I've decided this year to share about some new authors I've met, authors I'm totally impressed with and keeping an eye on. New authors that you aren't going to want to miss.
Today... Rhianon Etzweiler.
I've talked a little about Rhianon before and her "Meet the Muses" posts she does over on her blog, which I just love, and was able to share Konaton with you. Today, I want to share Black. I've had the privledge of reading some of Black's story, and just loved him. Lucky me, she's given me permission to steal her excerpt. Awesome :)
So, let me introduce you... to Black...
Rhianon Etzweiler: Meet the Muses: Excerpt: Black
Music surges from somewhere down the block, a thrumming background rhythm. The vibrations send a chill up my spine, and I let it roll through me, absorbing the wave of anticipation and adrenaline. Kenna shifts nearby, stepping closer. I feel her proximity, the weight and heat of my fellow Nightwalker, but this time she's the shadow.
I look back over my shoulder at her. The loud pink latex of her right sleeve is hiked up, wrinkles around her biceps. Clothing serving as a tourniquet, Kenna pulls the trigger on the sleek hypno-hitter she scored earlier from a street dealer a block over. The fluid injecting into her vein isn't the vivid blue of the usual hallucinogens the dealers are pushing, though. Instead, it's a pale fuchsia that, disturbingly, matches her outfit.
So that any unintentional overspray doesn't show. She glances up, notices me watching, then slips the small hitter into her back pocket and pulls her sleeve down, intently focused on smoothing the material and smudging any traces of the drug from the edge of her cuff.
I want to tell her she missed a spot, but bite my tongue.
A john won't really care that she's masking her chi, synthetically amping it with a temporary surge. She has a few sales left in her, but at the rate she's going none of them will be worth much. And then she'll be so much offal for the regeneration plants to absorb.
Because when the drug wears off, there won't be anything left in her.
I've seen it happen plenty of times. I used to warn them, wanting to help those that walk the blue-lit boulevard with me. Now, I don't bother. Just turn my gaze back to the endless stretch of concrete and asphalt. Minding my own business, yep.
I tilt my head back and stare up at the night sky, wondering if I'll be able to see a star tonight. I never have, not with the glow from the buildings so close. But I always try.
And that's when I feel it. With my hands crammed in my pockets, head back to stare at the dark gray wash of the sky. Someone's looking. The sharp gaze studying me is razors along my nerve endings, a probe of my aura like the fumbling grope of a homeless drunk.
Maybe tonight will be interesting, after all. I scan the street to the right, in the direction of oncoming traffic. A small vehicle slows as it draws nearer, veering toward my side of the boulevard across empty lanes on a street devoid of life.
Activity, yes. Plenty of that.
It's a lightweight two-seater that crawls along the curb, glowing an alien hue of blue in the illumination from the cramped buildings that line the street.
Even here in the slums, the city's lighting doesn't fail. Block after block down the boulevard, the shabby buildings radiate a steady, azure glow. It reflects off the vehicle's glossy, smooth surfaces, and for a moment, a brief moment, the sight feels ethereal. Magical. I soak up the sensation, willing the stranger not to move, or speak; I want to stay in this moment for a while. To freeze this pristine instant of unrealized potential. Before the vampire flaps his lips and makes an ass out of himself. It happens every time, without fail, and every time I manage to conceal the sigh of disappointment and refrain from putting voice to whatever sarcastic comment pops in my head.
Silence, magical energy. May it last, please, for just a little longer?
No such luck. The potential john, with his unblinking yellow eyes, shatters the spell. I can see him now, sharp gaze above a smile on his dark lips, but the expression isn't warm or friendly. It's not that kind of smile; all the same, it embodies something I understand.
"So strong," he murmurs. His voice is barely audible, the comment clearly not intended for my ears.
"And it will cost you," I purr back. Looks might not matter all that much, but a twist of coy charm never harmed a sale. I twist my lips in a lopsided smile, bending over a fraction so my gaze is almost level with his. And get a better look at him, in the dim interior of his car. Not hard on the eyes, that's for such. Clean-cut and nondescript, he looks like one of those people who could melt into a crowd and become unidentifiable. Only the vivid color of his eyes would set him apart.
He blinks as if surprised, then narrows his eyes. The piercing sensation increases, a wave of pain flooding my body. It triggers a rush of adrenaline; Jhez would just call me a thrill junkie. The thrill of the hunt, as the saying goes. Turning the tables on the predator.
His wide mouth curves, but this time he's definitely leering. His craving is strong. It radiates from him, thrumming along my skin feather-light. I can slake his thirst; it's definitely going to cost him, though. More than he realizes.
"Get in." Pure confidence flavors his tone; this man knows what he wants and intends to acquire it. Giving him a slight nod, I glance over my shoulder at Kenna. She retreated from her spot along the curb; her form is a silhouette against the glow at her back. In the harsh blue lighting, she looks faintly purple.
"See you tomorrow," I call, but Kenna doesn't respond. She rubs at the cuff of her sleeve again, engrossed by some imagined stain.
Walking around the front of the vehicle, I take care not to brush against its glass-bright curves. The door slides back long enough for me to settle into the soft plush interior; then the vehicle moves off down the street with a subtle revving purr.
It smells of incense, the heavy cloying smoke saturating every inch of breathing room in the car. My john lounges in the driver's seat, long legs and broad shoulders on a lean body, dark hair sharply contrasting a pale complexion. He's dressed in a charcoal suit, material that sheens in the boulevard's illumination as if kissed with moondust. He's a better prospect than I've seen trolling for quite some time and this transaction looks to promise a bit of pleasure, even if it's only the eye candy variety.
One thing bothers me about this, though. Yeah, this vamp's the best I've seen in a while. Most of the time, it's the flunkies that troll the streets. The stronger vampires, like the one sitting beside me, guiding his little fiberglass coupe through the sporadic traffic, are rarely seen. They don't need to resort to Nightwalkers to get what they need. Nope. They have little harems of humans stashed away, eagerly waiting to offer their chi free of charge.
Ugh. Just the thought of it makes me gag. It's as bad as having a pimp; your body isn't your own anymore. You trade it in for a bit of comfort and security. I don't blame the ones that do; Jhez and I, though, we just found a different way. It works for us.
Although this particular john is stronger than any I've wrestled with lately. I'm starting to get slightly nervous about whether I'll be able to pull off the same little trick. Usually, it's like taking candy from a baby.
I meet Jhez's dark gaze as we approach her, standing sentry on her stretch of pavement down the block, but my twin's expression isn't what I expect. Brow furrowed, lips twisted into a grimace, she gives her head a curt shake. Her aura stretches out, tendrils of energy drifting along the fringes of mine, fingers trailing over the surface of the water.
The hue of fear radiating from her is nothing short of strange, but it's contagious. I turn away from the window, trying to shake it off. It's not like I haven't done this a thousand times before. I'm determined to not let the creeping misgivings undermine my confidence. I can't afford to show any emotional weakness around the likes of a john. Any john, not just this one, although I can tell I will need to be hyper-vigilant this time. This vamp's a good bit more sensitive, aware, than my usual fare.
Perhaps he had a bad day, and felt like slumming it to make himself feel bigger. Not that it matters. He'll pay. Even if I fluff the price, I doubt he would bother with haggling.
Then I take measure of the man's broad-shouldered body again, the utter lack of flush in his skin. It's possible I've tackled more than I can handle.
I inhale, slow and deep, and finally push the worry away. There's no way I'll know for sure until it's too late to matter. It's the same chance I take any other time. The possibility always exists, that a vampire's craving will be greater than my ability to slake it. Like I have any other choice in the matter; submitting to a pimp's whims is not an option. It's a dead end.
This is their world. People like Kenna, Jhez, and me—we're just offal in society's underbelly. An inexhaustible resource to be tapped. There will always be Nightwalkers milling the edges of my blue-lit boulevard, desperate enough to sell themselves. I've seen more of them come and go in my time than I want to think about.
I need to focus, find my zen. If I don't, it won't matter how strong I am. I won't live to see sunrise.
Hiding behind that beauty beside me is a heartless beast. In my experience, a single-minded, selfish creature whose efforts to ease its appetite know no bounds. I don't pretend to understand vampires, and I don't pretend to like them.
After all, even temporary alliances aren't about friendship, affection, respect, or trust. They're about survival, about mutual consent. About sacrificing something you don't value in exchange for something you do. Or, something you value, in exchange for something you value more. Perhaps that philosophy of temporary alliance is why I've managed to survive so long, to outlive every Nightwalker on the street—with the exception of my twin.
"A rare gem," the man beside me murmurs.
Panic swells at his tone, but I let the reaction wash up through me and dissipate without acknowledging it. Can't afford that sort of emotive response, especially not with a john who seems to be fishing for a weakness. A crack, no matter how small. He doesn't intend it to be a compliment, I'm sure. Did he actually sense something… different?
He falls silent then, and I wonder if my lack of response frustrates him. By the time I surface from my internal meditation, he's climbing out of the vehicle. It's not a matter of trust that permits me the safety of being so oblivious in a stranger's company. Far from it; rather it's a mutual understanding of the vamp knowing what meeting his demands entails. A certain amount of preparation goes into feeding a john and being able to walk away afterwards.
My door is open, waiting for me to climb out. Chill, untainted air steals the warmth from my skin as I follow in his wake. He pauses long enough to glance over his shoulder at me, but his yellow gaze doesn't hold that same piercing edge. He merely observes, eyes drifting up and down my form with appreciation. And then he licks his lips.
Despite his obvious anticipation, he seems content to bide his time. I glance up at the monolith of a building, following its austere lines up into the night sky. Its form is a glittering glass eye glowing in the darkness, the illumination a strange hue that brings to mind oxygen-rich blood. No soothing blue tones for the wealthy and well-to-do. There's no trace of expediency as we pass the security barriers at the entrance and go into the lift.
"Greetings, monsieur." The disembodied voice is flat and metallic. A building more intelligent than any I've frequented thus far. I mean, it's speaking to him? Really? I didn't realize vamps were such "Space Odyssey" fanatics. "You have a visitor this evening?"
"Indeed." Humor laces his voice.
"Very well." The lift moves smoothly. "Enjoy your evening, monsieur."
I wonder who he is, to warrant such lavish opulence. And again, I question why someone with a residence that identifies him and greets him by title, who has resources to burn, would bother trolling the blue district for some easy chi, when he likely has it readily available.
At least this one gig will net me and Jhez enough to pay the rent and utilities for the next month. It means we won't have to work the street again for another few days. A long weekend would be a nice treat. In the very least, it gives us some breathing room, and maybe a little extra to squirrel away for that vacation out to the countryside we want to take.
Upstairs, the hall is immaculate. It radiates the same red glow from the ceiling, floor, and walls. A single doorway mars its seamless lines. The vampire palms his security panel, stepping aside as the door slides open soundlessly. He meets my gaze, and his craving sluices over me again. Like it did back on the boulevard, but stronger this time. The wave of hunger is so immense, so powerful, so endless. No doubt about it, he had it masked when he approached me on the street.
I step through the door, and wonder if I'll ever see Jhez again.
Everything is black. Obsidian, onyx. Unrelieved. My favorite color, and its unexpected presence relaxes me. The absence of all light, the presence of all color; the totally random philosophical insinuations of this vamp's lair soothes my agitation. Lulling me. I close my eyes and take a slow breath. Stirring air, the faint rustle of cloth, lets me track my john as he follows in my wake.
The door closes, the latch engaging with a faint click. Tension ripples up my spine, the clawing adrenaline-driven desire for self-preservation. My eyes slide open. And although my visual senses are negated, other ones—smell, touch—increase to accommodate. There's incense burning somewhere, a blend of herbs reminding me of musk, of earth. The same scent, I realize, that assaulted me in his glossy bubble of a car. The lesser concentration gives my surroundings a light, spacious feel even though I can't see anything.
The vampire steps past, a shadow of greater density and presence than all the others; his touch on my elbow is disembodied. A rush of adrenaline heightens my senses even further. Even my best efforts don't negate all emotion. A residue of "fight or flight" remains, that subconscious self-preservation; not to mention faint traces of confusion, wariness, distrust. There's not a doubt in my mind that he's strong enough to sense it all. Pulsing from me in heady waves, ones that elicit a giddy reaction—like getting a whiff of gourmet coffee before taking a sip.
His hunger slams against my aura, all finesse gone, and the force of it knocks the air from my body. So powerful my knees give out, but I manage to turn the sudden collapse into sitting down on his couch. My skin crawls beneath the caress of his gaze. I catch a faint glint of his yellow eyes, refracting what little illumination there is, as he sits just out of arm's reach.
My resistance is short-lived and feeble. He pierces through it with ease, penetrating my residual defenses, dominating my will. Pleasure swells and I ride the waves, desperately retaining that sliver of awareness, of coherent thought, as he scours me, strips me of every shred of energy, sanity, and dignity.
He thought I was strong. Beneath the onslaught of his hunger, I'm not. I underestimated him. It's a mistake that could cost me everything. His breath is moist against my neck, and I exhale raggedly as the sensation gives me somewhere to anchor myself.
"Don't worry." His voice is rough, hoarse, keyed low. A thread of tension in his tone. "I won't take it all."
My mind spins, startled, as his lips drift down over my collarbone. The sensation solidifies my shred of sanity.
He didn't have to do that—but he did.
I feel his lips curve into a smile against my shoulder before his teeth clamp onto me. His breath and tongue sear along my flesh like fire. My body is limp with exhaustion, uncooperative. I fight oblivion for just a moment longer; it's all I need to take my price. My hands frame his face, dark wavy hair like silk against my skin. His eyes are glazed, unfocused, and he doesn't lift his gaze to look at me, doesn't notice my fingers tightening in his hair. Or if he does, the lethargy of energy thrall makes him unable to care.