Excerpt: A More Ideal Vessel

“A More Ideal Vessel” appears in The Crimson Pact: Volume 2. It’s the sequel to “An Ideal Vessel,” which appears in The Crimson Pact: Volume 1 (or the Volume 1 Sampler).  Even though it’s a sequel, it’s a stand-alone story that you should be able to enjoy even if you haven’t read the first volume. After the excerpt you can find links to more excerpts from other Crimson Pact authors.

We pick up the story in the middle, rather than the beginning; this is one of my favorite scenes so I wanted to share it with you. Enjoy!

***

A More Ideal Vessel

by Sarah Hans

An hour later, as the lamp-lighters appear to begin their nightly rounds, the three companions are making their way into a cordoned area at the corner of South Wallace and West 63rd Streets. No building exists on this street corner anymore; all but the last remnants of the fire-ravaged structure have been removed in preparation for the construction of a replacement building. Even so, Archie swears he can still smell brimstone.

Zuzanna and Archie are able to slip past the ropes easily, but Elspeth is another matter. The ground is soggy with recent rainfall and her wheelchair becomes stuck in the mud. Finally, realizing that they have only moments before a policeman or some concerned citizen sees their trespass, Archie scoops her up from the chair and carries her hastily away. She is twice the weight of a normal woman and he strains beneath her bulk.

Only a few steel walls of the World’s Fair Hotel survived the massive blaze three months prior. The newspaper said the walls were part of the horrific gas chambers where H. H. Holmes—a killer possessed by a demon, though that part never appeared in the newspaper—had murdered his victims in perfect secrecy and with terrifying efficiency. Now the strange trio crouch behind these very instruments of murder, hoping the walls are tall enough to conceal their activities from onlookers. Archie lowers Elspeth to the ground and props her against one of the steel walls, hoping that its integrity will hold a little longer.

“Should we wait until night?” Zuzanna asks.

“The magic will be strongest at dusk, I think,” Elspeth replies, nodding to the hazy sun just beginning to set over the high rises. “You’ll need to start by making a circle with the blood.”

“A circle?” Zuzanna repeats.

“On the ground,” Elspeth says. “You’ll need to seal yourself and all the other tools inside it.”

Zuzanna gives Archie a worried glance. He tries to smile in a comforting way, placing his hand on her shoulder. “I’ll help you,” he volunteers.

The bucket of blood is unwieldy, but Archie manages to pour a ragged circle around Zuzanna. She clutches the bag of spell ingredients to her chest as he does so, her brown eyes huge and doe-like with fear.

Archie squats beside Elspeth and watches as Zuzanna follows the automaton’s instructions to complete the spell. One by one she completes each task, and at some point Archie stops paying attention to the instructions, lost in the pleasure of simply watching Zuzanna move. She is so graceful and elegant, but entirely oblivious to it, which only adds to her charm. When she begins reading the spell, he shuts his eyes to enjoy the cadence of her voice as she speaks the alien language of Elspeth’s home world. In the distance carriages rattle past and a lone songbird chirps plaintively.

Suddenly a great gust of wind knocks Archie onto his back. He scrambles to his feet to see Zuzanna floating several feet above the earth. The air crackles with green lightning and smells like rain. Zuzanna’s dark hair is whipping about her head in a tangled frenzy, spurred by the powerful wind that seems to blow from everywhere and nowhere all at once. Her eyes glow bright white, beacons in the omnipresent darkness.

“I told you this is her destiny,” Elspeth’s tinny voice says, full of triumph, barely audible over the ferocious wind.

Archie shakes his head but says nothing. His stomach churns indecisively as the seconds pass. Zuzanna’s voice grows louder and more frantic, the wind picks up speed and volume, and the air pressure increases until he thinks his eyes might pop out of their sockets.

“This has gone on too long,” Archie finally says, lunging to break the circle of blood.

“No!” Elspeth cries, her vise-like fingers closing around his leg. She’s too heavy; he can’t move forward with her clinging to him like a lamprey. “You must not stop her now!”

“I have to! She’s in danger!” Archie shouts, kneeling and trying to pry the automaton’s fingers from his ankle.

“She could die if you interrupt the spell!”

Archie hesitates, eyeing the mechanical woman. With her emotionless features, it’s impossible to gauge the truth of her words. Can he truly take the risk that interrupting the spell could harm Zuzanna? Is Elspeth merely lying to keep him in check? Once again paralyzed by indecision, he collapses to the ground.

And then, just as suddenly as it began, the spell ends.

The wind dies down, and the darkness recedes. The normal Chicago night returns, dotted with street lamps and softly glowing windows, bringing with it the usual sound of carriages clattering along the pitted roads. Somewhere, an amorous toad croaks a love song.

Zuzanna has fainted. Archie rushes into the circle without asking permission, gathering her limp body into his arms. Her skin is so much paler than it should be, so much paler and cooler.

“She will recover,” Elspeth says from outside the circle, where she struggles to sit upright again.

Archie ignores her; his attention is only for Zuzanna.

A bright light appears beside him, like a lantern’s flickering flame. It blinks several times and bounces up and down, as if trying to capture his attention. Archie clutches Zuzanna to his chest to protect her from this strange intruder.

“Have no fear, this creature is of our summoning,” Elspeth says. She has managed, with great difficulty, to pull herself upright and to a standing position. She gestures to the light and says a few lilting words in her native tongue.

The light bounces once and then begins to move slowly away.

***

Thanks for reading! If want to read more, please pick up a copy of The Crimson Pact: Volume 2, and consider purchasing Volume 1 as well (you’ll learn more about Zuzanna, Archie, and Elspeth’s origins in the first volume). Purchasing the ebook is a really inexpensive way to support a group of hard-working writers, as an unheard-of 75% of the profits of each volume go to the authors.

For more excerpts, click on the author’s name: Larry Correia, Justin Swapp, Steve Diamond, Chanté McCoy, Patrick M. Tracy, D. Robert Hamm! There’s bound to be at least one story here that piques your interest, so just keep reading excerpts until one of them convinces you to buy the book, okay? :P

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