Monday, March 25, 2013

Poison Ivy - Chapter One

     My first novel in my Victorian Vampire-Huntress series is called "Broken Ivy", and is available here as an e-book (

This is the second book in the series, set in London, about a year after the first one ended.

 Chapter One 

          The November rain found a way under her collar, slithered down her back, and her skin broke out in gooseflesh with its touch. Her concentration was devoted to the white sandstone that stood before her. She did not have to read the words that were carved into the stone; they were forever etched in her memory, and on her heart. “Joshua Richard Frost. 1820-1837. Beloved son and brother.” She suspected she would have convinced them to write something more if she had been coherent enough at the time. But the sudden death of her twin brother had devastated the family and changed all their lives.
            A sound in the trees that surrounded the cemetery broke her concentration and she remembered that she held a rose in her gloved hand. Sighing, she lowered herself to one knee, unaware of the moisture that soaked her pants. She placed the rose on the ground before her brother’s marker and told him how she missed him and had thought of him everyday for the past six years. And of how she would continue her mission to rid the world of murderous fiends that no one else was able to control. Or acknowledge.
            It was because of that mission that she stood to her full height, which was a little below average for a woman, and brushed the tears from her eyes. The night was early and the streets of London called to her. Monsters stalked the black fog that was London after sunset. The thick air left her longing for the clear northern nights of Warton. Almost a year had passed since her return to London; almost a year she had lived with her former maid but now close friend, Tess, in the house that her former lover had bought for them.
            Ivy exhaled slowly. Along with the thoughts of Josh that still plagued her mind, Vincent Sheldrake was always simmering on the edge, and her efforts at trying to mute the memories of him only inflamed them.
            She had been unable to control her footsteps this evening. The notes of Mozart’s Requiem still sounded in her ear from hours before when she had attended the symphony with her parents. The melancholy notes captured her feelings for her brother’s death in a way words never could. 
            Her feet trod over the cobblestones on their own accord; she was too lost in her thoughts to be devoting much attention to anything but her own misery. When she stumbled on an overturned stone, she braced herself against a wall and lowered her head. Perhaps it had not been a good idea to venture out tonight like she did almost every other night. Perhaps she should have taken Tess up on her offer of late night theatre instead of hunting vampires when she was too distraught to walk in a straight line. As they had a way of doing, the ghosts of her past were pressing down too hard tonight; stealing the present.
            She pulled her hands from the soot covered brick wall and wrapped her arms around herself. The sounds that surrounded her indicated she was close to the Thames, near Whitechapel from the smell of it, but all she could hear was a chorus of loss. Realising she would be of no use tonight, she shook her head for clarity, took in her surroundings, and began to return to her home.
            She walked softly, silent and unseen as always, following the river slums. The Themes lapped at the river walls and the echoes of madness floated down the alleyways. Ivy shivered unconsciously whenever she thought of lunatics.
            Her concentration was suddenly broken by a shrill whistle that caused her to stop for a second before retreating into the shadows of a doorway. Her back was pressed hard against the stone wall. Slowly she poked her head around to see what was happening. There was only one whistle in London that broke the air with that particular shrill tone. Scotland Yard officers were at the scene of a crime.
            Seconds after the whistle she heard footsteps running past her. They were closer than she had thought, but they went past her without a glance. They called out to each other, their voices strained with concern and fear. Which meant they were vigilant; more so than the other squads of officers. Which meant they were Roth’s men.
            Bloody hell, she thought, knowing she would not get a chance to inspect whatever it was that had brought them out tonight. Roth was too smart, too keen, and too aware of his surroundings to not notice her approaching a crime scene. And she definitely did not want to be anywhere around the officer who had it in for her and would arrest her with the first chance he had. She suspected his utter dislike of her stemmed from her being a vigilantly in his city; the fact that she was often too close to the mysterious deaths that could never quite be solved; and that she followed her own laws, which did not always match with those set by the English Parliament. And that she shot him a little less than a year ago.
            Roth or not, she knew she had to have a look at what this was about. If she was lucky it would be a simple murder; one human who had killed another, and she could still go home early and wrap herself in her dark thoughts. She tucked her hat into her pocket so the rain would not make a sound as it landed on the leather. When she was certain no more Yard officers would be running past her, she pushed herself from the wall and stalked the men until she was close enough to hear them.
            “Several wounds, sir. Look ‘ere, something tore a good chunk out of him.”
            “And here,” another added.
            “Here too, look sir, is that . . . what is that? Looks like teeth marks.”
            A brief silence fell over the group and Ivy held her breath. Teeth marks led to vampires. But from the sounds of the officers, there were several marks. Vampires usually did not bite or tear the flesh in several places. Unless. . . .
            “Spread out, dammit. The body will only tell us so much. Look for clues.” The sound of Roth’s voice was unmistakable. His tone left nothing to be questioned and he spoke with such confidence that even she wanted to trust him.
            “But the rain, sir.”
            “What about it? Look,” Ivy strained her eyes through the rain to watch him, dressed in the blue uniform and trench coat – made black by the wet night – walk around the body of a very pale dead man. “Look, this area doesn’t connect with the drain line, see, puddles are forming, but they’re just,” he lowered himself to his haunches and touched the water on the streets, “water and muck. No blood. And look, in the soot, foot prints. Several of them. So if there is no blood and there are lots of foot prints, what does that point to?” In was a rhetorical question and he answered it himself.
            “That this victim was not killed here, but elsewhere, where all the blood drained, and dragged here. But, but the clothes, they’re not pulled down as though he was dragged, so they must have carried the poor bloke . . .”
            Ivy backed away as quietly as she had approached. She had heard enough. Roth was willing to believe that this man had been killed elsewhere, but he was sorely wrong. However, she was not going to be the one to point this out. Actually, Lieutenant Roth, it seems more likely that the poor bloke was attacked by a gang of vampires. Which in itself is rather odd behaviour for vampires and worth a serious investigation. She did not see that conversation ending well. It was not like he would give her the chance to speak, anyway; but, if her theory about the pack of vampires had merit, than perhaps Tess could deliver the message.
            She had not travelled far when she sensed she had stumbled upon her second unexpected problem of the night. Though she had learned to have no expectations about what monsters might unfold before her, she had sincerely planned on retiring early.
            Vampires were close. It was not the largely ineffective street lamps that tipped her off; stationed every few yards but either so covered with soot that they emitted no more than a glowing black ball, or not lit at all because no one in this part of town cared enough or was paid enough to do so. Ivy had trained for the past six years on how to sense vampires in the murky dark, and her trained senses rarely failed. The air itself seemed to thin unnaturally, shadows moved too silently to be the result of humans, and the wet sucking was not caused by footsteps on the moist streets. She had discovered early on that vampires favoured the rain because it covered the sound of a victim being drained. Making London a favourable city amongst the undead.
            If there really was a pack of vampires on the hunt, she would have to move carefully. She would need to assess the situation before acting. She rounded another corner, relying on her hands to guide her to the edge of the buildings, and took in the horrific sight.
            Almost half a dozen vampires were several yards before her in a wide alley, drinking from a man. Despite her years as a hunter, she had rarely seen such a disturbing event. The vampires swarmed him, their faces and teeth pressed into various parts of his body as he stood – his life being sucked out of him – in the centre of the pack.
            She doubted she could take on so many herself; regardless of how many stakes she carried; or her swords; or her hunting armour that hugged her body beneath her thick trench coat. It was simply too dangerous, and the man was already at death’s door. She planned to back away, but as she turned her head, she saw another vampire standing off to the side, his fingers dug deep into the thick hair of a young girl.
            The child watched silently as the vampires drank from the man, her face twisted in raw horror at what she was seeing. And what she must believe would happen to her next. There was more on the child’s face than the fear from the vampires; there was intense loss. Ivy suspected correctly that the man was the girl’s father.
            Suddenly it didn’t matter that the odds were five against one. She was not going to let the parasites feast on this girl. Ivy flexed her fingers in her gloves, tightened the cord around her collar that covered half her face to protect her identity, pulled her short sword from its sheath and a stake from her belt, and wadded into the feeding frenzy. At least I have surprise, she told herself. It offered little comfort.
            “Disgusting creatures!” She screamed into the night and launched herself at the vampires.
            With her sword already falling in an arch at a vampire, she rushed them, slicing the steel through a vampire’s neck and twisting swiftly to decapitate the monster. The vampire, who had been at the man’s thigh, was now headless on the cobblestones.
            Around her the other vampires dislodged themselves from their prey and hissed at her, planning to encircle her. She did not plan to give them that advantage, and rushed another before they could fully surround her. She spun on the ball of her foot, ducked a punch, and shoved the stake into a dead heart. Before the vampire was on the ground she had another stake in her hand.
            Reeling off the momentum of the second kill, she spun her sword and lobbed it into the shoulder of a vampire. The creature cried out but the wound was not serious for the immortal. The vampire reached for the sword with movement so fast Ivy could only sense but not see, but she knew it was coming and had the blade out before it was in the hands of her enemy. She spun low, avoiding another that was coming at her from behind, and sliced the knee caps of the vampire. Despite the vampire’s ability to heal, and their high tolerance for pain, having the knee caps split open always hurt and left them immobilized for a few minutes.
            With another monster on the ground, she took a count that three were down but two still remained. One of the two managed to get behind her and grabbed her under the arms. She pushed her sword backwards and kicked at the vampire approaching her with her feet. Her sword dug into the stomach of the vampire holding her and while he did not completely release her, his grip loosened enough that she was able to pry herself free. As soon as she landed, she felt a swift kick to the back and fell face down. Her sword scattered just out of her reach but before she could attempt to claim it she was kicked over onto her back.
            Rain drop fell into her eyes and though she tried to blink them away, they still stung. She could sense the vampires pacing around her, preparing to pounce on her and drink her empty. As they came down, with their fangs barred and mouths hissing, Ivy twitched the sleeves of her jacket, releasing a bulb of garlic into each hand, and shoved the ordinary kitchen spice into their mouths. The garlic would do little damage but was unpleasant enough to have the desired effect. Both vampires cringed and turned away to rid it from their bodies. In those seconds Ivy jumped to her feet and kicked the one closest to her in the head.
            When the other came at her, roaring with furry, she ducked, took the impact on her shoulder, and launched him into the air over her. He landed hard on the ground and without thinking she took a stake from her belt and plunged it into his heart.
            One left.
            The vampire she had kicked came at her next and was able to duck her blows with something of skill. She punched but he blocked her efforts, her fists landing uselessly. She spun and brought her foot down on the vampire’s rib cage; the sound of bones cracking was disturbingly dry in the otherwise saturated night. The vampire reacted and his hand went to his wound. Ivy took the opportunity to make the kill and reached for a stake only to find none left.
            “Shit!” She cried, and was backhanded into the wall by the recovered vampire.
            As he came at her, he made the familiar threats of drinking from her while she begged for death, and tearing her heart out and showing it to her. She used the time to think of what she was going to do. Her hands searched the wall and her feet pressed against it. She found she was standing next to several wooden crates that had been tossed aside because they were broken and rendered useless.
            When the vampire reached for her, Ivy fell to her knees, grabbed the crate and shoved the broken edge into the vampire’s chest. The wounds from the stakes were clean and precise; this was a box sticking out of a man’s chest cavity. It had hit its mark and the vampire was sinking to his knees in death, blood spraying through the rain and covering her. She turned her head and pursed her lips together to prevent it from getting in her mouth, and closed her eyes. It always disturbed her when monster blood fell on her face.
            She broke off a piece of the crate to use as a stake on the final vampire she had only wounded. When she dropped to one knee, he started to laugh through his pain. The action jarred her and she paused to ask what was so entertaining.  
            “Your days are numbered, hunter.”
            “What are you talking about?” She demanded, but he only laughed harder.
            “The master grows tired of you. It won’t be long now . . .” With adrenaline still pulsing, Ivy had no patience for this. The child was close and any second now this vampire would regain his strength and pose a threat. She brought the stake down on its heart, silencing him, and turned her attention to the scene before her.
            The child stood where the vampire had left her; her brown hair plastered to her face from the rain, her dress torn and dirty from what Ivy thought was the encounter with the vampires. The horror was still etched on the child’s face.
            “It’s all right,” Ivy said quickly, moving to the girl and untying her collar at the same time. She didn’t know why, but she suspected the child would not fear an exposed woman as much as a hidden man. She took hold of the girl’s arm, too tight at first but then relaxing her fingers.
            “I won’t hurt you, I promise. I want to help you. Was this man your father?”
            The child stared at her for several minutes before slowly nodding. Ivy’s heart broke for the girl. While she had problems with her parents, she could not imagine having to lose her father when she was just a girl, when your father is still your hero.
            She opened her mouth to offer comfort to the girl, but was robbed of the chance. A pistol shot rang out into the night. In the closeness of the buildings, it echoed loud and both Ivy and the child cringed at the noise.
            “Frost!” Roth’s voice filled the air. Ivy’s heart sank. She could not explain her way out of this: being found at the scene of a crime with half a dozen dead bodies around her.
            “These men will help you!” She said to the girl, then pushed herself to her feet and began to flee.
            Get her!” Roth screamed, and Ivy heard the footsteps of more Yard officers than she could outrun coming after her.
            She tore through the alleys, searching for a way to escape them, but no matter how hard she pushed herself they were always so close she could hear their laboured breathing behind her. They were Roth’s men; they would be relentless in their pursuit of her.
            Uncertain of how long she had traveled, she began to feel the weight of her heavy fighting garments. The extra weight slowed her down. If she could only have a moment to shed some mass she could escape, but the men were too close. Cramps tug at her sides and caused her to grit her teeth in pain. But she could not be caught. She knew where Roth would take her, and that was not an option.
            The same rain that had given her shelter this night finally betrayed her. A cloth that had been left on the road was soaked and slick with water. Ivy didn’t see it in her mad efforts to escape the officers, and when her boot fell on it she lost her footing and began to go down.
            Down, no not down! Her mind screamed but she could do nothing to stop the push of gravity. She was falling and bracing herself for the impact.
            Her hands were out to accept the unforgiving cobblestones when something tight locked around her waist and suddenly she was no longer falling to the ground; she was flying through the air.

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