Tag Archives: ConVent

ConVent – Snippet 3

A bit of a change from the plans announced last week.  I’m posting this week’s snippets in full here on the front page.  Next week, I’ll start linking them to the snippet page.  Also, apologies for not getting Kate’s snippet up yesterday, but life and work interfered.  So, to make it up to you, here is an extra long snippet. Now, without further delay, here’s the next snippet from ConVent.  As usual, the standard disclaimer applies:  this is not the final edited product.  This is similar to the ARC of a book.

2. My Editor is a Demon

2. My Editor is a Demon


When mingling got me no new information, I meandered over to where the convention management committee was setting up a new art room — they had evicted themselves from the rest of the ballroom, scrounged some extra display boards, and were trying to make up for lost time and space.

I’ve never figured out why human perversity wins out over intelligence every time. The display boards are supposed to be modular, meaning that you set up the frame and slot the boards into position. The frames are supposed to allow four ninety degree connections.

So far so good, except that the boards — some kind of particle board with holes to take hooks for hanging the art works — weighed so much it took three or four people to get them into position. While someone on each support frame piece held it steady. By the time the room was set up, I’d learned that the word ‘fuck’ can serve as a noun, adjective, adverb, and verb — sometimes all in the same sentence — and that no-one in the room could possibly have set up the ritual I’d interrupted.

All of them, from the balding, overweight fellow who wore what remained of his hair long as some kind of compensation, to the skinny neurotic redhead with the nasal whine… They weren’t merely tired, they were drunk on fatigue.

No-one in that state could manage a demonic ritual without doing something wrong. What little I knew of demonic rituals suggested pretty strongly that they went wrong in ways best not examined too closely.

It’s just as well I’m immune to all magic except necromantic spells. Being technically dead isn’t a picnic — I’ll take every advantage I can get.

Once the concom let the artists in, I faded and slipped away.




By the time the con officially started, I was really worried.  Not only had I completely failed to find any hint of the would-be demon worshiper, rumors were flying through the crowds and warping into unrecognizable shape. The concom seemed to have decided it was better to know and see nothing – to the disgust of the cops, who understandably wanted to check the attendance list against their records. They weren’t being obstructive, per se. They just weren’t anywhere to be found.

Raph caught up with me somewhere around ten. We met up in my room, Raph sitting on the bed with his legs crossed and his wings — yes, white with feathers — wrapped around him. I paced.

“It’s worse than we thought,” he said in a low voice. “Lil got a second look, a proper one, and figured out who the gateway is for.”

“Just tell me the worst Raph. Get it over with.” At this rate I’d wear a hole in the carpet before the con was done.

He swallowed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an angel look that pale. “It’s Himself Below.”


“Yeah.” Raph’s wings rustled when he shivered. “It’s not like anyone except the Boss can control Him.” Raph shook his head. “You’d need to be crazy to try.”

I kept pacing. I know tradition has we made immortals firmly in Below’s camp, but it’s not true. Most of us stay more or less the same as we were before we got changed. There’s even a few churches in the bigger cities that hold special services for the immortals in their congregations. “I don’t suppose she managed to glean why anyone would do anything that stupid?”

Raph hunched his shoulders and wings. “Nothing. They cleaned their traces pretty well. The only reason she got as much as she did was the spell being broken before it could complete.”

Crap. “Have there been others that did complete?” Lil had said earlier that it took five of these things to open a dimensional gateway. That meant five spells, minimum, and at least five corpses as well.

“We don’t know. There’s nothing to indicate it, but there wouldn’t be until the opening spells were performed.”

I didn’t like Raph this subdued. It felt all wrong, like a frivolous Spock. Besides, anything that can scare an angel officially scares the crap out of me. I know when I’m outclassed. Not using everything in my repertoire of curse words — five languages, two of them extinct, and at least a dozen anatomically impossible phrases — took effort. “I’d suggest looking for a moron, but it takes at least some functioning brain cells to cast a ritual like that without screwing it up.”

“I know.” Raph looked miserable. “Lil went looking for minor demons sent to cause trouble.”

“At a con?” At least half the fen were sufficiently warped that they’d meet Below’s standard of ‘minor demon’. The percentage in official guests came closer to seventy. Something about science fiction, I guess. It seems to attract the perverse. Not the sick types, as a rule. Just the contrary idea-loving types who could live a personally moral life while writing about, reading about and publishing things that would turn stomachs Below. The current management didn’t like that sort of person terribly much, according to Raph. Apparently they disturbed the harmonious worshipers Above and started arguments over the validity of the whole business.

Since the previous incumbents mostly ran their paradises for warrior-types, that didn’t leave many afterlife addresses open. Personally, I planned to hang on to life as long as I could. I’d yet to find the faith that would let me near its paradise. Not that I have any complaints with the current management, mind you. I just prefer to leave them be and hope they offer me the same courtesy.

Raph shrugged. “I know. But Speculatorium’s purchasing editor is an actual minor demon, and he’s not the only one.”

I blinked. “You’re telling me Below is infiltrating the publishing industry?” How had I missed that?

“Has infiltrated.” Raph didn’t look happy. “Look, I’m not supposed to be telling anyone any of this but… This qualifies as an emergency.”

That didn’t sound good. Yeah, right. And the Pacific Ocean’s a little damp. “Stop dicking around and tell me what I need to know will you?”

He gave me a startled look and shook his wings out. With a sigh, he flopped back onto the bed and lay staring at the ceiling. I guess it was better than watching me wearing out the carpet. “Fine. Below’s mission is to spread despair and misery and all that, right?”

I nodded and didn’t stop pacing. Spreading misery and despair was definitely part of the tradition.

“Well, how better than by crushing the dreams of everyone who thinks they can write? And publishing grim, dreary, depressing literature?”

I stopped pacing and turned to stare at Raph. He lay without moving, staring at the ceiling. “This scene is hardly big enough for that.”

“I never said they confined themselves to science fiction.” Raph’s lips hardly moved. “They’re all through the entertainment industry. Oh, and Christian television.”

It made a horrible kind of sense. I’d given up on popular entertainment a long time ago, back when opera was political. The advent of late night shopping had lured me to bookstores, and the heady allure of a hopeful future brought me into the science fiction scene. It had been centuries since I needed to sleep through the day, but actually going out in daylight remained problematic so books were an excellent way to pass the time.

That was another enticement of the con scene – entertainment throughout the day, all in climate controlled and sunlight-free surroundings. It didn’t bother me that the con attendees often formed the entertainment. Taking pleasure from watching human absurdities kept me from becoming a bitter killer.

“Christian television. That would have to be the most lucrative avenue for them.”

Raph snorted. “Oh, quite. The Boss is kind of upset about that.”

Kind of upset. That had to be the understatement of the century. Possibly the millennium. “Kind of?”

I got a hint of a smile. “Well, yes.” Raph’s crooked grin could be charming when he wasn’t looking so miserable. Yeah, I kind of like the angel. “Kind of upset, and kind of ready to go Old Testament on the culprits.”

That sounded more like the deity I tried not to piss off. You don’t piss off something that can smite you with thunderbolts for thinking forbidden thoughts. It’s bad for the life expectancy. “So where does that leave us?”

He pushed himself off the bed and actually looked at me. “Screwed, Jim. If you want Vaseline you’d better supply it yourself.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake!” I folded my arms and glared at him. “You’re an angel not a frigging incubus.” Besides, last I’d heard Raph didn’t bend over for anyone. “I want tactical information. Patterns. Names.” I might not be keen to mess with high-powered demons, but I was a whole lot less keen to mess with the Prince of Hell. “I know screw-all about magic, so you’re going to have to tell me what to look for.”

Raph blinked and scooted back a few inches. “It’s not that simple.”

“So make it simple.” My lips pulled back from my teeth in a purely vampiric snarl, the kind that made my teeth ache to meet blood. Angel blood would do.

An angel scootching back on his butt isn’t dignified. That didn’t stop Raph pushing himself away from me until his wings hit the wall. He probably would have gone through the wall if someone hadn’t chosen that moment to knock on the door.

I yanked the door open and didn’t bother to be polite when I saw Sean and Lil on the other side of it. “Get in.”

Sean’s hair slicked down on his head and his wolf-shape hung in a hazy aura around him. If he didn’t change soon it would be a tribute to his willpower. Lil — to her credit — seemed to be trying to rein in the normal succubus lasciviousness. She kept her head down and didn’t smell too much of sex and perfume. Both of them scurried past me with the kind of nervous look that I usually only get when I’m projecting at humans.

I slammed the door and stomped back into the room. “What have you got?”

Lil winced. Her shape twitched and her tail wrapped around Raph’s waist. She wasn’t so much snuggled up to him as glued to him. “I can’t find anything.” Teardrops hung on her eyelashes. “Even the people I know are demons aren’t talking.”

Sean growled.

Lil cringed. Raph wrapped his wings around her in a protective gesture that should have been impossible.

“Leave her alone.” The tension in his voice got me wondering just how much I was projecting. Sure I was angry, but I don’t usually let the whole enchilada show. It scares the crap out of people. And angels and succubi, apparently. Weird. I’m not that powerful. “She’s only a very minor demon. If any of the stronger ones don’t want her to see something, she won’t.”

At least I knew better than to even consider succubus blood. Some things a man just doesn’t want to know. “Sean?”

He’d stripped off already. Fur covered his skin and his back arched, forcing his body into a quadruped pose.

“Get a grip, damn it!” I didn’t need the crack that punctuated my words, and I really didn’t need it to be the mirror on the wall opposite the bed. Damn. I needed to watch myself: if I’m not careful my voice gets extra harmonics that can do… interesting things. Like break mirrors.

I took a long, slow breath. My teeth ached. I’d be feeding tonight, and I’d better go hunting away from the con because it was going to take a kill to settle myself. Finding someone who could be safely removed from all the documentation and monitoring of the modern world was a stone bitch. Killing them and then disposing of the body in a way that didn’t attract headlines was worse. My personal requirement that anyone I killed be someone who’d fry if the authorities knew everything they’d done just added another layer of difficulty.

Not that people like that weren’t around, but there weren’t many who met all three standards. I hoped I could find one before the midnight Eye of Argon reading competition. That and the parties were my best hope of finding the summoner. People — and demons — with their minds relaxed by laughter or alcohol were easier to read. Usually I had to block out the stew of random thought and emotion, but this time I’d be trying to follow them and find the idiot who was trying to open a gateway to Hell.

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ConVent – Snippet Two

Good morning, everyone.  Before we get to the next snippet in Kate Paulk’s irreverent and hysterical take on sf/f cons, a quick word from the management.  If you look at the top of the page, you’ll see a new tab for snippets.  Starting next week, our regular snippets will be announced on the blog and the reader will then be redirected to the snippet page to finish reading.  The reason for this is so all our snippets are easier to find.  Also, we will start a regular snippet process.  Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we’ll have snippets from upcoming novellas and novels.  And now, without further delay, here’s the next snippet from ConVent.  As usual, the standard disclaimer applies:  this is not the final edited product.  This is similar to the ARC of a book.

*     *     *

    By the time the cops and paramedics arrived, Sean and I were in the middle of a crowd of rubbernecking con-goers. The nurse — her name was Gina — and I kept guard over the girl, while Sean helped hotel security keep the door clear.

The presence of uniformed, armed cops did what nothing else could. The onlookers faded off to other things. I doubted any of them had anything to fear, but the whole science fiction scene is kind of weird that way. Paranoia is the norm, not the exception.

At least I could do the vampire mind thing and make sure the cops believed what I told them. Not that it was anything exotic — everything except the reason Sean and I went into the art room was bare truth. If they checked out my credentials, they’d find it all matched up, too. I’ve been careful with that. Always make sure the paper trail matches your cover. Getting locked up on suspicion because your credentials don’t check out can do really bad things to your quality of life. Ending up in a lab as someone’s experiment would be worse.

All told, it was a relief when the cops left. For maybe five seconds.

Raph’s voice behind me put an end to any happy thoughts I might have wanted to harbor. “Lil says you’ll need help with this one.”

I didn’t groan. Yet. Instead, I turned around to face him. He had a succubus with him — the scent of sex mingled with expensive perfume overlying a hint of brimstone is unmistakable — presumably ‘Lil’. She oozed seduction, of course. The Star Trek costume helped: it was from the original series with the tight-tight minidress that showed off her legs and other… assets. This was one Uhura who had probably done the entire crew several times over. Even Scotty would have inspected that engine.

Raph was done up as Spock, complete with pointy ears and strange eyebrows. It would be the only time in history that anything involving Leonard Nimoy actually looked sexy. And no, I don’t swing that way, but I know hot when I see it. Raph sizzled.

It wasn’t because he was an angel, either. Most angels I’ve met aren’t earthy enough to be sexy. They’re more ethereal. Raph… I guess he takes his undercover work seriously enough to project like an incubus, only he doesn’t quite manage it. Typically your incubi and succubi project a kind of illicit sexiness. Raph gets the sex part, but it’s kind of wholesome sexy, if that makes sense.

“Thanks.” I might as well be polite — I’d never figured out precisely where we made immortals fit in with the natural immortals, and it never hurt to be on good terms with representatives of the current management. Besides, Lil was right. I might hate to admit it, but I did need help. Demonic rituals aren’t my line.

I nodded to the succubus. “Pleased to meet you, Lil.”

She smiled, the kind of demure, almost shy smile that would have been ordinary from anyone else. From her, it was practically an invitation. “The pleasure is all mine.”

Yes, she purred. Succubi do. It’s part of what they are.

Raph slipped his right arm around her waist. “You promised you wouldn’t go after the regulars, remember?”

Fat chance. Succubi and incubi are sex on legs. One of them thinking with their brain counted as a miracle in my book. “I’m immune.” I shrugged. “You might want to tone it down around Sean, though. He goes wolf when he’s aroused, and I’m not going to tweak the entire con because he couldn’t control himself.” I had to do that last time, and it takes all the fun out of a convention.

Lil giggled. “I’ll be good.” She turned a sly look on Raph that got the expected reaction. “You’re going to make it up to me, Raphie darlin’, right?”

That tight costume didn’t leave any room for imagination. Raph was trying to make it up to her right then and there. I half expected the spandex to tear.

“Get a room.” Sean’s low growl crawled up my spine. There wasn’t a hint of civilized in it. I hoped he was holding onto his human shape, because I really wasn’t ready to deal with another convention fiasco.

Raph blinked, and his eagerness deflated. Some. “Um.” He actually looked embarrassed. “Sorry.”

Lil tried to simper in Sean’s direction, and froze when he snarled. I got a glimpse of her true shape before she controlled herself: take away the hair and add wings, scales and a tail, and you’ve more or less got it.

Raph ignored her slip. “As far as I know, we’re the only regulars here. I haven’t come across any newcomers, either.” He shrugged. “Nothing to suggest any of the mortals are dabbling with anything they shouldn’t. All the interesting items in the dealer’s room are well warded.”

Pretty thorough, but then, that kind of thing is part of Raph’s job. Neither side is all that keen on a war — not what you’ll hear from those who are supposed to know these things, but most of them are fooling themselves. The world’s been pretty much neutral ground for years. Occasionally Someone will nudge, but for the most part it’s just people doing what people do.

Depressing thought, really.

Something nudged at my memory. Bill… and the Heart’s Blade. “You checked on Bill?”

Raph had the Spock eyebrows down perfectly — they moved the right way when he frowned. “Who?”

“Minor demon lord. I know him from way back.” I wasn’t about to explain when and why. “I saw him wheeling stuff in. Mostly he had books, but there was a Heart’s Blade on the trolley.”

Lil’s sharp gasp hissed just as much as Raph’s.

The angel shook his head. “I didn’t see any demons in there, or… that.”

I couldn’t blame him for not wanting to name a Heart’s Blade. The cursed things are the closest to pure evil you’re ever likely to see. “Crap.” I’d have to check the dealers myself. Not that I don’t trust Raph’s judgment or anything, but… I don’t actually know where he stands in the angelic hierarchy. A demon lord might well be able to trick him. Me being effectively immune to magic — I can feel the discharge when I break a spell, but that’s about it — I can see straight through illusions. It’s got to be a full masking to make me see something that’s not actually there.

I sighed, and turned my attention back to the more pressing issue. “Did either of you pick up anything from the… site?” I really didn’t want to call that setup in the Art Room a sacrificial altar. Old superstition, I guess. If it can hurt you, you don’t name it in case you summon it.

Lil nibbled on her lower lip. “I think it was supposed to be a gateway anchor.” With her eyes downcast while she thought, she looked almost demure.

I’ve seen Raph’s skin in circumstances I don’t want to think about, and I’ve never seen him this pale. “You’re sure about that?”

She nodded. “You big boys don’t need them.”

A few minutes ago I would have sworn a succubus couldn’t say anything like that and not sound flirtatious. You learn something every day.

“Mortals use them, same as we lesser demons, if we want to bring in one of the big players.”

Lovely. Major demons. Just freaking wonderful.

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ConVent – snippet 1

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.


*   *   *


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.

“Hey, Hickey!”

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.

Sean whined.

“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.


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As Promised . . .

If you sent us anything during our January submission period, you should hear from us Monday or Tuesday of next week.  Thanks again to everyone who sent in something.  We received some really great stories/novels and it’s been difficult to choose what to accept.

We also have a schedule adjustment to announce.  Lawyers of Mars, by Pam Uphoff, and Hunter’s Moon, by Ellie Ferguson, have been reslotted to May.

We have also added several more titles to the list of books we’ll be bringing out in both digital and print formats.  Included in this list are Death of a Musketeer (Sarah D’Almeida), Nocturnal Origins (Amanda S. Green), ConVent (Kate Paulk), The Calvanni (Book 1 of Chris McMahon’s Jakirian series), and Without a Trace (Dave Freer).  Two of these are books where the rights have reverted back to the authors and they (D’Almeida and McMahon) have re-edited them, etc.  The others are new works.  NRP is excited to have all of these joining our first print books.

This is an exciting — and busy — time for NRP and we thank each of you for helping make it so.


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