It occurred to me that I could actually share what I’m working on for NaNoWriMo. As I mentioned, this is the second book of To Tune the Beast (title undecided) and yes you’re at a disadvantage reading this excerpt unless you’ve critiqued/edited parts of the first book (which is about 3/4 finished). But it’s still a good glimpse, and if nothing else, proof that I really am writing — just not here!
“Cub,” the old man says in a distant tone, beckoning me to his side at the window with an air of disbelief. “We have company.”
What I see through the glass makes me gasp, wild hope pounding in my chest. It is Perfidy racing down the road toward us with all the velocity of the day he and Chalcy delivered our commission from Garanat. But today, to my instant dismay, the joffy is riderless.
In a cold sweat, I bolt out the door and find Fortune, inescapably curious, already waiting to greet our visitor. Perfidy slows and gives the cobalt joffy one of his long stretching bows, which she finds more amusing than I do.
“What’s happened? Is she alright? What are you doing here?”
Perfidy’s admonishing “Tsk, tsk” is followed by a grin. One does not interrogate a joffy with any serious expectation of answers. But this time, I’m obliged.
“Be at ease. Beloved is perfectly safe. Not particularly happy, but safe. And as for me, I am here partly at her request, but mostly on my own initiative. I’m going with you.”
“With me.” I study him skeptically, then point toward the mountains. “Up there?”
“Of course. Were you planning to walk?”
My head is starting to throb again. “I don’t know. I suppose I was going to ride the bike as far as I could; I can’t imagine Fortune parting that long from the Master. Honestly I really haven’t much of a plan just yet. Beyond the fact that Voro Martel has agreed to go with me as well.”
I use the pseudonym more out of habit than dishonesty. And I have no idea if Tsavor Marl’s fame (or infamy) even extends beyond the Tuners’ Guild. I’ll catch Perfidy up on the history whenever I get the opportunity.
“He travels by Horse, though. That will be awkward. She seems to be terrified of Fortune.”
“They’re among our contracted prey,” Perfidy acknowledges, a little wistfully. “But you have my word that she’ll be safe from me. Consider that part of our personal Contract, Half-Raven.”
It hurts, exquisitely, to hear a name that wouldn’t exist without her. Tears prick my eyes. I push us on.
“Yes, what are the general terms of this temporary partnership? Traditionally, I would provide you food and shelter, but I can definitely guarantee you won’t receive what you’re accustomed to at the Keep.”
“Before Beloved, I was accustomed to far less.” He exchanges a meaningful glance with Fortune, whose head bobs in acknowledgement. “Shelter is where you find it. And I’m prepared to hunt for my sustenance. With one exception: cornbread. You make very good cornbread, so I will have a portion of all cornbread prepared on this expedition.”
The memory of the joffy’s enjoyment of the one thing I can reliably cook in this world takes some of the chill and the strangeness out of the morning. But cooking is one more aspect of the impending journey to which I have not given much thought, beyond the fact that the Master included it among Tsvaor Marl’s many hidden talents. I presume that these supplies are among the ones the man is busy gathering at this moment.
“Fair enough,” I say. “What else?”
“Nothing more. Oh, except the binding.”
This does not sound to me like something which could be easily confused with nothing more. I am doubly wary when Fortune chooses this moment to return to the shade of her shelter. Her golden eyes gleam at me from within the shadows.
“Yes. Partners must be bound, regardless of the duration of the physical association. I’m afraid the connection is permanent, until another partnership, another binding, replaces it. It will be interesting; I’ve never been bound to two humans before. Beloved is quite excited for it, because theoretically, it will create a bridge. No guarantees on that; I did not want to bring it before the Collective. She gave me a message for you, in case we’re mistaken, but she’s hopeful that she can communicate it to you directly. Now would not be the ideal time for that, though; you should wait until noon, when Garanat is sleeping.”
Longing seizes me, shoves all misgiving out of my head, erases the dark foreboding of the connection is permanent. What wouldn’t I sacrifice for this bridge? The prospect of having her near – as near as we’ve ever been Alterside.
“What must I do, to bond with you?”
Perfidy’s smile is a waxing, serrated crescent moon.
“Bleed,” he replies. “Your blood and mine must mingle. But it needn’t be dramatic. I bite you, and myself, and the wounds… communicate.”
“As simple as that.”
I study the joffy’s fangs with a detail I’ve never had cause to before. They seem to sharpen in response. I shrug my left arm out of my coat. Roll up the sleeve to bare my forearm. Treated properly with ash, this could add to my pattern of penalty scars – or begin a new one. The idea excites me, the unpredictability of the marks. The anticipation of an as-yet unexperienced pain. Perfidy’s amusement is edged with curiosity as he considers my goose-pimpled flesh.
“Beloved was not so eager for this part,” he remarks, spurring a new thought.
“Where did you bite her?”
“There, but on her other arm.”
Of course she too would choose her non-dominant side. I’m pleased with this symmetry.
“That’s perfect then,” I say. “Do it.”
It happens startlingly fast, too fast to properly experience the sensation. My heart hammers all the way up into my throat, echoing in my ears, as I reel with the primal shock of attack. A breathless moment that I know intimately – that’s almost come to define me – hangs between the blossoming of my blood and the eruption of pain. Perfidy takes only a beat to acknowledge it before sinking his teeth into his own shoulder.
“Now,” he growls through crimson teeth, and I jump to obey. The wound is difficult to see in the blackness of his coat, but I press my arm hard against the place where his blood gleams like ink. The little spines of his pelt make a delicate chord – Na Minor… no, Minor Sixth – as they rub painfully against my broken skin.
I have no expectations for this binding. I open myself to anything. And what fills me… is everything.
Running, racing. All landscape blurred, suborned to movement, to speed. I am the wind, wild and sharp and laughing, devouring the earth under my paws. Music spills from the sky like rain – Chalcy’s music, hard and loud and alive. Chasing, blind with hunger. Lust. Tasting her spice and honey. Plunging my teeth through fur and hide and muscle and splintering bone. The rush of hot copper in my mouth. The free-fall of orgasm. Diving into water, washing off blood, shaking stars from my pelt. Her, the moon and sun above me. Her, threading through my hair, Perfidy’s coat, our limbs, like roots, grounding us, growing through us. Her, everywhere.
“It’s done. Master Kalekai, your timing is excellent. She’s about to faint.”
“No,” I say – or I think I do. My tongue is a ball of yarn.
My vision swims. My whole body trembles, like some newly born creature. I’m falling, very slowly, and the Master’s warm, strong arms gather me – like a feather mattress rising up to meet me.
“It’s all right, cub,” I hear him say. “Everyone does.”
I should note that my cat, Claudio, has inspired quite a bit about Perfidy, including his passion for cornbread. Sadly, I lost the video I once had of him demolishing a cornbread muffin. Guess I’ll have to bake some more and share the proof later. Anyway, it’s pretty much inevitable that he’ll work himself in anywhere he can…