Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Who Is #TheStitchFacedMan?

*The following is a teaser for The Void, Book 2 of The Weaver Saga 

Weaver (Book 1) - Now FREE for the Nook & iPad!
The Void (Book 2) - AVAILABLE NOW! - $2.99

10:03 a.m.

            Moira parked right in front of the Cronlords' house -- there was no time for subtlety or stealth. Even as she pulled the keys from the ignition, she was already opening the door. She hopped out of the car in a smooth motion, closing the door behind her. Drawing her gun, she pointed it ahead of her and slinked toward the house, paying scant attention to James.
            The thrill of the hunt invigorated Moira, as did a sudden feeling of rightness that flooded through her. This was what she was supposed to be doing.
            "All right," she said, keeping her voice soft. It was one thing to put speed ahead of stealth, it was quite another to completely give away the battle. She let calmness wash over her mind, pushing aside her thoughts and letting her instincts and training take over. "You know how this goes, we've done it a million times before. Steady and room by room. Fan out, but we stay within one room of each other at all times. We sweep each room, confirm Ainsling's not in it, and move on to the next. Ready to go, Andy?"
            She waited for an answer, but got several seconds of silence instead. It was only when she heard James' voice that she realized her mistake.
            She turned to him, trying mightily to keep embarrassment out of her face. "Sorry, what I meant to say was -- I mean, you did counterinsurgency operations in the military, didn't you?"
            "Yes, but --"
            "It's basically the same thing."
            "I can handle myself, Moira. That's not what I'm worried about." He frowned.
            "Not now," she said, desperate to forestall what she knew he was about to say. "Unless you want your wife to die.
            James opened his mouth, but for a moment he did not speak. Conflicting emotions warred across his face. Finally, he nodded, and she turned back toward the house.
            Don't think about it. Don't think about it.
            She reached the door and put her ear to it. "I don't hear anything."
            James crept over to the window and snuck a glance through a crack in the curtains. "I don't see anything, either."
            "Well, Alex told you it would happen at ten o'clock, right?"
            James nodded.
            "Then the Xorda's here somewhere," said Moira, and then paused. "Without a warrant, I have to knock."
            James shot her a sardonic glance. "Because you've never broken an FBI rule before?"
            "Not on company time, with Graves as my boss, I haven't. As a law enforcement officer, I have to knock."
            James kicked the door hard and it flew open, slamming against the wall with a THUD. "Good thing I don't."
            That got a brief smile out of Moira before she turned and entered the house. She made her way into the living room, gun out and in front of her. The room looked exactly as it had when Moira had last been here -- a couch, a chair, and a coffee table with a picture of the Cronlord family on it.
            James murmured something, and it took Moira a moment to comprehend the words. "She hasn't changed anything."
            Moira was glad in that moment that James could not see her face, in case the pang of sympathy she felt appeared in her features. She pointed, signaling for him to take the next room over. He nodded and crept off in the direction she indicated.
            Once he'd gone, Moira examined the floor, the couch, the chair, the coffee table, the bookshelves, and even the ceiling. She searched for hairs, blood stains, or anything that might indicate a struggle.
            This room's clear.
            Moira turned to head for the next room, and found James standing in the  doorway, beckoning to her. She crept silently towards him, and he led her to the kitchen. He pointed downward -- and Moira saw splotches of red liquid forming a path across the floor. She followed the trail with her eyes, then looked up at James.
            "Let's go," she whispered.
            He nodded, and they followed the trail, moving side-by-side. She caught herself remembering the countless times she and Andy had done similar searches. Looking over at James, she saw clear evidence of his military background. His movements were graceful, and he had a cat-like agility. If she didn't look at his face, Moira could easily imagine that he was Andy, that the last month of her life had never happened, and that this was simply yet another assignment the two of them were on together.
            She shoved those thoughts from her mind, forcibly clearing it once more. The blood droplets led to a closed, windowless door in the middle of a large room. The den, judging by the big-screen TV and shelves of DVDs. Moira pointed to the door. "Where does it lead?"
            "Basement. Brace yourself."
            Moira moved to one side, making sure to stand clear of the doorway. She opened her mouth to tell James to follow suit, but he didn't need telling. He moved behind her, drawing a small sidearm that she'd found for him. She opened the door, and found herself staring at a rickety wooden staircase leading downward. The angle was such that Moira couldn't get a clear view of the room below. This situation was not helped by the fact that the only light source in sight, a bare bulb, was off.
            But Moira didn't need the light to know Ainsling had been here -- she saw the largest bloodstain yet at the top of the stairs. She pointed at it, and James nodded, his face impassive.
            Is he really that calm about it? Moira shivered. This wasn't the time to think about it. Without further hesitation, she started down the stairs.
            She winced inwardly as the wood beneath her creaked with every step she took. Her eyes instinctively shot back and forth, up and down, even though the staircase was narrow enough to make an ambush near-impossible. Finally, she reached the bottom -- and let out a quiet curse.
            The room was a maze of boxes. They were piled high all around her, in no particular order that she could discern, forming makeshift corridors in the otherwise-cavernous spaces. That meant plenty of hiding places for the Xorda, a situation which was made worse by the fact that the only thing keeping the basement from total darkness was the shaft of soft light created by the door they'd opened.
            Less than optimal. Way, way less than optimal.
            She pointed her gun left, then right, scanning the room for signs of their unseen enemy. Nothing. Then she glanced downward. No more blood drops, either.
            Even worse.
            She signaled for James to take one side of the room, and she started toward the other. Moira felt her muscles clench as she stepped out of the light shaft and into the darkness. She kept her gun out in front of her, trying to calm her nerves.
            To her right, nothing. To her left, nothing. She crept up to a wall of boxes and stood on tiptoe to peer over and behind it --
            And that was when she heard the scuffling noise.
            She whirled, pressing her back to the boxes, pointing her gun in the direction the noise had come from. James was pointing his own weapon in the same direction -- he'd obviously heard it too. The two exchanged a nervous glance.
            Moira crept toward the source of the sound, but she'd barely taken a step when there was another rustling sound -- this time from a different direction. She and James exchanged another glance, and she could see her own frustration reflected in his eyes.
            All right. Time to go on offense.
            Bending at the knees, Moira charged a stack of boxes near where she'd heard the latest noise. She put her shoulder into the box on top of the stack, bringing all of her strength to bear. She pushed the box off of the stack, and it fell out of sight. There was a loud THUD as it hit the ground. Moira looked through the new hole she'd just created in the makeshift wall, hoping to catch sight of her prey.
            The low growling noise was Moira's only warning before a black-and-grey blur flew through her peripheral vision.
            The growl turned to a roar as Moira whirled, trying to bring her gun to bear. She saw James' eyes widen as he did the same thing, but the blur was faster. It tackled him to the ground, and Moira heard a sickening crunch as it leapt off of him and toward the door. It took Moira a moment to realize that it had slammed his head against the ground.
            "James!" She rushed toward his prone body, kneeling at his side. He lay prone, his eyes closed. His glasses had fallen off of his face and lay next to him. She lifted his head in one hand. "Come on, come on, wake up --"
            Moira looked up as she was plunged into utter darkness. Letting out a vicious curse, she reached for her flashlight, pointing it at the door. The beam illuminated a pair of long, black-clad legs stalking down the stairs. She raised the flashlight, and it travelled up a broad torso. The light revealed a pale neck, and then, finally, she saw his face.
            Moira turned her head away, almost dropping the flashlight as she struggled not to gag. The Xorda's face was a patchwork quilt, hunks of flesh sewn together by stitches that crisscrossed his face in all directions. They ran across his cheeks, into his lower and upper lip, and even into his eyelids. Slowly, she forced herself to look at him.
            "W -- who are you?" she asked.
            "We don't have to fight," said the Xorda, as he continued his slow walk towards her. His voice was soft, and Moira heard no threat in his tone. "It doesn't have to come to that."
            Good God, is it trying to be soothing?
            "The drops of blood on the floor outside say otherwise," said Moira, steeling herself.
            "My quarrel is with the one who lives here, not with you."
            Moira raised the gun, pointing it at him. "Stop where you are! Don't take another step."
            "You can't hurt me," he said, never deviating from the gentle tone. "And I don't want to hurt you. As I said, my quarrel is with someone else. There's no need for you get involved." He never stopped the stroll toward Moira.
            "I'm an officer of the law. It's my job to get involved." She brandished the gun at him again. "I can't let you hurt innocent people."
            Now he stopped. "Innocent?" He actually threw his head back as he guffawed. "Ainsling Cronlord is anything but innocent."
            Moira's eyes widened. "You know her? How?"
            The Xorda laughed again. "You could say that." He started towards her again. When he was only inches away, he stopped, actually extending a hand to her. "Come," he said. "Let's be friends."
            Oh right, the pheromones.
            Moira smiled up at him. "All right." She reached out and took the offered hand. "But if I'm going to be friends with someone, I like to know their name."
            He lifted her to her feet. "You'll know everything soon enough. All I need is a moment of your trust. May I have it?" His lips turned upward in what Moira assumed he meant to be a comforting smile. She might have found it more so if it weren't for the stitches.
            Hope this works.
            She smiled up at him, looking into his bloodshot eyes as they searched her face. "Of course."
            He leaned in, bringing their faces closer together. She knew what was coming. The Change. He meant to suck her soul out and make her a Xorda, as well. Andy had tried it, too. If that experience was any indication, as soon as the Xorda's lips met hers, she'd be paralyzed. She stood still for just another moment, to be sure he wouldn't see it coming --
            And then she kicked him in the head.
            The toe of her boot connected perfectly with his temple, and the Xorda went flying backward, slamming into a stack of boxes with a loud THUD. The force of the impact sent the boxes tumbling to the ground, and he landed on top of them with a CRASH
            "That trick doesn't work on me."
            Moira knew she had only a moment. Xorda weren't exactly immune to pain, but they recovered much more quickly than humans. Raising her gun, she fired off three shots at it in quick succession.
            The Xorda rolled from side to side. The shots still struck him, but that wasn't good enough. With a Xorda, only a direct hit to the heart would induce paralysis. With a bestial roar, it launched itself at her, leaping forward and grabbing for her. Instinctively, Moira ducked, rolling under him so that he landed with his back to her.
            His legs were just centimeters from her feet....
            Stretching ever-so-slightly, she knocked him on his face with a leg sweep, then got to her feet before he could recover himself. He was up a moment later, throwing a punch that Moira caught in mid-air, followed by an unexpected second blow to the kidneys.
            Moira grunted, resisting the urge to double over. She tried to bring her gun to bear, but he grabbed her arm at the wrist, aiming it away from himself. His preternatural strength was more than a match for her own, and Moira knew she'd have to get her hand free if she wanted another shot. Thinking quickly, she kneed him in the groin.
            Feeling his grip on her arm lessen as he staggered backward, she brought the gun upward and fired. The bullet hit him in the chest, and the Xorda wobbled on his feet. His eyes closed.
            Got him. She felt a satisfied grin break out on her face.
            Which was wiped clean away as he snarled and leapt for her once more.
            This time she wasn't quite fast enough, and his body collided painfully with hers. She felt the gun drop from her hand as he propelled her backward. Pain exploded across her back as it struck a wall. She shook her head to clear it, but before she could strike again, he wrapped his hands  around her throat and squeezed.
            Moira tried to trash, but she quickly found herself spending most of her energy in the simple attempt to breathe. She heard his rasping voice in her ear as spots of red appeared before her eyes. "We will be friends. One way or the other."
            Moira knew what was coming. In seconds, he would begin to Change her. There was no preventing it. James was unconscious, and she was dangerously close to joining him. Her lungs burned from lack of air.
            No way I can fight. This is it.
            She braced herself -- but just before their lips met, Moira heard a deafening howl of pain. The pressure was gone from her throat. She coughed and gasped, desperate to return air to her lungs. The spots cleared from her vision -- and when they did, she saw that the Xorda now stood with his back to her.
            And protruding from his back was the hilt of a knife.
            "Ja -- James?" She looked past her attacker to see who had saved her -- and her mouth dropped open.
            A few feet away stood Ainsling Cronlord, her posture imperious, her piercing green eyes locked on the Xorda's face. Even when it was directed at someone else, the woman's glare sent a chill through Moira.
            "Playtime's over."

Book 2 of The Weaver Saga
May 12, 2012

Learn the identity of #TheStitchFacedMan

No comments:

Post a Comment