It seems as summer wanes, time does too. It's hard to stop and smell the roses, if you know what I mean. Anyway, though I have been busy, it has been writing on CN, so it's not time wasted. :)
I thought this time through, I'd just post a sample chapter again of CN. And fair warning: yes, it's a vampire story. But my goal is to make a "clean" one, relatively speaking. At this point in the story, Traci (human) and Azrael (vampire) are trying to rescue a mutual friend, Chax (vampire). They think he is being kept against his will in The Blue Hole. (Famous reef--off the coast of Belize. Google it. ;) ) And Traci and Azrael are getting serious in their relationship. (In the next chapter, Azzy finally says those three special words to her. :) )
The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost. --Gilbert K. Chesterton
“You know, this has to be the craziest thing I’ve ever done.”
Azrael quirked a grin, mischief dancing in his eyes. Traci shook her head. “You have the Chax look.”
His grin widened. He glided closer, resting his hands on her shoulders. She felt the warmth of his touch through the wetsuit. “I baptize you, my sister—“ and he shoved her backwards over the rail of the ship.
The wash of seawater clogging her throat cut off the beginning of a sharp retort. Traci kicked her fins, rolling onto her stomach as she fumbled with the respirator. A thin splash revealed Azrael’s own entrance. She straightened as best she could and glared in his direction.
He moved through the water with an eerie grace, trailing dark wings behind him. Water and light danced across the membrane in a subtle interplay of maroon and sapphire. Those would never fit in a wetsuit, and he certainly didn't need the equipment anyway.
With a firm kick, he glided up to her. Mischief still gleamed in his eyes. He rolled onto his side, sidling past her. One wing tapped her ankle, trailed across her thigh, lingered on a rib. He twisted away. Traci shivered. She swallowed hard, ignoring the burst of bubbles. So she had been holding her breath. It was nothing for him to grin about. She rewarded him with a stern expression.
And he laughed. No bubbles of any sort, but his head was tipped back, mouth open, shoulders shaking in silent mirth.
That is so unnerving.
He stopped. Tilted his head in a gentle question. She crossed her arms. The edge of his mouth twitched in suppressed humor, but he didn’t laugh again. If he does, Traci thought. I’ll slap him, vampire or not.
Azrael gestured downward. She followed the motion with her eyes. The sunlight’s rays ended abruptly about ten feet from her dangling fins. The somber blue water darkened to cobalt, shading down to black. A handful of fish darted through the water, scales flickering like tiny candles as they passed through the veiled sunshine.
Azrael moved slowly past her, one shoulder brushing against her. They had to go exploring, for Chax’s sake at least. An eel whipped from the dark water. A candle was snuffed out. The eel twitched once, revealing a profile of jagged teeth jutting over its lip, and then vanished again. Traci shuddered and stroked after Azrael. There were many predators in these waters.
She rubbed her tongue across the cool metal of the respirator. That was real, the ocean was real. The vamps, if their lair was here, were real too. But it was close to noon right now. If they were typical vampires, the sun, though not a mortal threat, was enough of a nuisance to keep them quiet. If they were not the typical vampires, then she might as well hang a “Free Lunch” tag on her shirt.
The silent swim set her nerves on edge. Cloying darkness enveloped them both. It enfolded Azrael in a cloak of black. Dimmed the gems of his wings into shards of ebony. Sinuous coils hid their surroundings, transforming mundane objects into creatures of dread.
Rocks became sharp-edged altars, stained brown with the blood of innocents. Spikes of stone formed a jaw of teeth crowned with split and broken molars. Seaweed entwined serpentine fingers around her wrist. The strands sucked at her fingers like hungry parasites. She jerked her hand away. Azrael glanced back over his shoulder. Concern flickered in his eyes.
Traci waved her hand in a shooing gesture. His head cocked. She saw his feet slow. Oh great. She shook her head hard. Forming a circle with her thumb and forefinger, she tried to reassure him she was fine. Azrael rolled his eyes and twisted away. The seaweed brushed against her ankles. Traci pulled her foot away and scowled hard at his retreating back. Good. He can obey orders … sometimes.
Something brushed the back of her head. Traci froze. She clenched her eyes closed. Counted to ten slowly. Probably a fish, wandering from its rocky home to investigate. Or a loose bit of seaweed. Blast, she’d take a wad of plastic wrap.
Opened her eyes again, into the fanged grin of a vampire. Traci screamed. The respirator popped out of her mouth and she gagged on the rush of water. Neither sound was loud enough for Azrael to hear. She seized the respirator and shoved it into her mouth, using the other hand to shove against the vampire’s chest. She sailed backward, and her shoulders connected with something hard. It was too warm to be a rock.
Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Reciting the mantra, she twisted away in a smooth turn worthy of an Olympic pool. The vampires were not impressed. Vamp 1 snapped his hand out and caught her wrist. When she kicked at his iron hold, his other hand imprisoned her ankle. The awkward position stretched muscles in a way they were never meant to be. Traci winced and clawed at his hand. It was like dragging fingernails across granite, and about as quick as erosion.
Vamp 2 didn’t want to wait. He yanked her head back, lip peeling away from fang in a silent snarl. His eyes were filmed over, his pupils a trifle lighter in color than true gray. Maybe blue beneath that hazy layer. His nostrils flared once, as if sniffing her scent out of the brine surrounding them. He twisted his head and jerked her against him. She bit her lip. Metallic blood flooded her mouth. Traci swallowed quickly. Better in my stomach than his.
Whatever had disturbed him eased, because his grip slackened. More like an enraged octopus than a crushing snake. Yeah, this is better. Dancing shadows reformed into a third figure. It was female.
Thick, tangled curls hung around her narrow face. Her eyes burned with an inner fire. Fangs peeked beneath her lip. She shivered visibly. One hand reached for Traci’s head.
Traci blinked. Felt her captor tug her closer protectively. Or just to keep his dinner warm. Not that it mattered. Traci stared at the clawed hand, at the curved talon replacing the woman’s thumbs. That could not be a good sign.
The woman’s lip peeled back in an obvious challenge. She tapped her hands together. The first vampire cocked his head. Traci’s owner tensed. Why do I always end up around fighting vampires?
With a twist and arch of her spine, the woman was suddenly inches from her face. Traci jerked back. Her chin connected with the nose of the vampire holding her. The water darkened. Blood. Uh-oh.
Fingers and claws alike yanked on her. She felt the twinge of pain as wetsuit gave way to flesh. A fang scraped down her arm. The straps for the air tank tore apart. The respirator ripped out of her mouth. She fumbled for it, twisting against their grip. A hand buried itself in her hair. Her head was craned back, neck arching painfully.
Metal. Bumping her arm. Traci snatched the respirator and pushed it into her mouth. She sucked at the air. It had never tasted sweeter. A talon flashed in the dim light. The tank shifted, its strap scraping across the open wound. It slid down her arm. She tried to grab it, curled her fingers around the edge of its frame. The tank was too heavy for a one-handed grab and slid free. Her air cut off again. She stared down at the slowly sinking tank. Traitor.
Her air supply dwindled. Her lungs burned. Dark spots taunted her, swooping past her wide eyes. An irritating buzz hummed in her ears. Traci closed her eyes. Teeth nibbled at her neck, climbing her throat in uncertain bites. An arm wrapped around her shoulder. She was pressed against the first vampire’s firm body.
Darkness twined around her. The seaweed wrapped her in a burial shroud. And the bite came, sinking through flesh into the vein beneath. Warm blood burned her neck. The jaw ripped free. She relaxed in the grip of another vampire. Just eat me already.
She couldn’t open her eyes. Couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. Numbness spread in comforting tendrils down her spine, hugging her chest, easing the burn of suffocation. The shadows surrounded her. They conquered her.