I’m working away on the next book in the con vampire series, and Amanda suggested folks might like a sneak peek snippet of it. So here it is: a chunk of mostly unedited raw first draft ConFeyction. Now with added elves.
Chapter 1: Too Many Elves
I knew something was wrong within moments of entering the hotel. It wasn’t the crowd: they were normal for the first day of a convention. The usual mix of human oddlings milled about the lobby, most of them in jeans and t-shirts, waiting for registration to open.
Since this hotel was one of the ones that had added convention facilities as a kind of afterthought, there weren’t many places where people could gather, and the lobby was the main one.
The wrong wasn’t even from the demons whose true forms I could see as a kind of retina-burning after-image – a gift from draining a demon dry. I wasn’t about to do that again. Demon blood is horrible. In any case, for science fiction conventions, demons are normal. Most of them are editors, since the job fits so nicely into the whole mandate for spreading misery and despair.
No, what had my stomach clenching and my fangs starting to ache was the realization that at least a quarter of the crowd were elves, and more than half of them Dark Court.
Yes, I’m a vampire. I drink blood. Most of the rest is myth.
Elves are not myth, no matter what humans like to believe. They’re as real as I am, and as… let’s say misrepresented. Of all the authors I’ve read, Correia got closest – they’re parasites who have about the same level of good taste as your average demon. Not trailer trash though. Think of the Light and Dark Courts as being a bit like the Hatfields and McCoys – it doesn’t matter which one is which – and you’re close.
ConFeyction always draws a lot of elves, it being held in one of those mid-sized cities that’s a bit of a hub and has a large national park nearby. In this case the national park includes a whole lot of mostly inaccessible forested mountains, so it’s ideal elf territory. Usually ‘a lot’ amounts to ‘half the local Light Court plus a few visitors’. It looked as though all the warriors were here, along with at least two elves I knew were healers.
After the fiasco at ConSensual, I’d had four blissfully uneventful cons. I wanted that to continue, and a war between elf factions didn’t fit my desires in the least.
It didn’t look like war was going to break out right now, although I could taste the tension under the nicey-nice talk, so I took myself over to the hotel registration desk and gave the frayed-looking middle-aged woman a friendly smile – without showing my fangs, of course. “Checking in, room for Hickson.” I handed her a credit card in that name.
It wasn’t my real name, of course, but it was one of the legitimate identities I maintained. James Hickson, Jim to his friends, and Hickey to a certain smart-ass werewolf. That identity was getting towards the end of its useful life, especially with the world apparently going crazy and infesting conventions with demons and murderous elder vampires. I really didn’t need someone figuring out that every time a convention went to hell – damn near literally in ConVent’s case – Jim Hickey had been a member. And in the thick of the chaos.
The woman pulled a key card from a pile and ran it through the writer, then slipped it into a folded card. “Thank you, Mr Hickson.” She gave me my room number and directions to the elevators. “Enjoy your stay, sir.”
I smiled and blurred her memory of me. Not much, just enough that she wouldn’t remember my face. Maybe I’m getting paranoid in my old age, but I really don’t like to leave much trace. It’s too easy for a hostile vampire to read human minds – and if ConSensual had taught me anything it was that I have enemies who don’t care how much damage they do.
Vampires get stronger as we age. I’m technically an elder, being somewhere over two thousand years old, but I prefer to mask my ability and stay as close to human as something that sees humans as dinner can get. Besides, losing that last bit of humanity would also destroy what passes for my sanity, and I’m not ready to do that.
I travel light: a duffel bag with clothes – and a sheathed sword buried deep inside. This con was close enough for me to drive, so I didn’t need to worry about dealing with over-officious “security” officers at airports. Still, hauling swords around in plain sight is one of those things that people regard as antisocial. It gets you noticed and not in a good way.
I picked up my duffel and eased through the crowds to the bank of elevators at the back of the lobby. Those were getting a lot of use: after a moment I shrugged and opened the fire escape door. The stairs would be faster.
They usually are. Also the stairs tend not to be used by the more outlandish con-goers, which helps avoid moments where you want to carve out your own eyes with a spoon.
Not that I mind the… interesting choices of costume. It’s just that I have to mentally prepare myself for them. Fen tend to be disproportionately outcasts, so their social abilities are often less than ideal, and the same can be said for their notions of what should – or should never – be worn. The effect is kind of like the things you see in a Wal-mart in a low income suburb of certain cities, only science-fiction or fantasy themed, and the hygiene is often better. And that’s knowing that they can get a bit carried away by the freedom of being with their own kind for once, and forget things like eating and bathing.
Well, that and the – thankfully dwindling – adherents of ‘period bathing’. The adherents of assorted illicit substances is its own issue. Most of them are trying to medicate something that they can’t get treated in the normal human fashion. I help those where I can and try not to breathe too deep.
My room was not on one of the party floors, and faced west. I didn’t have a choice of north-south aspect this time, so west was a decent compromise. I could guarantee I’d be awake and about before sun started hitting the windows in the afternoon, and once I left the room I likely wouldn’t need to return before dark.
It was typical Hotel Awful, this one with a bilious green and tarnished gold color scheme, along with faux-Roman décor. The combination wasn’t the most tasteful I’d seen.
The usual particle-board dresser had a rather incongruous marble veneer, a flat-panel TV mounted to the wall above it, and the usual amenities. It looked like the hotel had got itself into a contract with one of the gourmet coffee groups, because the coffee maker was the fancy style where you don’t get to adjust the strength yourself. You just put the prepacked container in the holder, your mug – or waxed cardboard cup in this case – under it, filled the back with water and pressed the button. If it worked, you got someone’s idea of gourmet coffee. If it didn’t you might get a half-inch of lukewarm black sludge.
My experience with the things was that they worked a lot less often than they failed. I’d be patronizing the hotel’s House of Bad Coffee.
Unpacking was a matter of opening the duffel and pulling out the sheathed sword, complete with its fake peace-binding, then picking a clean t-shirt to wear. I went for one of my favorites, the black one with “And Buffy Staked Edward. The End” in a spiky gothic font.
I don’t think sparkly and vampire go together unless the vampire in question has been set on fire. So sue me.
With the tee, the sword, and my John Lennon sunglasses – more to protect my eyes than for any other reason – I had the ‘skinny male fan’ look down pat. A little vampiric fascination and no-one would notice the sword.
Con registration had opened by the time I got back to the lobby. Rather than wait in the middle of the horde surging towards the tables – I try not to get trapped in crowds even when I’ve fed recently, in case the scent of prey overwhelms me – I leaned against the wall and watched, scanning the crowd for familiar faces.
I recognized several of the editorial demons, all of them with the kind of browbeaten posture that just looks wrong when you see it in their demonic forms. Spiky wings and improbable appendages aren’t really suited to hunched half-cowering.
Perhaps half the humans looked vaguely familiar: fellow con-goers who’d been at enough conventions that I recognized them without really knowing them. Half of the recognition was body-shape. While fen tend to fall into ‘large’ and ‘skinny’ without too much between, they also tend to some very… unusual anatomy. The pair holding hands were so close to spherical I half wondered if their relationship was entirely platonic because of the difficulty they’d have getting appendages into the appropriate orifices. Not that I wanted to know how they did it, if they did. Another familiar face looked more like the horses he loved than a human should – but he was all human. I guess that’s what happens when you gather a collection of outliers together. They tend to be outliers in everything, not just their choice of entertainment.
A whiff of brimstone caught my attention, more because it came from an unfamiliar demon than because it was brimstone. I thought I knew all of the industry demons.
This one’s human form was male, a short fellow with the kind of whipcord build that’s all muscle. He walked like he knew how to use it, too, where most demons endow their human forms for showing off rather than function. He gave off the kind of centered confidence that scared the crap out of the less secure – which meant he had ample elbow room as people sidled away from him. Other demons, too.
His demon form was more traditional, with the leathery wings and spiky protrusions and such.
Then I realized he either knew someone with taste or actually had some himself. He wore a plain black tee and black jeans. Nothing shiny or sparkly, and nothing that made me want to claw my eyes out. I was impressed – and that was before he turned to look at me.
He studied for a moment with his eyes narrowed, then shrugged and moved on.
I’d have to find out more about him. Good taste and discretion? This was one dangerous demon.
I didn’t get a chance to wonder about the unfamiliar demon: an elf approached me. Or rather, the King of the Realm of something unpronounceable approached me. Like all the elves, he was glamored to look human, which I couldn’t really see except as a kind of blur. I’d have recognized him without being able to see through the glamor: the scent doesn’t change.
Elves always smell like… well… not precisely ‘dessert’, but close. Something that could be tasty but gives no real satisfaction. I could probably survive on elf blood if I had to but I suspected I wouldn’t enjoy it. There’s no there there.
I glanced at his name tag, and gave him a nod and a smile that didn’t show my fangs. Convention etiquette – even if you know someone by another name, always use the name on the tag. “Al.”
He offered something between a bow and a nod. “Jim.” The slightly uncertain posture was something I ignored. Like all elf kings, ‘Al’ reigned supreme in his realm, and acknowledged the supremacy of the High King and Queen. And had no idea how to deal with someone who stood completely outside their hierarchy. Like, for instance, me.
“I gather you have a problem.” I wasn’t about to waste time dancing around the subject. If I could, I wanted to head off whatever had the Dark and Light courts here, so I could enjoy the con. If not, well… my own cursed stupid sense of responsibility wasn’t going to let me ignore whatever happened.
Al straightened a little. Whatever his glamor was couldn’t be too far from his actual appearance: most likely he’d dulled down the golden-hair, shortened it some, and made his eyes less green. Human green: eyes the color of new leaves aren’t exactly common among humans. Around here, he wouldn’t even need to change the pointy ears. Everyone would assume it was a costume.
Hell, by tomorrow night, he’d be able to walk around without glamor and get nothing more than “Nice costume.” and invitations from the braver souls.
More than a few elves had accepted those invitations in the past. I’m not going to guess how many of the second-generation con-goers are half elf, but it’s not ‘none’.
“Yes.” There wasn’t any change in his expression. Elves practiced keeping their emotions locked down – a necessity if you’re going to live with a relatively small group of people for eternity or as good as.
I could taste the worry – and fear – beneath the calm non-expression.
“You remember the agreement you brokered eighteen summers past, I trust.”
Oh, crap. “I remember.” I’d been here for a con, and Al had approached me with the Queen of the Dark Court and a proposal I doubt had been considered in any other elf realm before or since. They had both realized that their realms were doomed unless they found a way to increase their numbers: elves don’t have children often, and accidents – and of course the usual feuding – had been killing the adults at a rate that would drive both realms extinct in a few hundred years.
Other elf realms in those straits had returned to their parent realm, or called for misfits in other realms to join them. Al and the Queen had chosen instead to merge the two realms, and wanted me to write the treaty and merger conditions – I presume because a vampire older than either realm counted as neutral. Their child would inherit both when the parents abdicated, bringing the two realms together. In theory, at least.
Now Al showed emotion: anguish. “Our son was traveling to his lady mother. He did not arrive. We found his guardians dead. Murdered. Of him, there was no sign, but he lives.”
That was part of the arrangement, too – not the death, but the travel from realm to realm. The boy was being raised a year in each court, and at the start of the year as elves count – the spring equinox – he and his guardians moved to the other court. There were four guardians, two from each court, and all of them warriors.
That meant someone wanted war between the realms.