Authors: Tony Richards
A RAINE’S LANDING NOVEL
Praise on Amazon for the Raine’s Landing series.
“If you love the fantasy genre, like The Dresden Files, you will love this series as well.
“The Raine's Landing novels are page turners. Not a boring part in the whole series.”
“I've been a fan of Raine's Landing since I purchased the first novel, and they just keep coming, each one as satisfactory as the last.”
“This superb fantasy just hums along, taking you at high speed to places of which you will never have dreamed.
“Be once more transported to Raine’s Landing and enjoy the magical battles, mental and moral struggles, and hopes for a steadier future.
“I absolutely love this series. It has plenty of supernatural creatures, along with some great heroes & heroines.”
“Action packed and constantly keeping the readers on the edge of their seat.
“This is a modern day gothic urban fantasy that mesmerizes the audience into a one sitting read.
“Very interesting premise, and he is a very good story teller.”
“Urban fantasy fans are sure to enjoy.”
“It's such a great concept. Very cool.”
Copyright © Tony Richards, 2012.
Cover art by Steve Upham of Screaming Dreams. Cover art copyright © Steve Upham, 2012
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents and places are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
It wasn’t only the house that was quiet. It was the street outside her window too. The entire Marshall Drive district had been smothered to a dead hush by the late December weather.
So when there was a bump from upstairs, Carol Reece heard it perfectly clearly. It came from her son’s room. And she’d thought that Kenny was asleep.
Carol looked up from the romance novel she’d been reading. She’d switched on only one lamp in the living room. The place was darkened otherwise.
Her husband, Jay, had been working extra shifts at the garment factory this whole month. Raine’s Landing might be a very isolated town. But Christmas, which was less than a week off, still brought in a load of extra demand. And it wasn’t that she particularly minded being alone at night. But unexpected noises weren’t her thing exactly.
Carol flinched, then frowned. She set a marker in her bo
ok, then got up to investigate.
Went into the hallway, switching on another light. The instant she did that, there was a second bump from upstairs. And her first thought was to call up and ask Kenny what was going on. But it was nearly midnight. What if he was still asleep and simply having some kind of bad dream, thrashing about unconsciously? If that was the case, then she didn’t want to startle him.
Carol started padding up, her heart banging softly in her chest.
The second floor landing was a strip of mottled dimness, light from downstairs oozing through the banisters. She thought of rapping on her young son’s bedroom door, but that would have the same effect as calling out. And so she pushed the handle down, and tiptoed quietly in.
The first thing she noticed was that the nightlight was off. Kenny’d had one ever since he’d started imagining monsters underneath his bed and other kinds of childish stuff. She and Jay had occasionally discussed weaning him off it. But now the decision had been made for them.
The bulb’s burned out, is all
, she told herself.
Something moved in the deep pool of shadow near her son’s small bed.
Carol pushed the door a little wider, and the dimmest wedge of filtered light from downstairs eased into the room. She could make out a familiar shape, standing by the upturned quilt. And figured she’d been wrong to try and do things quietly. Because her son was obviously wide awake.
His hair was tousled, his pajamas rumpled. He was caught in silhouette, his face unseen. But her heart leapt out to him.
“What are you doing, Kenny?” she asked him, in a whisper.
But he did not reply, and stayed as motionless as stone.
“Why are you up?” she inquired. “Do you need the bathroom?”
Carol waited for an answer, and got none.
Ever patient with her son, she tried again. “What was that noise you were making?”
His voice suddenly leapt out at her from the dark. There was a sharp, insistent edge to it.
“I was playing,” he blurted
Carol stepped in closer.
“At this time of the night?” Her nose screwed up slightly. What was going on inside his head this time? “But playing what?”
“I was playing with Brewster,” he told her.
And she felt her frame relax. ‘Brewster’ was her son’s imaginary friend. And it wasn’t that Kenny was a solitary child. Far from it – he had loads of friends at school. But on those occasions when he happened to find himself on his own, he liked to pretend that he had Brewster with him.
The pair of them would discuss stuff. Climb trees together and play ‘forts.’ It was almost comical, watching a ball being kicked around between them. And nothing to worry about either
– merely a normal, healthy part of a young boy’s mental development. Plenty of kids had invisible chums.
what you were up to?” she sighed, rather tiredly. “Okay, then. But don’t you think it’s time that you and Brewster both went back to bed?”
“He doesn’t want to go to sleep,” Kenny explained to her. “He’s wide awake, and more alive than ever.”
And what did
mean? Despite herself, Carol felt a mild exasperation taking hold. The hour was late. She had been thinking of turning in herself. And her son had chosen
to start acting odd? She wasn’t in the least bit happy about this sort of behavior.
And she felt the urge to put her foot down. Simply point to his bed, order him back into it, and that would be the end of the matter.
But she couldn’t shake the feeling there was something slightly wrong. Something a little off balance here. Kenny was hardly a perfect kid – she doubted there was any such creature. But he rarely acted this way.
So she decided to reason with him.
“Hey, you know what time it is? It’s almost midnight. And you know what happens when you stay awake past midnight?” She felt her head tilting as she spoke. “You don’t sleep so good, and wake up crabby. That’s a scientific fact, and you’ve got school tomorrow.”
“Brewster doesn’t care about your scientific facts,” Kenny answered.
And he said it harshly, the dim outlines of his face contorting. Carol felt taken aback.
“Well, he ought to care.” She looked around, pretending she was searching for her son’s companion. “Hey, Brewster? You’re being a really silly boy. Everything I said is true. You don’t want Kenny dropping back in class, now do you?”
“You’re not even looking in the right direction,” Kenny snapped.
Carol stiffened up, then asked, “Okay, where is he?”
Her son was pointing at the darkest corner of the room, where no light reached at all. Carol squinted into it. And thought that she saw something move again.
And then another pair of eyes came open. They were glowing a peculiar, pale mauve.
The door slammed shut behind her, moving by itself.
But the noise it made was drowned out, because Carol had already started screaming.
What on earth had come into her home? And where exactly had it come from?
Raine’s Landing, 1896:
Lord, East Meadow was a horrid neighborhood!
Once upon a time
– or so her Ma had told her – it had been exactly what it sounded like, a huge, open stretch of unspoiled grassland. But then the factories had gone up on the edge of town, destroying that. The tight-packed wooden tenements had started being built. And look at this place now.
The homes were overcrowded. The streets were full of filth. There were lines of washing hanging everywhere, except they never properly got clean, because the air was full of grime as well, belching constantly from the factories’ chimneys.
Violet Tiswell stared resentfully around her at the bustling sidewalks, the constant flow of carts and horses on the street, the shabbiness of everything, the lack of any slight sign of prosperity. And – at seven years old – she wished that it would go away. She wished that it would all magically vanish, to be replaced by something nicer.
Young as she was, she’d been left to her own devices this particular day. That was not unusual. She had no brothers or sisters, and her neighbors were too busy with their own difficult lives to pay her any mind. Her Pa was long gone, killed in a factory accident a few months after she’d been born. But her Ma had actually found some work today, mending curtains for a family on Oxton Street.
Most of the cash she earned would wind up in the pockets of the moneylenders in this district, without any doubt. They lived that way the whole time, blundering from day to day with no prospect of an improving future.
Violet got up from the tilted curbstone she’d been sitting on and started heading south and westward, to the better parts of town.
Snatches of other people’s thoughts kept ringing through her head as she passed by them.
Thieving little scamp. What does she think she’s up to now?
That’s one devious young brute. If she was mine, I’d drown her.
They didn’t know that she could listen to the words inside their heads. She’d always had the sense to keep that to herself, and make sure that her face stayed blank.
Violet Tiswell was no witch. She had no other special powers. But, for as long as she could remember, she’d had this one. She could hear what was going through another person’s mind as clearly as a bell. And, whenever she was able, she used that skill to her advantage.
A mule cart was going by, loaded up with vegetables for the big market on Union Square. Violet made sure that its driver hadn’t noticed her, then clambered up and hunkered down among the burlap sacks.
It was better than going the whole way on foot. And Union Square was surrounded by stores, its customers wealthier than she could ever dream of. There were handkerchiefs and pocket watches to be lifted. Purses to be cut. She might not have reached her eighth birthday yet, but Violet was already an accomplished criminal.
The cart shook and rattled, carrying her out of East Meadow and into the more prosperous sections of town. Her own district’s tawdriness was gradually replaced with proper, brick-built houses, brightly painted doorways, flowerpots on windowsills and green front yards. There were people in fine clothing on the streets. Ladies in silk dresses. Gentlemen in long coats and tall hats. Little boys in sailor suits, and girls her own age prettied up like china dolls.
Several of the adults noticed her as she rolled by. Looks of shock and disgust crossed their faces. But their thoughts were even worse than their expressions.
Good God, she is absolutely filthy!
What’s a ghastly little wastrel like that doing in this part of town?
Those who lived here hated her on sight. And Violet wasn’t trying to hide her feelings any more. She hated them right back.
She hadn’t asked to be born like this, dirt poor, living in a squalid slum. She was ragged because there were no new clothes to wear. She was filthy because there was no bath. And if she hadn’t taught herself to steal, then she’d be hungry a good deal of the time into the bargain.
Her mood grew darker by the second, as these pampered folks continued going past. She began to wish that she had far more than the power to simply hear their thoughts. She’d like to have
magic powers, the way the adepts did. So she could hurt them.
Union Square came in sight at last, with its familiar landmarks. The Town Hall on the north side, and the theatre facing it. The big bronze statue of the founder at its center. And the market stalls set up around that, canvas awnings flapping in the chilly breeze.
It was mostly servants from the grand houses who came here, to stock up on provisions. But over on the west side of the square, there was a row of stalls that had on them a display of local paintings, handmade jewelry, and curios and antiques. And those items occasionally drew in richer folk. Keeping an eye out for patrolling constables, Violet wandered over to that section.
People’s thoughts kept drumming at her.
Good heavens alive, is that a child or is that a rat?
A young woman
– dressed from head to toe in blue – flinched away, alarmed at the thought of being touched by her.
Violet’s anger grew. She was only a little girl, but people didn’t even think of her as human.
And then her mood calmed down and she became more purposeful. Because a hansom cab had drawn up to a nearby corner. And someone very rich indeed was climbing out.
She recognized him straight away. There weren’t many people in this town who wouldn’t. This was Clayborne Vernon, owner of the lumber mill and a dozen other businesses besides. He wasn’t dressed particularly grandly. In fact, when you looked a little closer, he was rather scruffy. But he was large, and had tremendous presence. Two younger men were getting out of the cab behind him, and he looked like he was lecturing them, waving his big, hefty arms around.
He was preoccupied, oblivious to his surroundings. And – to Violet’s way of thinking – that was absolutely perfect.
She started moving closer, being careful not to look directly at the man. But, out of the corner of her eye, she almost immediately spotted something else. Mr. Vernon wasn’t merely scruffy, he was rather careless too.
Here he was, in the middle of a crowded marketplace. And there was a narrow golden chain hanging out of the back pocket of the dark pants he was wearing.
It looked too thin to be a watch-chain, and she wondered what it was. But there was no point in guessing. She would find out soon enough.
She eased her gaze around. Nobody was looking at her. So she moved in very nonchalantly. Raised a hand as casually as she could manage.
– quick as a flash – snatched hold of the chain.
And then, she was running.
There were no yells. No one chased her. Nobody had seen what she had done. So Violet
– once she’d left the square and headed off down Minster Street – turned into a quiet, abandoned alleyway she knew about and halted at the end of it.
Her breath slowed down. She lifted what she’d stolen and examined it.
It was a gemstone, the size of her Ma’s index finger. But Violet’s instincts began to tingle, telling her that this was rather more than just a simple jewel.
Her dirty face squinched up, her brown eyes narrowing as she studied it. It was purple and translucent, had been cut into a teardrop shape. But there was something deeply strange about it.
Very little light reached this far back into the alley, but the jewel was glowing like there was bright sunshine touching it. And carved into the golden setting there were tiny little symbols she could make no sense of.
Clayborne Vernon wasn’t merely rich, he was a mighty adept into the bargain. Everyone in town knew that. So, putting two and two together, Violet figured out what she had taken from the man.
This was a magic artifact. There was no other explanation. She had never been up close to one of these before.
But what exactly did it do? She turned it over in her hands.
Then she closed her palms around it … and immediately felt a strong vibration run right through her body. She was so alarmed she almost dropped it, but she forced herself to hold on tight.
Her eyelids slipped shut. And in another instant …
The ability that she’d been born with was being magnified a thousand times. She could hear a great tumult of thoughts roaring through her head, practically deafening her. Violet murmured, loosening her grip, and the racket stopped.
When she tried again, it was far more carefully. She touched against the mind of a butcher on a nearby street. The fellow
– fat and sleek – was working at a porker’s carcass with a cleaver.
And it occurred to her that
– with this magic jewel – she could not only listen to this man’s thoughts. She could affect them too. She was not certain how she knew that. It just popped into her head.
Violet’s features brightened with a mischievous delight.
How’d you like it, Mr. Butcher, if the pig fought back?
There was no way that she could return the poor animal to life. But she could make it seem so, to the butcher’s mind.
The man was raising his cleaver again, when he thought he heard a noise. First a low snorting. Then an angry squeal. The carcass’ eyes appeared to spring open, and its mouth stretched wide, its pink tongue sliding out.
The butcher flailed back, howling, and then ran out through the nearest door.
Violet screeched with laughter, doubling over, clutching at her sides. Then, when she calmed down again, it started to occur to her what stealing this jewel really meant.
She was not a helpless little poor girl any longer. All those people who’d thought badly of her, she would show them who was high and mighty now. She’d make them bow to her as if she was the Queen of England. And then
“Stop that!” yelled a high-pitched voice.
Violet’s eyes snapped open. And she cast her gaze around. But there was still nobody with her in the alleyway.
do that,” came the voice again.
It didn’t even seem to be emerging from thin air. It was coming from inside her head, despite the fact that it was not her own voice.
“I feel sorry for you,” it said. “Honestly I do. But you can’t go around frightening people like that.”
It was the voice of another little girl, apparently not a great deal older than herself. But where was it coming from?
Strong instincts took hold of Violet once again. She closed her eyes a second time, and let her spirit drift. And before she knew it, she was reaching out, trying to find the person who’d admonished her.
And to her utter amazement, she wasn’t only searching across distances. Her thoughts were stretching out through time. Ten years into the future. Twenty. And then fifty. Then, more than a hundred.
She was entering a strange room in a tidy little house. There were weird pictures of horses on the bed sheets. Shiny gewgaws hanging from the ceiling. And at the center of the room …
There was a little girl, like her. But blond. She was wearing a frock with a checker pattern on it, and white shoes. And was hanging in the air, rotating. And a bright blue light was flowing from her.
When Violet approached, she stopped revolving and looked shocked.
“What are you doing?” she asked. “You … you shouldn’t be here.”
This was a being of tremendous magic power. Violet knew that right away. But with the purple jewel held in her grasp, she also knew she had the upper hand.
She could possess this creature. Take its mind over. And so she did that thing.
But, almost straight away, Violet felt matters going very badly wrong. Her thoughts blurred and became extremely muddled. There were ideas in her head that weren’t her own.
She wasn’t sure what she was doing any more. And couldn’t pull away, however hard she tried.
Some unseen force was trying to trap her in this strange place in the future.
And the last thing that she felt was her own mind going blank.
In the electric blueness of her room, the Little Girl jerked, went slack. Then began to revolve again, the way she always did.
Except the light streaming out around her gradually changed color.