*You guys know we talked about doing a shared world. We went with a whole continent so that Dave can have his jungle and I can have my big city with diners. We’re working on a contract which we should have in a week or two (and yes, we’ll post it for your enlightenment although we haven’t decided yet if anyone not in the group can play. OTOH if it’s very successful, we’ll inevitably enlarge it. For now, here’s the first chapter of Elf Blood, book one of Risen Atlantis. And for now it is ©Sarah A. Hoyt 2013. All rights reserved. Do not copy, distribute or otherwise disseminate without the author’s name, and a link to this page. You do not have the right to alter it. You do not have the right to claim it as yours. For permission to do anything other than quote it for review or recommendation purposes, email Goldportpress@gmail.com. This is a work of fiction, all coincidence between it and real people place or events is assuredly imaginary.*
Sarah A. Hoyt
Most people get lost when first arriving in Pomae. They look at the square mile after square mile of buildings, the trains coming in, the cars cramming the streets and only moving when another car moves, the haze of smog in the air, and they go back where they came from, whether it be their little village in the middle of nowhere, or New York City in the US.
I’ve never been to New York city, mind you, but I’m reliably informed that it would fit three times over in Pomae. And in New York City you rarely get eaten by a dragon if you wander into the wrong neighborhood in a dark night. You might have the mob and worse on your trail there, but none of the gangs casts magical spells.
Those who stay in Pomae are used to being lost. Most of them have been lost for years and years.
I’d been lost my whole life. A small village on the outskirts of Bayou country in Atlantis is no proof against mistrust and hate of the stranger — particularly if the stranger had lived there her whole life.
My name is Kassia Smith – at least it is now – and I’m a private detective. That’s not why I came to Pomae. If I came to Pomae for any reason it was to get away from Mudhole. And to begin with I’d put my highschool education to good use and become a stenographer in a faceless company in one of the stone buildings down by the river.
It was a futile endeavor. By the second day, the supervisor of the secretarial pool called me in and asked why someone with my magic profile hadn’t gone to college. When I asked how she knew my magic profile, I found all large companies hired seers to screen the new applicants. My profile had been delayed because the seer had a cold. Otherwise, I’d never have been hired.
There was a strong implication that I must be a government agent, as none of the firm rivals would be stupid enough not to know the company profiled.
And out I’d gone, and into a typing pool down the street, in a firm too small to profile. I’d lasted a month before I’d been caught fixing a typed letter by means of magic, and after that no one trusted me, and one of the bosses had developed the unpleasant notion I’d been sent to keep magical track of him for his wife who wanted proof for an action of divorce. Because the only person with that much magic working the typing pool would be an undercover dick.
So I’d taken what mom had left me and rented an office, down there, by the river bank, in the cheaper area, and bought a third hand desk and a second hand typewriter, and hung a shingle on the door that said Kassia Smith, Enquiries. And waited for business.
A month later, I was considering how to survive in the business, and coming to the conclusion I’d do well enough if I learned to eat only once a week on alternate weeks. The money mom had left me with the idea I’d furnish my first house when I got married – like that had ever been an option – was nearly gone.
Oh, I’d had business. Or at least I’d had potential clients walk in. But it rarely resulted in a case. Two of the women who wanted me to follow their husbands walked back out again because they said their husbands were more likely to turn around and follow me. To men who wanted me to look into their office and find who was pilfering their paperclips, apologized and said I was too conspicuous to mix in the business. Then there was the man who wanted me to track the dragon who was eating his socks, and wouldn’t be dissuaded even on the face of evidence that dragons had never been known to feed on footwear, leather or cotton. They were more likely to feed on the feet.
What two of the gentlemen had tried to hire me to do was best left unsaid.
In a month I had found two lost dogs and someone’s mom who had wandered off in the throes of dementia. I’d also helped bring a kitten down from a tree, I guess because someone confused me with a fireman.
All told it had paid enough for a dozen sandwiches and a gallon of milk. I still had money for the rent on the office and on my closet-sized apartment this month, but after that—
I couldn’t go back to Mudhole. That went without saying. And any other small place I went to, I’d stick out like a sore thumb. It was clear I wouldn’t be able to get a job in this town. Maybe I should just go back to my father’s people and let them put me out of my misery. But no. They were known for prolonging the misery in rather inventive ways before they put an end to it. Maybe I should just go some place that was small and bucolic and innocent about magic. Like New York City or London.
The sun was setting and the red light coming through the rather grimy windows put a patina of gold on my battered mahogany desk, the red leather armchair which I’d imagined would fill the customers with confidence in my abilities and which had cost as much as all the rest of the furniture. The desk lamp was on, and my typewriter set discreetly to the side. In front of me was my notepad and I was holding the good fountain pen, the one mom had given me at graduation.
I was wearing my best grey flannel skirt suit with the hat with the little veil, and I flattered myself I looked the part. But it wasn’t going to feed me.
I’d just got up and opened my desk drawer for my purse, when he walked in.
He was a young man. I knew that before I even saw his face. And he was tall and lean, with broad shoulders, and wore a tailored suit that would cost about a month’s salary for the normal man. And about ten year’s income for me, at the rate I’d been going.
I didn’t sit down. Man dressed like that, coming into a dive like this, could only do it for a reason. Someone had told him that Kassia Smith was a looker.
“May I help you?” I asked, in my frostiest accents.
He lifted his head and looked at me. And I took a step back. I’d seen very few men that handsome outside the stage or the lookies. And lately I hadn’t had enough money for the lookies, not even at matine rates.
Look, you see a hundred faces on the street on your way to work every morning – a thousand if you live in Pomae and you don’t work next door to your apartment – and most of them are neither beautiful nor ugly, just utterly unremarkable unless you have a reason to look at them more closely. Then there are a few so ugly they make you avert your eyes. And there are some so beautiful you can’t help looking.
His was the other kind. A face so beautiful it made you want to look away. There was nothing special about it, not once you tried to analyze the parts. Square chin, straight nose, large eyes, high cheekbones that spoke of some exotic measure. Medium tan.
The eyes were perhaps out of the ordinary, looking like they were not so much grey but silver.
But put the whole together and it took your breath away, at least for a moment. And when the moment passed, you realized this customer was nervous. Really nervous. Which was weird for a man who looked like him, dressed the way he was.
“I—” he said and paused and swallowed, and started again. “I want you to investigate a crime.”
Like what? Someone had breathed wrong on his impeccable coat? Forgot to polish his shoes in the morning? I didn’t say anything.
He swallowed again and seemed not to know what to do with his hands. “I need a private investigator to look into it,” he said. “The police won’t trust people like us.”
People like us. In Pomae that could mean anything from I just arrived yesterday from Flaming Hellohole, Europe and live in an ethnic neighborhood, to My family kills people for a living and the police take a dim view of that.
He looked up hopefully at me, and settled for sticking his hands in his pants pockets, totally ruining the line of the pants and bunching up the coat in a way that would give his valet fits when he saw the wrinkles. And of course man like this had a valet.
It was clear he wasn’t going to say anything else, so I helped him along. “I don’t blame them. People whose men don’t take off their hats in people’s offices shouldn’t be trusted.”
He sighed and swallowed and looked upset, which was an odd reaction to being asked to exert common courtesy. I wondered if he hid horns under that hat. One kept hearing there were devils around in Pomae, but most of them I’d met seemed to be metaphorical.
But when he lifted his hand, and pulled his grey fedora off his head, he revealed only impeccably cut, very straight blond hair. And a pair of elf ears.
“Oh,” I said. And sat down more out of the need to have something support me. “Oh.” My first thought was that they tracked me down, but my second thought was that this family must have been in Pomae for generations and that Father’s people would rather die than cut their hair, even in as fashionable a cut as this. Which mattered nothing. I still didn’t want to get involved. Not with this customer, not with this case. Not with elves. I’d come a long way to distance myself from all that. “I’m sorry. I also can’t take the case.”
He turned pale. He opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again. He took a deep breath. I wondered if he was about to cast one of those hideous spells on me that people said elves cast. But surely it wouldn’t take in the middle of Pomae? Not with all the cold iron.
“Oh, please,” he said. “You have to help me. I’m going to be murdered.”