges have needs, too. Every living thing does.

I could help the lovelorn attendees of tonight’s bar-hop, and I had every reason to. Helping them helped me. The more they loved, the more I fed—and while humans do suck at getting love started, once it takes root in them, it grows like Kudzu. (That Kudzu-thing was one of my cousins’ ideas, by the way. Don’t look at me. I’m not a plant-wizard.)

My set was nearly done, which meant it was time to build up to my exit. Step one: a Spanish riff with a hint of blues, tossing in just enough Elvis to bring out the smiles, because smiles make everybody see the beauty of their partner. It’s magic!

Step two: sadder arpeggios, delicately plucked, as if the strings sang only when tears fell upon them. The fragility of life and its shortness (short for humans, that is; there’s a reason we call you lot the Ever-Dying) sank in like a stain, and all my listeners knew it. They knew they didn’t have much time, knew that things might change, knew that they could lose this special other person to the inevitability of the grave.

I’d never leave them there, of course. It was time for step three: hope. Trills in a faster pace with high, quick chords danced from my fingertips like sun-sparkles on water. Yes, you lonely sods, you have each other now. No, that special person isn’t perfect, but neither are you, and they will love you in spite of yourself. You could make each other happy. You could make this work—if you’re willing to learn, to try, to forgive.

To love.

The magic moment bloomed, and love in the room tasted like raspberries in wine, toasted coconut and rum, and a hint of orange-infused chocolate. I could have stopped playing there, but I’m a thoughtful lover myself, don’t you know, and the after-party is just as fun as the build-up. Tiny melodies trickled from my strings like secret giggles, bringing everyone gently down and getting them sleepily, drunkenly ready for bed.

See? I’m not a bad guy. I’m really not. Nobody among the Mythos would agree, but that’s why I was there in the human Ever-Dying world and not among my own kind. My world wasn’t nearly as forgiving as this one.

At last, it was time to put the guitar away. The band for the next set was already bringing in their amps. For a fancy midtown Manhattan night-spot, it was almost peaceful. Quiet conversations glittered with intimate and precious words, requiring little volume. Yum, yum, yum. Delicious.

All right, so I know it probably horrifies you that I do this. It’s manipulation of the highest form (which some would call art), and flirts with the concept of non-consent and force. Well, I’m not forcing anyone. Encouraging silly people to do things they should be doing anyway is very gray territory, but I’m all about gray territory. It’s even in my name.

My view in the bar’s huge mirror was a good one that night. I am of the Fey, Unseelie and royal, in fact, with perfect ears like long thin leaves and enough magic to keep them hidden. My spun-gold hair (which I do not hide) falls just past my shoulders, and though I’m lovely enough to be a woman (if I do say so myself), my strong jaw and my cheekbones preclude that misconception.

I’m distinctly male, yet fabulous. Take that, Orlando Bloom.

I’m just glad Tolkien finally broke the world of the stupid idea that elves are all tiny and annoying. Those are not elves. Those are sprites. It’s thanks to all that sprite nonsense that the word “elf” has become offensive.

“Hey, Grey. Can we get you to fill in Friday?”

This manager wasn’t interesting because he loved nobody, and that made him taste like dusty cement. The paycheck he handed me atoned for much. Nice. “Sorry, but no. I’m booked through March.”

He laughed and made some remark about schedules, his ex-wife, and their broken children, and I didn’t bother to tell him I probably wouldn’t be back to his bar ever again. Crazy Ever-Dying humans, always wasting the short time they have. Makes me sick.


I sighed a hefty sigh as I slid my guitar into my hatchback. On the front passenger side lay a wide-brimmed hat, a bolo tie, and a leather thong for tying back my hair, all prepped for the country-western bar that was my next stop. The cowboy boots were new, and kind of stiff, so—

There was a blue envelope lay on my dashboard.

I had not put a blue envelope there. Someone or something had been inside my car!

Rage made me briefly stupid. How dare they, whoever they were! This was just rude. Ah, but only another magic-user could have gotten through my little wards, and if I’d been thinking clearly, I’d have abandoned the car, the clothes, and the lot, and run for the proverbial hills. Instead, I snatched up the offending stationery with all due drama, and only then saw what was written on the front.

It bore my full name in thin, flowing handwriting perfect enough to come from a laser printer: John Baron Grey.

I knew this handwriting. Only one person would come to me this way, with easy knowledge of where I was and who I was, and leave just a simple note without any traps or warning flares. No wards I could put up would have stopped him, anyway.

I didn’t know what he wanted, but I already owed him more than I could ever repay. My love-high went out like a candle in a stiff breeze. His persistence in thinking I’m a better person than I am always holds me like a vice.

I keep forgetting you’re human, Ever-Dying. You have no idea who I’m talking about, do you?

Notte is… What terms shall I use? Ancient? Magical? Unique? Glorious beyond all reason, in spite of his disturbing penchant for blue velvet and formal dinner parties?

He’s soft-spoken. He’s deeply powerful. He’s the nicest man I’ve ever met, and he scares most among the Mythos to death because he can do something we don’t understand: he can turn humans into us.

You don’t get it. People are magical among the Mythos, or they’re Ever-dying. You’re born magical or you’re not, andhumans are not.

Before you go off on witches and ghost-hunters and special sparkly New Age angels, hear me out. Bats have sonar. Eels have electricity. We have magic. You don’t. Yet Notte can take an ordinary human and transform her into something else. She becomes like him, never-aging, requiring a specific and sticky substance to live, and like him, can change other human beings the same way.

Yes, it’s like a disease, and no, I’m not being nice about this, and yes, he is my friend, but I’m not nice when I’m hungry. When I’m hungry, my Unseelie nature comes out. We are not a nice people.

I was hungry, and I couldn’t bring myself to open the envelope. After the next gig, I’d open it. Not before. Notte would understand still being hungry. Of all those among the Mythos, he definitely could not blame me for that.

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