ConVent is proof that Kate Paulk’s brain works in wonderfully mysterious ways. If there is a plot further from her novel Impaler, I can’t think of it. When I asked Kate last night to give me a quick synopsis of ConVent to post here, she emailed this: A sarcastic vampire, his werewolf best buddy, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. The “Save the world” department really messed it up this time. Just so you know, that pretty much sums up the book which is one of the most fun reads I’ve had in a very long time. Oh, I guess you guys might be wondering when it comes out. It will be available for purchase the weekend of October 21st.
Disclaimer here: the snippet is from the unedited version, so there may be a few spelling/punctuation/grammar errors. This is because the final version is with the editor and layout artist and it’s too early for me to bother them.
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1. Undercover Angel
Another convention, another con hotel. After a while, they blur together into an indistinguishable mass of faux-elegance and bizarrely costumed fans. I usually go in what you could call Olde Worlde Vampire – three piece suit, John Lennon glasses, cane with a pewter wolf-head topper. Take Gary Oldman in that appalling Dracula movie, and you have the basic idea, except I wear black and my hair is darker. And short.
No-one’s ever given me a second look. It suits me that way: I don’t need people trying to find out more about me.
Even the smell’s the same as usual, the flat, rolled out smell of years of smoke, disinfectant and inadequate hygiene recycled endlessly through the hotel air conditioning. No, this one wasn’t quite the same.
I frowned, tasting the air. The back of my neck prickled, hair rising as age-old instinct whispered to me of something wrong.
Not the warm, fresh-meat smell of everyone around me: I’d grown used to that in the last few years. I’d even learned to live with the sour reek of what the SCA folk called ‘period hygiene’.
This was the metallic tang of shed blood, old enough to have lost its warmth, but not so old that decay had begun. For me to notice it amidst the mingling faux-Klingons, other costumed exotica, and the unwashed tee-shirted crowds, someone somewhere nearby had lost a lot of blood. A fatal amount of blood.
I wondered about it, hoping it wouldn’t be something that could draw attention to me. Selfish, maybe, but being a vampire isn’t easy in a world that monitors everything you do. Sure, accidents happened even in hotels. People fall and crack their head open on tiled floors, or stranger mishaps that have the same basic effect. Suicides happen in hotels too, probably a whole lot more than your average hotel would ever admit to. The thought didn’t help.
I couldn’t hear any kind of commotion, which ruled out an accident anywhere halfway public — and with the convention taking over the public areas of the hotel, that didn’t leave many options. That meant I was going to have to investigate
Wonderful. I’m not the only non-human who’s fallen in with the convention scene, and I’m a long way from being the worst. Most of us regulars have a kind of truce where we don’t do anything that gets us noticed, but that doesn’t stop a newcomer from doing something then pinning it on the nearest convenient target. This, well… excuse the bad pun, but it sucked.
I sidled around a tall woman whose corset took what had undoubtedly been an impressive bosom and elevated it to a weapon of mass distraction. Her height put the weapon in question about level with my nose: it was a good thing my sunglasses made it impossible for her to guess whether I was trying to peer into the jiggling depths or not.
Actually, I was trying to look elsewhere. The effect all that warm, moving flesh had on me wasn’t the one she wanted, and this wasn’t the time to take a nibble. I’d do that later, privately, with someone I could entice into inviting me to her room. Or his room. Nourishment was nourishment.
Once I’d successfully circumnavigated the corseted one, I had to ease my way past a man whose geisha costume and makeup was so perfect it was unnerving. If he had been short enough to pass for a real geisha, I might have wondered if he was actually female, although the lines of his face were definitely male. So was his voice — a resonant bass that sounded quite odd from the rosebud lips.
The reedy baritone voice of the equally well-costumed Sailor Moon was just another layer of strangeness. There were times when I wondered if the devil himself would get anything more than a cursory glance, should he decide to visit one of these events.
I slipped between two clusters of fen, male and female overweight and pasty-faced, tacky tee shirts worn loose over faded jeans. According to my nose, perhaps half of them were familiar with the esoteric custom of regular bathing. For the oversized fen that was a low ranking: it was the skinny ones that were more likely to be hygiene-optional. The skinny ones also had the highest chance of smelling of illegal substances.
The sharper senses of a vampire were not always to my advantage.
Another scent caught my attention once I was free of the crowd. Here, the air had the empty taste of hotel air, without the overwhelming eau de SF con. It also had, in addition to the tang of spilled blood, the distinctive musky overtones of a mature werewolf.
I looked around. Werekind usually loathed vampires, and with reason. We could create weres by some weird magical commingling of animal and human DNA, and we could command them. Of course they hated us.
With one exception. But then, I’m not your typical vampire, either. I turned to the shout, and waved to the speaker, a young-looking fellow with untidy blond hair. Naturally Sean was in human form, but he still carried enough of his true nature to affect the humans around him. I could see the hackles raised as he passed.
Sean and I get along just fine. He’s not a typical werewolf, having chosen to run solo rather than join a pack. I don’t do the vampire mind-games except what I need to keep myself fed and healthy. We often meet up at conventions and just have fun being in each other’s company.
Oh, and my name isn’t ‘Hickey’. The silly wolf calls me that because he thinks I leave love-bites on my meals. The name he knows me by is Jim. It’s not my real name — I outgrew that years ago.
Sean’s getting old enough that he’s going to have to change his name soon. When you’re going to look nineteen for eternity, it’s an occupational hazard.
He ambled over to me, big grin plastered across his face. As usual, he wore jeans and a black tee shirt, both clean enough I could smell the soap. I could see the tension in his face despite the grin: like me, he would have smelled the blood.
“Do you know what caused it?” Typical Sean — cut straight to the point without a hint of messing around with the usual niceties.
I shook my head. “Not a clue.” Which neatly summed up the fen gathering in the hotel lobby, of course. I’d wondered sometimes at the irony of their choice of descriptive: a word that had once described cheap prostitutes was now the collective for probably the world’s highest concentration of adult virgins. “Have you seen any of the others around?” We immortals who did the circuit generally knew each other well enough. Even if we’d normally be deadly enemies anywhere else, here we avoided trouble and kept clear of each others hunting grounds. I knew at least two demons who regularly frequented conventions, although I had yet to work out why they bothered when all the mortal souls here were mortgaged to caffeine and alcohol.
“Raph’s around somewhere.” Sean shrugged. “None of the other regulars that I know of.”
Wonderful. Raph, the world’s most debauched angel. And yes, he is still an angel. Don’t ask me how he gets away with it. I don’t want to know. I will say he takes his official status as an undercover agent entirely too literally when it comes to covers, and being under them.
At least I could be certain he wasn’t involved in the attempted killing. Murder wasn’t Raph’s style. “Do you know when it happened?”
Sean shook his head. “It’s weird. There wasn’t anything sudden. It just sort of drifted in. I don’t even know when I realized it was there.” He scratched his chest, not quite distracted enough to let claws extend – which was just as well. When he was in human form, Sean went though tee shirts like he had an infinite supply.
I kept my face under careful control. I’d made science fiction cons my hunting ground because no matter how weird I was I could strip naked and dance on tables and not get more than a few invitations. That didn’t mean I wanted to draw attention to myself. I worked by not being observed unless I chose. Usually I only let my prey notice me, and then only long enough to take my little nibbles and leave them with the memory of some horizontal gymnastics with a good looking fellow whose face they could not quite remember.
So long as I didn’t take the same person more than once or twice in a month, it worked.
Well, mostly. Whenever another immortal discovered that the con scene could meet their needs without drawing unwanted attention, we regulars had to do some interesting negotiations to make sure no-one overstepped the boundaries.
I let my senses drift, seeking the source of the blood. “Stay close,” I murmured. “I’m going to fade.”
Sean moved closer to me, and I began to project the sense of ‘nothing here’. It isn’t exactly invisibility, more like everyone ignores me when I fade. Anyone or anything close enough fades right along with me.
Once I had the projection down, I nodded to Sean. He tilted his head back, sniffing as he turned a slow circle. His nose was sharper than mine, though with different priorities. He was more tuned to humans as prey, alive, dead or dying. I focused on blood, particularly when it was still inside its owner.
After a while, he nodded decisively. “Near the dealer rooms.”
“On my way.” I ambled in the direction of the dealer rooms with Sean on my heels. If I could rule out a rogue immortal before anything was found, so much the better. Fortunately there weren’t too many mingling yet — people were still arriving, so most of the activity clustered around the registration tables. There’d be crowds later.
The dealer rooms were in a ballroom split up by the partition walls the hotel used to get more bookings. If I remembered the maps right, the ballroom had a half-size section set off for the merchandisers and a quarter for the art show. The rest was reserved for the organizers to do whatever convention organizers did. The blood couldn’t be an accident, not in that part of the hotel. With the amount of activity from dealers bringing in their gear and artists setting up shows — not to mention the convention committee scrambling to deal with everything they hadn’t sorted out yet — there’d have been a fuss by now if there had been any kind of mishap.
I didn’t need Sean’s nose once we got close enough. The doors to the merchandise area stood wide open while people wheeled trolleys filled with… well, stuff. In the time it took me to get from the edge of the atrium to the wall, I saw books, comics, magazines, costumes, jewelry of the faux-occult persuasion, and even a few pieces that were actual occult, not wannabe. I hoped the sellers knew what they were doing with those.
I blinked when I saw a familiar shape pushing a heavy trolley loaded mostly with books. The books weren’t a problem: the small knife with a dark gem set into the heart-shaped pommel was. Bill was a minor demon lord who normally played for much higher stakes than science fiction conventions. Seeing him here as a bookseller, and carrying a Heart’s Blade, did bad things for my hopes of getting this situation cleaned up without fuss.
I’d have to visit later and quietly disable the damned knife. The thought of being at a convention with one of those things around made my skin crawl. It was a shame that right now I had more important concerns.
The door to the art section was closed and ignored. I can’t feel magic, but the way no-one noticed the art show door was so much like the way my fading worked it had to be magical. That’s one in favor of my immunity to magic. It didn’t balance the mess with the succubus at the last con I’d been to.
I eased over to the plain door — only the sign saying ‘Art Show’ distinguished it from any other door in this or any other hotel — and leaned against it. People’s eyes slid over me like I wasn’t there. Beside me, Sean growled, low in his throat. He had the prickly, glazed look he got when he was close to a shift.
“Easy there, Wolfie.” I’ve seen Sean in his wolf form, and there’s no way anyone would think he was in costume. He’s downright primeval, actually. People get nervous several rooms away. And if there’s an attractive woman around, well… He could sit down with his tongue hanging out the way dogs do, and still commit sexual harassment on women three rooms away. I really hoped there weren’t any succubi here — last time had been bad enough.
“‘s’magic,” he growled. This close to a shift, his speech slurred as his muscles and bones strained to break free from their human shapes. “Bad.”
Just wonderful. I tried not to wonder what else could go wrong, in case I ended up finding out. Fact was, right now there wasn’t a single way this could work out well for me or Sean. Even the weirdest fen had limits, and the likes of me and Sean were well beyond them.
The door wasn’t physically locked: it opened as soon as I turned the handle. I slipped inside with Sean close behind me. The click it made when it swung closed sounded horribly loud in the hushed room.
Free-standing display boards made a kind of bizarre maze, cramping the room and making it seem much smaller than it actually was. It would be even worse when the art was up and fen crammed every inch of floor space. The smell of blood made my face ache.
The earthier tone of Sean’s growl told me he’d changed. I glanced his way, and sagged a little with relief to see his shirt and jeans in a crumpled pile on the floor. Better that than shredded by the very different shape of his body. I’m not sure what would be harder, smuggling a naked man or a wolf. The more likely something was to attract gawkers, the harder it was to fade.
I trod delicately on plush carpet worn to a shapeless mat by untold thousands of feet. At the back of the room, hidden by the display board maze, I found the source of the blood smell.
She was female, young, and would probably have been pretty if her skin hadn’t taken on the gray-blue of exsanguination. She lay on one of the tables reserved for sculptures and the like, sprawled out as though she slept. Her left arm hung down from the table, blood seeping from a cut that should not have drained her like that. There weren’t any more injuries – her nakedness made that quite clear.
A black bowl on the carpet caught the drops, shimmering with unclean light. If that were not sign enough that someone was up to no good, the wall above where she lay had been daubed with a symbol even clueless humans could recognize as demonic in origin – a horned beast rising from flames. I didn’t need vampire senses to know what had been used instead of ink.
A tiny shudder ran through the woman’s body, startling me. I hadn’t expected her to be still alive. Not that she’d stay that way if I didn’t do something immediately. Damn.
Something half-familiar jolted through me when I touched her, magic discharging around and through me. It didn’t damage me, but the protection circle cast around the woman left a ring of scorched carpet.
“Get your ass back into human shape,” I told him. “She’s alive.”
I lifted the woman carefully, draping her left arm over her chest. I made sure I didn’t disturb anything else, although I doubted the inevitable police swarm would find anything identifiable.
By the time I turned around, Sean was back in human form and dressed. I could see the after-echo of his wolf shape: evidence the shift wasn’t entirely complete.
He opened the door for me, and bellowed out “Someone call 911!”
The spell fading the art room cracked open with a sizzling sound and the smell of scorched meat. It must have been a misdirection rather than an illusion — misdirection spells couldn’t stand too much scrutiny. Everyone in the lobby area turning to Sean’s voice was quite enough to break it.
They stared at Sean. They gaped at me – or rather, at the naked girl in my arms.
One of the tee-shirted fen darted forward and offered a heavy cloak that really didn’t work with the cutesy fairy on her shirt or her faded jeans. “I’m a registered nurse. Lay her down, and cover her with this. We need to warm her up.”
I knelt, pretending I needed Sean’s help to perform what would have been an awkward maneuver for a mortal. Once I could reach the floor, I laid the girl on the cloak, then helped the nurse-fen wrap her in it. “Thanks. All I know is I found her in there.” I jerked my head in the direction of the art room. “Someone sliced her arm open.”
Sean’s bellow roared out again. “No-one goes in there until the cops get here!” I could feel the teeth in it. Just by sheer personality he pushed the gawpers back a few steps.
The nurse frowned. “And no way to guess what blood type she is. Damn.”
I know about blood type, of course, but I could hardly tell the nurse that it was an academic question for me. Besides, whoever tried to kill the girl had done a pretty thorough job of it, and I didn’t want to attract the attention of either the would-be killer or whatever nefarious forces the ritual had been intended to summon.